Back to basics: After-death contact

Beyond the mist.  Michele T. Knight©

Many years ago I was approached by an editor who wanted me to contribute an article about my research to their magazine.  The focus for the storyline was unexpected outcomes of completing a doctoral study exploring after-death contact (ADC).  My research explored the returning deceased who made their presence known in some way, shape or form to their bereaved loved one.  This is the opposite to the bereaved who may reach out to them with the help of a medium or some other support or technique; it is the deceased who make contact first.

My previous article had highlighted some of the tensions brought to light when two paradigms come face-to-face with one another.  Those paradigms, analogous for a way of seeing, thinking about and relating to the world and its phenomena, can be broadly classified as the scientific paradigm and the spiritual paradigm.  Both are delineated by a distinct cluster of ideological constructs, and both have adherents who staunchly defend their relative positions.

The research I conducted explored the natures and meanings of after-death contact, a phenomena which I defined as post-mortem engagement between bereaved adults and the person close to them who died, the deceased.  According to lived experience accounts, this occurs when the now non-material  or disembodied person, after their physical death, spontaneously and without assistance or provocation from anyone living, engage and interact with the bereaved individual in a manner deemed by them to be significant or meaningful.

Although everyone who participated in the study brought to it the subjective uniqueness of their own lived experience, there was an underlying sense of communion and providence which interconnected, sequenced and linked those experiences in a deeply profound sense of wholeness and integration.  Reflecting on that time, it seemed to me that we were all reeds in a reed-bed, whose roots were anchored in the same earth.

The editor’s invitation was an interesting one.  How do you interpret ‘unexpected outcomes’?  Are they what one wants to know or suspected, or what one doesn’t want to know?  Are they unexpected outcomes for the researcher conducting the research or, for those individuals choosing to participate?  In pondering these considerations it became apparent to me that there was indeed an unexpected outcome: the implication of the findings and their relationship to how we understand ourselves as elements of the living body of humanity, and, our innate umbilical connection to and with the parent-sacred.

What does this mean?  Well, the methodology my research used privileged pluralistic lived experiences of  non-material anomalous phenomena (which can include for example mystical, spiritual or metaphysical experiences, and alternate ways of knowing).   In addition to potentially transforming the mind of the individual and introducing new trains of thought, such research activities in themselves can become acts of self-realisation for the researcher.

The encounter with the transcendent dimension of the topic of inquiry can not only inform and educate, it can also change the researcher, sometimes radically.  Transpersonal researchers learn about the topic they are researching and themselves and moments of awareness and self-realization can be challenging and confronting, or they can be liberating and enlightening.  But, research conducted as an act of social science endeavour has the ability to initiate and realise authentic change in our world.

Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow writes of the notion of “one’s fullest humanness” (1993:28-40), which he defines as the human being in their psychological, psychosocial, philosophical and spiritual entirety.  This fullest humanness is characterised by Maslow as constituting several intrinsic elements which allude to the notion that human beings are spiritual beings living within a material body:

The spiritual life is then part of the human essence.  It is a defining characteristic of human nature, without which human nature is not full human nature. It is part of the Real Self, of one’s identity, of one’s inner core, of one’s specieshood, of full humanness.
(The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1993:325)

These elements coalesce in the experience of after-death contact, which indicates that something profound is not only occurring but being communicated as well.  After-death contact is an experiential allegory of potential psychological and spiritual growth and development, which can be utilised by the experient to re-evaluate the meaning of their existence as a human being, the meaning of life, and the meaning of their relationship with the sacred or the spiritually infinite. It invites the individual to consider life and one’s participation in life from a spiritual paradigm rather than from the scientific paradigm.

After-death contact occurring within the context of bereavement, which is what my research explored,  suggests that something other than material reality is both at work and being revealed because there is an intersection occurring between two realities; material and non-material reality.  In essence, it is not so much that this phenomena exists, it is that it occurs.  Acknowledging and accepting its existence is one matter, but truly understanding the conditions which bring about that occurrence, and why, is another.

Engagement and ritual with the sacred or spiritually infinite and relationships between the living and the deceased, and with material and non-material reality, is recognised by experients in both Western and non-Western, industrial and non-industrial cultures and societies.  This relationship is well documented in historical and contemporary anthropological, sociological, philosophical, religious and spiritual literature (Durkheim, 1995 orig. pub. 1912; Eliade, 1958; Eliade & Couliano, 2000; Frazer, 1913; Goss & Klass, 2005; Hume, 2007; James, 1902; Maslow, 1964).  After-death contact occurring within a context of bereavement, is a constituent of this organically evolving history.  It constitutes a spiritual paradigm of soul growth and is as much a component of the subjective experience of death as it is a social construction of the psychospiritual growth of the human beings who experience it.

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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