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  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
 
     
     
 
DEATH MAKES LIFE POSSIBLE - Secret #10

IIMAGINE THAT IF SPIRITUALITY sought sales advice from Madison Avenue, it would be, “Scare people about dying.” This tactic has been working for thousands of years. Because all we can see of death is that once you die you aren’t here anymore, this creates deep fear. There has never been a time
when people weren’t desperate to know what lies “on the other side of life.”
But what if there is no “other side”? Perhaps death is only relative, not a total change. After all, each of us is dying every day, and the moment known as death is really just an extension of this process. St. Paul spoke of dying unto death, by which he meant having such strong faith in the afterlife and the salvation promised by Christ that death lost its power to generate fear. Yet dying unto death is also a natural process that has been going on in cells for billions of years. Life is intimately entwined with death, as you can observe every time a skin cell is sloughed off. This process of exfoliation is the same as a tree dropping its leaves (the Latin word for “leaf” isfolio ), and biologists tend to think of death as a means for life to regenerate.
This view brings little comfort, however, when you face being the leaf falling off the tree to make room for next spring’s growth. Rather than discussing death in impersonal terms, I’d like to focus onyour death, the supposed end of the you who is alive at this moment and wants to remain so. The personal prospect of death is the issue no one likes to confront, yet if I can show you what the reality of your death is, all this aversion and fear can be conquered, after which you can pay more attention to both life and death.
Only by facing death can you develop real passion for being alive. Passion isn’t frantic; it isn’t driven by fear. Yet right now, at an unconscious level, most people feel they are snatching life from the jaws of death, frantic with the knowledge that their time on earth is so brief. When you see yourself as part of eternity, however, this fearful snatching of crumbs from the table vanishes, and in its place you receive the abundance of life that we hear so much talk about but that so few people seem to possess.
Here’s a simple question: When you are a grandparent, you will no longer be a baby, a teenager, or a young adult. So when it comes time to go to heaven, which of these people is going to show up? Most people look totally baffled when they’re asked this question. It’s not a frivolous one. The person you are today isn’t the same person you were when you were ten years old. Certainly your body has changed completely from that of the ten-year-old. None of the molecules in your cells is the same, and neither is your mind. You certainly don’t think like a child.
In essence, the ten-year-old you once were is dead. From a ten-year-old’s perspective, thetwo-year-old you once were is also dead. The reason that life seems continuous is that you have memories and desires that tie you to the past, but these too are ever shifting. Just as your body comes and goes, so does the mind with its fleeting thoughts and emotions. When you are aware of being yourself without being attached to any particular age, you’ve found the mysterious observer within who doesn’t come and go.
Only witnessing awareness qualifies as that observer—it remains the same while everything else changes.
The witness or observer of experience is the self to whom all experiences are happening. It would be futile to hold on to who you are at this moment in terms of body and mind. (People are baffled by which self they are going to take to heaven because either they imagine an ideal self going there or a self they have attached to their imaginations. At some level we all know that there was never an age that felt ideal, however.) Life needs to be fresh. It needs to renew itself. If you could beat death and remain just who you are—or who you were at the time of life you consider the best—you’d succeed only in mummifying yourself.

You are dying at every moment so that you can keep creating yourself.

We have already established that you are not in the world; the world is in you. This, the main tenet of the one reality, also means that you are not in your body; your body is in you. You are not in your mind; your mind is in you. There is no place in the brain where a person can be found. Your brain consumes not one molecule of glucose to maintain your sense of self, despite the millions of synaptic bursts that sustain all the things that self is doing in the world.
So when we say that the soul leaves a person’s body at the moment of death, it would be more correct to say that the body leaves the soul. The body is already coming and going; now it leaves without coming back. The soul can’t leave because it has nowhere to go. This radical proposition needs a bit of discussion because, if you aren’t going anywhere when you die, you must be there already. This is one of those paradoxes from quantum physics whose understanding depends upon knowing where things come from in the first place.
Sometimes I ask people a simple question such as, “What did you eat for dinner last night?” When they say “chicken salad” or “steak,” I then ask, “Where was that memory before I asked you?” As we’ve already seen, there’s no picture of a chicken salad or a steak imprinted in your brain—nor any taste or smell of food. When you bring a memory to mind, you are actualizing an event. Synaptic firings produce the memory, replete with visuals, taste, and smell if you want them. Before you actualize it, a memory is not local, meaning it has no location; it is part of a field of potential, or energy, or intelligence. That is, you have the potential for memory, which is infinitely vaster than a single memory but nowhere in sight. This field extends invisibly in all directions; the hidden dimensions we’ve been discussing can all be explained as different fields embedded in one infinite field, which is being itself.

You are the field.

We all make a mistake when we identify with the events that come and go in the field. These are isolated moments—single blips as the field momentarily gets actualized. The underlying reality is pure potential, which is also called the soul. I know how abstract this sounds, and so did the ancient sages of India.
Looking at creation, which is filled with objects of the senses, they came up with a special term, Akasha, to fit the soul. The wordAkasha literally means “space,” but the larger concept is of soul space, the field of awareness. When you die, you don’t go anywhere because you are already in the dimension of Akasha, which is everywhere. (In quantum physics, the tiniest subatomic particle is everywhere in spacetime before it gets localized as a particle. Its nonlocal existence is just as real but invisible.)
Imagine a house with four walls and a roof. If the house burns down, the walls and roof collapse. But the space inside isn’t affected. You can hire an architect to design a new house, and after you build it, the space inside still hasn’t been affected. By building a house you are only dividing unbounded space into inside and outside. This division is an illusion. The ancient sages said that your body is like that house. It’s built at birth and burns down when you die, yet the Akasha, or soul space, remains unchanged; it remains unbounded.
According to these ancient sages, the cause of all suffering, according to the first klesha, is not knowing who you are. If you are the unbounded field, then death is not at all what we’ve feared.

The purpose of death is to imagine yourself into a new form with a new location in space andtime.

In other words, you imagine yourself into this particular lifetime, and after death you will dip back into the unknown to imagine your next form. I don’t consider this a mystical conclusion (in part because I’ve had discussions with physicists who support this possibility, given all they know about the nonlocality of energy and particles), but it’s not my intention to convert you to a belief in reincarnation. We’re just following one reality to its hidden source. Right now you are bringing up new thoughts by actualizing your potential; it seems only reasonable that the same process produced who you are now.
I own a TV set with a remote control, and when I push a button I can change from CNN to MTV to PBS. Until I press the remote, those programs don’t exist on the screen; it’s as if they don’t exist at all.
Yet I know that each program, complete and intact, is in the air as electromagnetic vibrations waiting to be selected. In the same way, you exist in Akasha before your body and mind pick up the signal and express it in the three-dimensional world. Your soul is like the multiple channels available on TV; your
karma (or actions) picks the program. Without believing in either one, you still can appreciate the astonishing transition from a potential hanging around in space—as TV programs do—to a full-blown event in the three-dimensional world.
What, then, will it be like when you die? It might be like changing channels. Imagination will continue to do what it has always been doing—popping new images up on the screen. Some traditions believe that there’s a complex process of reliving karma when you die so that a person can learn what this lifetime was about and prepare to make a new soul bargain for the next lifetime. The moment of death is described as having your life flash before you, not at lightning speed as experienced by people when they’re drowning, but slowly and with full understanding of every choice one has made since birth.
If you are conditioned to think in terms of heaven and hell, going to one or the other will be your experience. (Remember that the Christian conception of these places isn’t the same as the Islamic version or the thousands ofLokas in Tibetan Buddhism, which makes room for a multitude of worlds after death.)
The creative machinery of consciousness will produce the experience of that other place, while to someone who has led the same life under no such belief system, these images might appear to be a blissful dream or a reliving of collective fantasies (like a fairy tale), or the unspooling of themes from childhood.
But if you go to another world after death, that world will be in you as much as this one is. Does that mean heaven and hell are not real? Look out the window at a tree. It has no reality except as a specific spacetime event being actualized out of the infinite potential of the field. Therefore, it’s only fair to say that heaven and hell are just as real as that tree—and just as unreal.

The absolute break between life and death is an illusion.

What bothers people about losing the body is that it seems like a terrible break or interruption. This interruption is imagined as going into the void; it is total personal extinction. Yet that perspective, which arouses huge fears, is limited to the ego. The ego craves continuity; it wants today to feel like an extension of yesterday. Without that thread to cling to, the journey day to day would feel disconnected, or so the ego fears. But how traumatized are you by having a new image come to mind, or a new desire?
You dip into the field of infinite possibilities for any new thought, returning with a specific image out of the trillions that could possibly exist. At that moment, you aren’t the person you were a second ago. So, you are clinging to an illusion of continuity. Give it up this moment and you will fulfill St. Paul’s dictum to die unto death. You will realize that you have been discontinuous all along, constantly changing, constantly dipping into the ocean of possibilities to bring forth anything new.
Death can be viewed as a total illusion because you are dead already. When you think of who you are in terms of I, me, and mine, you are referring to your past, a time that is dead and gone. Its memories are relics of a time passed by. The ego keeps itself intact by repeating what it already knows. Yet life is actually unknown, as it has to be if you are ever to conceive of new thoughts, desires, and experiences.

By choosing to repeat the past, you are keeping life from renewing itself.
Do you remember the first time you tasted ice cream? If not, look at a very young child encountering an ice cream cone. The look on the child’s face tells you that she is lost in pure delight. But the second ice cream cone, although a child may beg and plead for it, is slightly less wonderful than the first. Each repetition pales by degrees because, when you return to what you already know, it can’t be experienced for the first time. Today, as much as you may like ice cream, the experience of eating it has become a habit. The sensation of taste hasn’t changed, but you have. The bargain you made with your ego, to keep I, me, and mine going on the same habitual tracks, was a bad bargain—you have chosen the opposite of life, which is death.
Technically speaking, even the tree outside your window is an image from the past. The instant you see it and process it in your brain, the tree has already moved on at the quantum level, flowing with the vibrating fabric of the universe. To be fully alive you have to inject yourself into the nonlocal domain where new experiences are born. If you drop the pretense of being in the world, you will realize that you’ve always lived from the discontinuous, nonlocal place called the soul. When you die you will enter the same unknown, and in that moment you will have a good chance of feeling that you were never more alive.
Why wait? You can be as alive as you want to be through a process known as surrender. This is the next step in conquering death. So far in this chapter the line between life and death has become so blurry that it has almost disappeared. Surrender is the act of erasing the line entirely. When you can see yourself as the total cycle of death within life and life within death, you have surrendered—the mystic’s most powerful tool against materialism. At the threshold of the one reality, the mystic gives up all need for boundaries and plunges directly into existence. The circle closes, and the mystic experiences himself as the one reality.

SURRENDER IS . . .

  • Full attention
  • Appreciation of life’s richness
  • Opening yourself to what is in front of you
  • Nonjudgment
  • Absence of ego
  • Humility
  • Being receptive to all possibilities
  • Allowing love

Most people think of surrender as a difficult, if not impossible, act. It connotes surrender to God, which few except the most saintly seem to manage. How can one tell that the act of surrender has happened? “I am doing this for God” sounds inspiring, but a video camera in the corner of the room couldn’t tell the difference between an act performed for God and the same act performed without God in mind.
It’s much easier to do the surrendering on your own and let God show up if he wants to. Open yourself up to a Rembrandt or Monet painting, which is after all as glorious a piece of creation as there is. Pay full attention to it. Appreciate the depth of the image and the care in its execution. Open yourself up to what is in front of you rather than allowing yourself to be distracted. Don’t judge in advance that you have to like the painting because you’ve been told it’s great. Don’t force yourself to respond because it makes you look smart or sensitive. Let the painting be the center of your focus, which is the essence of humility.
Be receptive to any reaction you may have. If all these steps of surrender are present, then a great Rembrandt or Monet will evoke love because the artist is simplythere in all his naked humanity.
In the presence of such humanity, surrender isn’t difficult. People themselves are more difficult. Yet surrendering to someone else follows the same steps we just listed. Perhaps the next time you sit down to dinner with your family you might decide to concentrate on just one step of surrender, such as paying full attention or being nonjudgmental.
Pick the step that seems easiest to approach or, better yet, the one that you know you’ve been leaving out. Most of us have left out humility when we relate to our families. What does it mean to be humble with a child, for example? It means regarding the child’s opinion as equal to your own. At the level of awareness, itis equal; your advantage of years as the parent at the table doesn’t discount that fact. We all had to be children, and what we thought back then had all the weight and importance of life at any age, perhaps more so. The secret of surrender is that you do it inside, without trying to please anyone else.
As much as it disturbs us, eventually we all find ourselves in the presence of someone who is very old, frail, and dying. The same steps of surrender are possible in that situation. If you follow them, the beauty of a dying person is just as evident as the beauty of a Rembrandt. Death inspires a certain wonder that can be reached when you go beyond the knee-jerk reaction of fear. I recently felt this sense of wonder
when I came across a phenomenon in biology that helps support the whole notion that death is completely wedded to life. It turns out that our bodies have found the key to surrender already.
The phenomenon is calledapoptosis. This strange word, which was completely new to me, takes one on a deeply mystical journey; and having returned, I find my perceptions of life and death have changed.
Punchingapoptosis into an Internet search engine gave me 357,000 entries, and the very first defined the word in biblical terms: “For every cell there is a time to live and a time to die.”
Apoptosis is programmed cell death, and although we don’t realize it, each of us has been dying every day, right on schedule, in order to remain alive. Cells die because they want to. The cell carefully reverses the birth process: It shrinks, it destroys its basic proteins, and then it goes on to dismantle its own DNA.
Bubbles appear on the surface membrane as the cell opens its portals to the outside world and expels every vital chemical, to finally be swallowed up by the body’s white cells exactly as they would devour an invading microbe. When the process is complete, the cell has dissolved and leaves no trace behind.
When you read this graphic account of a cell sacrificing itself so methodically, you can’t help being touched. Yet the mystical part is still to come. Apoptosis isn’t a way to get rid of sick or old cells, as you might suppose. The process gave us birth. As embryos in the womb, each of us passed through primitive stages of development when we had tadpole tails, fishlike gills, webbing between our fingers, and most surprisingly, too many brain cells. Apoptosis took care of these unwanted vestiges—in the case of the brain, a newborn baby forms proper neural connections by removing the excess brain tissue that we were all born with. (It came as a surprise when neurologists discovered that our brains contain the most cells at birth, a number which gets whittled down by the millions so that higher intelligence can forge its delicate web of connections. It was long thought that killing off brain cells was a pathological process associated with aging. Now the whole issue must be reconsidered.)
Apoptosis doesn’t end in the womb, however. Our bodies continue to thrive on death. The immune cells that engulf and consume invading bacteria would turn on the body’s own tissues if they didn’t induce death in each other and then turn on themselves with the same poisons used against invaders. Whenever any cell detects that its DNA is damaged or defective, it knows that the body will suffer if this defect is passed on. Fortunately, every cell carries a poison gene known as p53 that can be activated to make itself die.
These few facts barely scratch the surface. Anatomists long ago knew that skin cells die every few days; that retinal cells, red blood cells, and stomach cells also are programmed with specific short life spans so that their tissues can be quickly replenished. Each dies for its own unique reason. Skin cells have to be sloughed off so that our skin remains supple, while stomach cells die as part of the potent chemical combustion that digests food.
Death cannot be our enemy if we have depended upon it from the womb. Consider the following irony.
As it turns out, the body is capable of taking a vacation from death by producing cells that decide to live forever. These cells don’t trigger p53 when they detect defects in their own DNA. And by refusing to issue their own death warrants, these cells divide relentlessly and invasively. Cancer, the most feared of diseases, is the body’s vacation from death, while programmed death is its ticket to life. This is the paradox of life and death confronted head on. The mystical notion of dying every day turns out to be the body’s most concrete fact.
What this means is that we are exquisitely sensitive to the balance of positive and negative forces, and when the balance is tipped, death is the natural response. Nietzsche once remarked that humans are the only creatures who must be encouraged to stay alive. He couldn’t have known that this is literally true.
Cells receive positive signals that tell them to stay alive—chemicals called growth factors. If these positive signals are withdrawn, the cell loses its will to live. Like the Mafia’s kiss of death, the cell can also be sent messengers that bind to its outer receptors to signal that death has arrived—these chemical messengers are actually known as “death activators.”
Months after writing this paragraph I met a Harvard Medical School professor who had discovered an amazing fact. There is a substance that causes cancer cells to activate new blood vessels so that they can get food. Medical research has focused on finding out how to block this unknown substance so that malignant growths can be deprived of nutrients and thus killed. The professor discovered that the exact opposite substance causes toxemia in pregnant women, a potentially fatal disorder in which the blood vessels are “unhappy” that they are undergoing normal programmed cell death. “You realize what this means?” he said with deep awe. “The body can trigger chemicals in a balancing act between life and death, and yet science has totally ignored who is doing the balancing. Doesn’t the whole secret of health lie in that part of ourselves, not in the chemicals being used?” The fact that consciousness could be the missing ingredient, theX factor behind the scenes, came to him as a revelation.
The mystics have preempted science here because one reads in many mystical traditions that every person dies at exactly the right time and knows in advance when that time is. But I would like to examine more deeply the concept of dying every day. To die every day is a choice everyone overlooks. I want to see myself as the same person from day to day in order to preserve my sense of identity. I want to see myself as inhabiting the same body every day because it is disturbing to think that my body is constantly deserting me.
Yet it must, if I am not to be a living mummy. Following the complex timetable of apoptosis, I am given a new body via the mechanism of death. This process happens subtly enough that it passes without notice.
No one sees a two-year-old turning in her body for a new one at age three. Every day she has the same body, and yet she doesn’t. Only the constant process of renewal—a gift of death—enables her to keep pace with each stage of development. The wonder is that one feels like the same person in the midst of such endless shape-shifting.
Unlike with cell death, I can observe my ideas being born and dying. To support the passage from childish thought to adult thought, the mind has to die every day. My cherished ideas die and never reappear; my most intense experiences are consumed by their own passions; my answer to the question “Who am I?” totally changes from age two to three, three to four, and so on throughout life.
We understand death when we drop the illusion that life must be continuous. All of nature obeys one rhythm—the universe is dying at the speed of light yet it still manages along the way to create this planet and the life forms inhabiting it. Our bodies are dying at many different speeds at once, beginning with the photon, ascending through chemical dissolution, cell death, tissue regeneration, and finally the death of the whole organism. What are we so afraid of?
Apoptosis rescues us from fear, I think. The death of a single cell makes no difference to the body.
What counts is not the act but the plan—an overarching design that brings the balance of positive and negative signals that every cell responds to. The plan is beyond time because it dates to the very construction of time. The plan is beyond space because it is everywhere in the body and yet nowhere—every cell as it dies takes the plan with it, and yet the plan survives.
In the one reality, you don’t settle an argument by picking sides—both sides of any argument are equally true. So I have no trouble conceding that what happens after death is invisible to the eye and cannot be proved as a material event. I concede without question that we normally don’t remember our past lives and can live very well without that knowledge. Still, I don’t understand how anyone can remain a materialist after seeing apoptosis at work. The case against life after death looks strong only if you ignore everything discovered about cells, photons, molecules, thoughts, and the whole body. Every level of existence is born and dies on its own timetable, from less than a millionth of a second to the probable rebirth of a new universe billions of years from now. The hope that lies beyond death comes from the promise of renewal. If you passionately identify with life itself instead of with the passing parade of forms and phenomena, death takes its rightful place as the agent of renewal. In one of his poems, Tagore asks himself, “What will you give / When death knocks at your door?” His answer displays the untroubled joy of someone who has risen above the fear surrounding death:

  • The fullness of my life—
  • The sweet wine of autumn days and summer nights,
  • My little hoard gleaned through the years,
  • And hours rich with living.
  • That will be my gift
  • When death knocks at my door.

CHANGING YOUR REALITY TO ACCOMMODATE THE TENTH SECRET

The tenth secret says that life and death are naturally compatible. You can make this secret personal by shedding the image of yourself that belongs to the past—a kind of exfoliation of your self-image. The  exercise is very simple: Sit with your eyes closed and see yourself as an infant. Use the best baby picture you can remember, or if you don’t recall such an image, create one.
Make sure the baby is awake and alert. Catch its attention and ask it to look into your eyes. When you’ve made contact, just gaze for a moment until you both feel settled and connected to each other.
Now invite the baby to join you and slowly watch the image fade into the center of your chest. You can visualize a field of light that absorbs the image if you want, or just a warm feeling in your heart.
Now see yourself as a toddler. Again, make contact and once you have, ask that version of you to join
you. Proceed in this way through any past self you wish to bring to mind—if you have particularly vivid memories of a certain age, linger there, but ultimately you want to see every image fade and disappear.
Continue up to your present age, and then go on to see yourself in stages older than you are now. End up with two final images: one of you as a very old person but in good health, and one of you on your deathbed. In each case make contact, and then let the image be absorbed into you.
When the image of yourself dying is gone, sit quietly and feel what remains. No one can actually imagine his or her own death because, even if you go to the extent—which may be too gruesome for many people—of seeing yourself as a corpse being lowered into the grave and decomposing to its elements, the witness will remain. Visualizing yourself as a corpse is an ancient Tantric exercise from India, and I have led groups through it. Almost everyone gets the point, which has nothing to do with gruesomeness:
When you see every earthly vestige of yourself vanish, you realize you will never succeed in extinguishing yourself. The presence of the witness, who is the ultimate survivor, points the way beyond the dance of life and death.

Exercise #2: Dying Consciously

Like every experience, dying is something you create as much as something that is happening to you. In many Eastern cultures, there is a practice called “conscious death,” in which the person participates actively in shaping the dying process. Using prayer, rituals, meditation, and assistance from the living, the dying person shifts the balance from “this experience is happening to me” to “I am creating this experience.”
In the West, we don’t have a tradition of conscious death. In fact, we leave dying people alone in impersonal hospitals where the routine is cold, frightening, and dehumanizing. There is much to change on that front. What you can do personally at this moment is to bring your awareness to the dying process, ridding it of excessive fear and anxiety.
Think of someone close to you who is elderly and close to dying. See yourself in the room with the person—you can imagine the room if you don’t have actual knowledge of where the person is. Put yourself inside the mind and body of the person. See yourself in detail; feel the bed, see the light coming in through the window, and surround yourself with the faces of family and attending doctors and nurses, if there are any.
Now begin to assist the person in the shift from passively facing death to actively creating the experience.
Hear yourself talking in a normal voice; there’s no need for solemnity. Be comforting and reassuring, but focus primarily on shifting the person’s awareness from “this is happening to me” to “I am doing this.”
Here are the main themes to talk about (I’ve put them in the second person, as if confiding in a close friend):

  • I think you’ve had a beautiful life. Let’s talk about the best things you remember.
  • You can be proud of having turned out to be a good person.
  • You have created a lot of love and respect.
  • Where would you like to go from here?
  • Tell me how you feel about what’s happening. How would you change it if you could?
  • If you have any regrets, tell me about them. I’ll help you let go of them.
  • You have no more need for sorrow. I’ll help you let go of any that you still feel.
  • You deserve to be at peace. You have run your race well, and now that it’s finished, I’ll help you home.
  • You won’t believe this, but I envy you. You are about to see what’s behind the curtain.
  • Is there anything you want for your journey?

You can, of course, bring the same themes to the bedside of someone who is truly dying. But having an imaginary conversation is a good way to reach down into yourself. The process shouldn’t be a once-over-lightly. Each topic could last an hour. To be really engaged, you’ll need to feel that you are giving yourself ample attention. This exercise should bring up very mixed feelings, since we all harbor fear and sorrow at the prospect of death. If you have someone in your life who died before you were able to bid them a complete farewell, imagine talking to the person about the themes I just listed. The domain where life and death merge is always here with us, and by paying attention to it you connect yourself to a precious aspect of awareness. Dying in full awareness is completely natural if you have lived in full awareness.

 
 
     
     
   
     
     
 

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