One of the folks on a discussion list I’m on was talking about her difficulties in accepting the reality of death as she got older, and asked how other people coped with death, especially hoping to hear how personal experience cast some light on the issue. I thought I’d share here what I wrote her.
My closest personal brush with death happened a few years ago when I took a new medication for my atrial fibrillation. I started feeling funny, but had an appointment with my cardiologist – who took and EKG and then personally rushed me in a wheel chair into the Emergency Room for my heart to be shocked, as I was in ventricular fibrillation, a condition that can be fatal fairly quickly!
What amazed me was how calm I was. I talked intelligently with the doctors and nurses as they were preparing me for the shock, asking about the procedure, made sure my wife knew I was in the ER, etc., being a pleasant fellow to have around, while knowing that this could be it, I could be dead in a few minutes. Then they drugged me with a short acting thing (Brevitol) that made me stupid and unconscious for a few minutes, during which time they shocked me.
In retrospect I marveled that I was so calm about it! Maybe just dumb luck, but my best guess was it came from two factors. One, years of vipassana meditation practice with Shinzen Young, teaching me to be open and clear about the moment, with equanimity, coupled with Gurdjieffian self-remembering practice of staying in the moment, and two, a good intellectual knowledge of the scientific evidence about survival of the spirit after death. I summarize that evidence in one of the chapters of my recent “The End of Materialism” book, where I put it in the Many Maybes category, psychic stuff where there is so much evidence for its reality that it would be stupid to ignore that evidence, but enough questions on interpreting the evidence that I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying it’s “proven” that we survive death. One of my thoughts in the ER was that I was personally going to find out if I survived death!
If I didn’t survive death, of course, I would never suffer the embarrassment of knowing I was wrong in expecting to survive. Along with that, I don’t believe in any kind of hell, no God that I believe in would be that cruel. Difficult afterlife periods perhaps, but no eternal damnation nonsense.
I would like to think I now am guaranteed to have a peaceful and spiritual death, but I know things can change too……
I hope that’s at least a little helpful. Meanwhile my wife and I do the practical stuff, like updating our Advance Directives (we don’t want to be kept alive as vegetables), leaving info for our kids about our stuff, etc., and I continue my work to try to bring genuine science and genuine spirituality a little closer.