Which way? August 12, 2016

“What is needed here is preparatio mortis: preparation for death, a spiritual education in coming to terms with our mortality.  This is a task not for the last weeks of life – It is often too late by then …”

Angela Tilby, (2011). BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day, 17 February.

For a long time I’ve been in a quandary about something.  Most people who know me know of my interest in death, dying and the afterlife, but few know about my experience of being a student in an esoteric Christian School for a number of years.  This period of my life, in conjunction with the other-worldly experiences which began in my childhood, has had a profound and ongoing impact in shaping my way of being in the world and my relationship with what I term Higher Life, the Fourth Way, and Beyond the Fourth Way (all of which has been documented in a book I was asked to write when I was a student of the School).

Currently, there is a growing global social movement to reclaim our dying and death, to wrest it from the medicalised model and reductionist framework which has become so entrenched in the West, and to face our mortality with acceptance and fortitude.  In fact, over the last few years a whole new industry has sprung up in response to our disenfranchisement with death and dying.  The aim and intention of this industry is to enable us to take charge of the type of death we want including how, where and by whose hands we want to die, and what type of funeral or burial we might want.  Websites and blogs have sprung up on the world-wide web, national and international workshops and conferences are offered, journal articles are published and organisations and related events devoted to raising death-awareness and dispelling death fears populate social media and the marketplace.

While there is an intense focus on becoming ‘death literate’ (Noonan et al, 2016)[2] there are other quiet voices emphasising something else; the importance of what happens after death, preparing for our afterlife, and understanding why we’re born at all.  There is a purpose to our birth, as there is to our life, as there is to our death, the physical event of which is the door through which we pass from embodied life into disembodied life.  While we need to think about our death, we also need, as Tilby so eloquently puts it, a spiritual education prior to our death.  It seems to me that increasing emphasis is being placed on the event of our dying, but precious little emphasis being devoted to the spiritual purpose of our life.

We all have different ways of being in the world and understanding the spiritual nature of the universe, and I’m no different.  Being heavily influenced by the events of my childhood, (which if truth be told are not that uncommon), and the ongoing other-worldly or psychospiritual events which have not only populated my life but served to educate me, I am in no doubt that life continues after death, and that not only is death simply ‘deathless existence’ (Groves, 1998) but that ‘our sense of reality depends upon the way we know things’ (Groves, 1998) [3].  But there is more to it than this, much more.  I rather like the following Sufi teaching story, which illustrates this point:

Once upon a time the fishes of a certain river took counsel together and said, “They tell us that our life and being is from the water, but we have never seen water, and know not what it is”. 

Then some said, “There dwells in the sea a very wise fish who knows all things.  Let us journey to him and learn what water is”.  They made the journey, found the wise fish, and made their request.  He replied:

Oh ye who seek to solve the knot!

Ye live in God, yet know him not.

Ye sit upon the river’s brink,

Yet crave in vain a drop to drink.

Ye dwell beside a countless store

Yet perish hungry at the door.

They thanked him and said, “Forasmuch as you have shown us what water is not, we now know perfectly what it is”, and they returned home satisfied.

It seems to me, that we are the fish.

Noonan, K., Horsfall, D., Leonard, R. & Rosenberg, J. (2016) Developing death literacy, Progress in Palliative Care, 24:1, 31-35, doi: 10.1080/09699260.2015.1103498

Groves, P. (1998).  Consciousness as a Spectrum. 1998 Lecture Series. The Philip W. Groves Centre: Author.


Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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