I just finished the book The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Dowling Singh. Much of what you say she also talks about in her work with the dying. The moments close to death seem to be a time of the ego falling away, the thinning of the veil, so to speak. There seems to be an “experience” before death. This seems to be the process in terminal illness, but what about those who die suddenly like in an accident or heart attack, etc.? I’ve been wondering about any process there. Do you think there is any kind of retention of the mortal experience, or does it all just dissolve into oblivion? Maybe the foundational question is, “What is the purpose in the Ground of Being incarnating?” Perhaps these are all questions of the ego and not really necessary?
I began responding to Amy’s questions in a comment reply there, but my thoughts became lengthy, so I decided to turn it into a new article. Thank you, Amy, for inspiring these new thoughts in me. It is often such questions that provoke thinking, and the questions themselves are almost more important than any potential answers. I don’t claim to hold definitive answers to such questions, because they are deep indeed, but I will share my perspectives and my interpretations of my contemplation, at present, and I hope they may be helpful to you to ponder and take with you into your own prayer and meditations.
I have read some of Singh’s thoughts before through Rohr’s daily meditations, and I agree that the ego veil in the mind thins out when death approaches. The brain/mind system simply cannot continue constructing the separate self identity, the dualistic self, the identity of exclusive “me,” and so the mind begins to see beyond it. Perhaps more precisely, consciousness begins to see its own true pure nature as the mind itself falls away from it, as thoughts fall into silence, as perceptions become stilled, as consciousness is purified. Then it is just consciousness that is left to know the Beauty of its Self.
As far as those who die suddenly, like in a sudden car accident, I think there is a similar process at work. The mind stops functioning, leaving only the pure Reality. It’s difficult to call it “consciousness” in this context, because we so often associate that with the mind and a living brain. Clearly the brain/mind system is no longer working here, so there can be no “consciousness” in that traditional sense of a body-mind being “aware.” But I don’t think it is necessarily the body being aware in the former case either. It is something deeper that is aware, from which all awareness arises, even within a body-mind.
I suggest that the ego-self is not the One who becomes aware of heaven, but rather heaven is the very absence of ego. If the ego is the dualistic subject-object thoughts of separation from God, then the absence of ego is the very Reality of Oneness in God. People may ask, what then is conscious? It can’t be a body, it can’t be a brain, if consciousness is something deeper than both. So what is the thing that is conscious, and what is consciousness?
This is the universal mystical question that can’t be answered adequately in words. We cannot say what that deepest essence is that is conscious (although we try), we can only discover that it is, and that it is our own deepest essence. We can experience it directly, in moments of nondual unitive transcendent states of consciousness, but we can’t describe it as it is. We can’t say what it is, because then it would again be something dualistic and symbolic apart from us. No, it is us, the deepest “I,” the truest Reality of our Being and of all Being. It is somehow Being itself, that which is.
Is there any kind of retention of mortal experience, any memory after death? It’s a good question. Let me try to give an answer. All of our mortal experiences are already aspects of the One Universal Being. They are all part of It already. In that sense they are retained, because they already always are part of that One, in the One, of the One, they are the One its Self acting, moving, breathing, living, evolving, progressing, developing, complexifying, becoming more conscious, more beautiful, more good, more creative. They don’t necessarily belong to little us, our finite mortal self, our particular being, our limited brain/mind. As Paul said, we (ego) are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19). We belong to Another, the One we really are.
When we realize that Oneness, we realize that nothing is really ever lost, because All is there, it is always already there, because it is All. Nothing can escape that All, or it would not be All. Nothing can ever get outside of All. Nothing that ever is can ever really be lost or totally annihilated within it. It is always the All, the One, the Whole, the Totality, the Source. All of our memories are but reflections within that One, symbols within that One, imprints within that One, experience of the One its Self. They have no real separate reality of their own. They are the Reality already underneath the veil of our perceptions.
We have no need to worry that something will be lost in death that we cherish and Love, rather, the only thing lost is the ego which veils Love. That ego identity is stripped away, leaving only Love, and that Love includes everything that we have ever Loved. Losing the ego is not a loss, but the ultimate gain! We realize what we ultimately have always been. So, no, our experiences are not dissolved into oblivion, or annihilated, but rather it is more like they are realized in the Light of Truth as all being part of the One that they have always always been.
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To turn to your foundational question, what is the purpose in the Ground of Being incarnating its Self? Perhaps for the Love of it. It is all the Ground can do. It doesn’t exist as such without its incarnation. It is, in a sense, non-existent, until it incarnates its Self. I realize this is hard to fathom, that anything can “exist” in any sense in a “non-existent” way, which seems entirely paradoxical, but that’s mysticism for you. In the most foundational sense, God in its essence is unmanifest, formless, void, empty, nothing (no-thing), absolute, unchanging, timeless (eternal). It must incarnate in order to exist, in order to manifest its Self, in order to be filled, to be some thing, to change, to experience time, to have any experience at all.
The Ground of Being just remains ground if it doesn’t incarnate, it stays flat, nothing. To become a mountain, that ground must rise up, must become, must unfold its Self, must be born into material living reality, it must birth its Self. As Richard Rohr says, “God becomes what It Loves,” and Loves what it becomes. God Loved becoming something, becoming existent, becoming us, becoming the mountain, becoming a flower, becoming the actual ocean, becoming the cosmos and the solar system and the Earth, becoming you and me. God Loved us into being! It is the outpouring of Love that becomes it All. If God had remained the ground, it would have remained nothing, literally no thing. How exciting is that? God Loves incarnating its Self in every form it can possibly imagine. Wow! What a journey!
Of course, this necessarily comes with downsides such as storms, floods, asteroid impacts, pain, suffering, darkness, cold, starvation, torture, misery, and death, none of which is pleasurable, favorable, preferable, enjoyable, etc., from our everyday point of view. It’s unacceptable! We shake our fist at God and cry with Job, “why?!” Why could we not just have the upsides, the joy, happiness, love, bliss, beauty? Why not just this? Why could God not have incarnated its Self with just these upsides, with these “good” things? Is God not powerful enough? Is God not good? It’s the perennial problem of theodicy, of evil.
I suggest that it is deeply connected with the metaphysical necessity of opposites or dualities in order for reality to exist at all. How can there ever be such a thing as an upside, if there is never a downside? How could we ever know day, if we never experienced night? It would be impossible. The reality of day wouldn’t exist as an object of perception unless we knew its juxtaposition, its opposite, and so these polarities exist so that both may exist. They are interdependent and co-arising, so that Reality may be.
As I wrote a little while ago, there is no such thing as good without evil/sin, no joy without misery, which is a extremely difficult thing for our minds to comprehend. In fact, we cannot comprehend it, which is why we need to transcend the mind entirely. Our dualistic mind will always prefer one over the other, the good over evil, the joy over misery. It can never accept that we must have both for either to exist. And so we transcend so that we may realize the unity of opposites, the union of the polarities, that these are two aspects along a single spectrum, a single Reality, the Oneness of the two, the coincidentia oppositorum.
To sum up, even those who die suddenly are realized once again in the eternal One. They are saved, redeemed, awakened, exalted, liberated. Their ego is transcended, it dies, and what is left is simply pure Divinity, what they always ever were under the veil of their ego identity, the thought-filled perception-filled mind. Life’s experiences and their memories are not something separate from this One, and they are not really “lost” in death. All they ever are are traces within the One, expressions of the One, Love in the One, and no part of the One is ever lost. It can go nowhere. Where would it go? There is no outside or exterior to the Whole, the All, the Totality, the Singularity.
For those who are into astrophysics, this might sound similar to the holographic principle, and I think there is good reason for that. I think we are essentially holographic projections of the Singularity within the Singularity, incarnations of the One within the One. But more of that in another article.
The reason for the incarnation is simply to Love, to exist, to be, to experience, to Live. The One wanted to Live, and so it became Life, it birthed the Christ, as it is known in Christianity, or the Dharmakaya gave birth to the Nirmanakaya Buddha in Buddhism. And they are still giving birth now! Right now, in you and me, and everyone and everything. Each tradition has its own way of saying nearly the same thing, remarkably, even when those traditions’ histories are wholly disparate geographically without contact, and I think that is saying something deeply Real.
I think it is because they all come from the same mystical Ground, they are interpretations of experiences in that Ground, of that Ground, of that One. People, such as Jesus, awakened to their Self as that One, as the One within Jesus, and so then Jesus began to articulate that One in his own time and in his own Way. We must articulate it today in our own Way. This is my articulation, my interpretation.
What do you think? Do all people return to heaven when they die? Are all “saved”? Is memory retained? How? What is it all for? I’d love to hear your thoughts, my Beloved friends.