Amicus Mortis Posts

February 25, 2019 /

A self-confessed spiritual person told me once that I wasn’t spiritual if I didn’t believe in reincarnation. I had responded in the negative to his question of whether or not I believed in the doctrine, and his response, though not dissimilar to others, caught me by surprise.  Later, I wondered why a belief in reincarnation had become a hallmark for being ‘spiritual’.  I also wondered why those individuals, when encountering an opposing stance, always either seemed compelled to argue otherwise or to look at me with a pitying expression on their face.  People often cite the evidence of past lives as proof, and there are compelling accounts, but intuitively I have always felt that the reality is other than what we believe it to be.

Some time ago I chanced across a book, “Thirty Years Among the Dead“, written by Carl A. Wickland, M.D. a psychiatrist, physician and physical researcher. It presents accounts of spiritual encounters with disembodied souls over a 30 year period, and is an incredibly fascinating insight into the work he undertook in treating patients with mental health problems who were being possessed by disembodied earth-bound spirits.

I opened the book randomly to Page 317 and read the following:

Very unexpectedly we had a visit from the one whose teachings and writings have made world-wide the theory of Reincarnation.

EXPERIENCE, NOVEMBER 1, 1922

Spirit: MADAM BLAVATSKY

Psychic: MRS. WICKLAND

I wanted to come to you this evening. I believe in the work this little circle is doing, and I am very pleased with the work you are carrying on. I wish there were more to help us, to meet us on a half way basis to understand there is no death …

I wanted to be a leader in some way or another. Now I want to bring the truth to the world. I knew of spirit manifestations and I had them myself. I did a great deal in my early days along this line but I commenced to investigate Theosophy … To me came Reincarnation … I studied Reincarnation, and I thought there was truth and justice in the theory that we come back and learn and have more experiences. I taught it and wanted to bring it out to the world and its peoples. I felt that I remembered far back in my past. I felt I knew all about my past, but I was mistaken.

Memories of “past lives” are caused by spirits that bring such thoughts and represent the lives they lived. A spirit impresses you with the experiences of its life and these are implanted in your mind as your own. You then think you remember your past.

When you study, especially when you study Theosophy, you develop your mind and live in an atmosphere of mind. You remove yourself as much as possible from the physical. Naturally you become sensitive and naturally you feel the spirits around you. They speak to you by impressions and their past will be like a panorama. You feel it, and you live over the past of spirits and you make the mistake of taking this for the memory of former incarnations.

I did not know this when I lived. I took it for granted that these memories were true, but when I came to the spirit side of life I learned differently … Reincarnation is not true. I did not want to believe that. They told me here in the spirit world that I could not reincarnate. We progress, we do not come back … If I impress a sensitive with an idea, in one sense I reincarnate – not in his body, but by impressing him with what I have done … No, Reincarnation is not true. I believed it, I taught it, and I was sure that I should come back and be somebody else. But I will not … Some may say this is not Madam Blavatsky, but do not doubt – it is.

I was astonished when I read this, especially as I am very familiar with Theosophy as I am with the principles of reincarnation. What’s more, I had chanced across this book and opened it randomly to Page 317. Isn’t it strange how events unfold?

February 25, 2019 /

My great-grandmother trained as a nurse at Guys Hospital in London in the early 20th Century. All was going well until she contracted what was then termed “brain fever” (probably a form of meningitis) which effectively put a stop to her nursing training. Although her eye-sight had been compromised as a result of the illness she remained undeterred from her calling, becoming both a midwife and a mortuary attendant (she laid out the dead and provided comfort to the bereaved) in the village in which she lived. I realise now she herself was an Amicus Mortis, a friend of the dying and the dead. She was also a trance medium and I fancy that as she companioned the dying when they lived life in the flesh, she also companioned them when they had divorced themselves from their mortal existence to begin their life in spirit.

I grew up listening to hilarious accounts of various ‘happenings’ (as they were termed by the family) occurring around the dead who were always laid out in the family parlour for viewing. Bodies occasionally sat up by themselves and made strange noises and sounds, garments and other items, particularly shoes, were often removed and replaced with poorer quality items by relatives, rowdy gatherings were commonplace, and it was obvious that death was very much a part of the social fabric of life.

I’ve never known this social aspect of death, this inclusiveness. All the deaths I have been involved with have taken place in hospital, and it seems that in the Western 21st Century, dying in the main occurs in medical settings; death generally appears to occur in medical settings. Somehow a social shift occurred which saw the event of death move from the family parlour to the hospital, where, according to Hermione Elliott, approximately 60% of deaths occur.[1]  Atul Gawande believes that advances in medical knowledge and treatment of illness combined with the fact that decisions began to be made for patients (rather than by them) and which were based on the opinion of medical experts, accounts for the major influences underpinning the shift responsible for removing the sick from the home where illness in a sense ran it’s natural course, to medical institutions which promised the hope of a cure.[2]

There are a plethora of books in the public domain as there are social and quasi-political movements calling for a revisioning of death, or perhaps more accurately a revisioning of how we ‘do’ death.  There is also a call for, and a vivification of, the voice of the patient and family in that they seek to reclaim ownership of the terms with which they die, and the ways in which family members and loved ones are supported throughout. It seems that people want to do death differently, and they want to do it on their own terms. They want access to physician-assisted or voluntary-assisted dying, voluntary euthanasia and end-of-life choices that support their own world-view, relevant belief-systems, and wishes. As Gawande notes, people want the right to end their stories on their own terms, in freedom, and with the understanding and acceptance of those terms by the medical profession.

Having experienced my own life-threatening illness and potential death, and having faced the moment in time when as I closed my eyes to sleep I truly didn’t know if when they opened again I would be here (still living life in the flesh), or there (disembodied and living life as a spiritual being in the spiritual universe), I understand the courage it takes to surrender to that unknown, to put your complete trust in an agency that you cannot see, to simply yield to the uncertainties that so often accompany death.[3]  It seems to me that you can only be to others what you have lived and been to yourself, so one of the challenges of being an Amicus to others, I would think, is to first live as an Amicus to yourself.

For many people their first encounter with death is generally vicarious; it is happening or has happened to someone else. Watching someone die or seeing a body for the first time can be a shock, evoking fear, confusion, avoidance or even revulsion. People can be overwhelmed and unprepared by their emotional responses and behaviours toward the dead. At a time when everything is not what it was, and nothing seems to make sense, the challenge for the Amicus is to be the metaphorical ‘eye of the storm’; that place from which surety, calmness, empathy, wisdom and loving understanding radiate. It is the Amicus who embodies those qualities and values, lives them, and then simply by being present wordlessly emanates them from their being. Although they know not how, others are often comforted by their presence, often, with nary a word being spoken.

I would think that an Amicus complements the medical and allied health team, and constitutes a component of the holistic care required at the end of life. Despite this, the Amicus could be perceived by other medical and allied health staff as an interloper, a ‘non-professional’ and someone lacking appropriate medical credentials, skills and training. In addition, the Amicus isn’t just a “presence”; they must have relevant knowledge and experience so as to provide practical guidance and information as well. For example, how can the body be maintained if the family wish to keep the deceased at home prior to the burial?

After much pondering and reflection on the conversations I have had with others, and especially so it seems at this moment in time[4], being an Amicus is somewhat of a social imperative, and that for many reasons.

We’re taught how to be resilient, and how to grow our careers, and get along in life but death doesn’t appear to be a part of our formal education. And I’m thinking that’s why we don’t talk about it; it’s simply not part of our education and as a consequence we’re not socialised into it.  I tend to think that this could well be why near-death experiences provide such a valuable education; they introduce us to an alternate perception of death, which can subsequently have a profound impact on how we live our lives.  Our great challenge is to understand the meaning of death with a view to how we live our lives.

The second challenge is maintaining the integrity of our being in the presence of others, whomever they may be, and whatever the situation, with assuredness, wisdom and understanding.  Many of us don’t think too much on death, and in fact to do so labels one as ‘morbid’.  I have thought about death all my life. I was socialised into it as a child, and that socialisation has never stopped, if anything, it has made me realise how imperative it is that we do think about death as much as we think about life. Elliott states it beautifully,  “coming to terms with death is a lifetime’s work”[5] as does Angela Tilby “what is needed here is praeparatio 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 …” [6]

It seems to me that it is our cosmic duty to develop our potentials and to introduce meaning and purpose to our lives. This is the praeparatio mortis that Tilby speaks of, and consciously preparing for our death is the “lifetime’s work” that Elliott speaks of. It may be a generalisation, but I feel that most people who are called to become an Amicus Mortis have lived a life of at least some preparation, and it is here that the Amicus Mortis come into their own for others who have not.

[1] Elliott, H. (20 August 2014). Death doulas complement nursing care at the end of life. Nursing Times.net. Available from: http://www.nursingtimes.net/hermione-elliott-death-doulas-complement-nursing-care-at-the-end-of-life/5073875.article

[2] Gawande, A. (2014). Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End. London: PROFILE BOOKS LTD.

February 25, 2019 /

Most blog authors are not only unashamedly subjective, but incredibly indulgent with regard to their opinions about their interests, passions, or values, and I’m no different, as any reader of these monthly blogs would agree.  I often wonder when writing them, whether I’m simply grappling with finding my own sense of the meaning of life, and utilising a blog-space to do so, or whether each blog entry offers something to the current death, dying and end-of-life discourse and literature.  Perhaps it’s a mixture of both.

We all have different ways of seeing the world, and determining and understanding our place within the world.  That seeing and understanding arises in response to a myriad of familial, social, cultural, spiritual, geographic and economic influences, all interweaving and impacting upon us at different times in our lives.  Our ‘lens’ through which we look to see the world (a metaphor for our attitudes, values and beliefs), is accordingly shaped in response, constructing a kind of psychospiritual and psychosocial paradigm which frames, governs and directs, ultimately, how we choose to live our lives.

Paradigms change.  They change because the ideas, beliefs, thoughts and actions of the people that construct them change.   According to The Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies (http://www.scenariomagazine.com/a-new-death-paradigm/), as a result of the growing movement of Death Doulas, networks of Death Cafes, and the use of social media platforms as expressions of mourning and loss, we’re not only creating our own emotional support system around dying, but redesigning death in a DIY manner.

There is no doubt that increasing social awareness of death and dying, in particular for ‘dying well’ and on the individual’s terms, evidences a movement away from an overtly medicalised environment for the dying, and generally speaking, our end-of-life.  The upsurge in death literacy in recent times (see Noonan et al, 2016, Developing death literacy, Progress in Palliative Care, 24:1, 31-35), such as for example, the global campaign for physician assisted dying, testifies to the fact that people want more say in how, when and where they die.

Death, the final transition, is the doorway through which we all pass.  It is the inevitable end to our physical birth as embodied beings.  Well, that’s how I contextualise it, that’s my paradigm.  But what about our life after death?  What is the paradigm for that?  Religion and spirituality provide many paradigms in answer to this question, as do non-ordinary phenomena such as near-death experiences, death-bed visions, out-of-body experiences and mediumship.  These demonstrate that we are more than our physical selves, that in addition to bone and flesh, we are something else that exists and eventually lives beyond the time when that bone and flesh can no loner sustain us.

We live until we die, and then what?  That is the burning question.

February 25, 2019 /

 

I came across two quotes recently, which though the author of each appears to have garnered the roots of them from different life experiences and ways of being in the world, seem to contain an underlying theme:

 

“I believe that the greatest truths of the universe don’t lie outside, in the study of the stars

and the planets.  They lie deep within us, in the magnificence of our heart, mind, and soul.

Until we understand what is within, we can’t understand what is without.”

Anita Moorjani, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing. Hay House, 2012.

 

“Each person is a miniature universe in which life enacts and dramatises its processes and events.

The whole world plays upon and interacts with every individual, and becomes intimately

involved in their makeup.  A human being is a togetherness of celestial, spiritual, mental,

emotional, biological, chemical, physical, terrestrial, solar and sidereal substances,

forces and processes, and must necessarily live in and through this multiplicity of

things in order to become a fully evolved being.”

Philip W. Groves, Spiritual Foundations. Triam Press, 2012.

 

The theme is ‘relationship’.  It’s alluded to in these quotes as something almost intersubjective, as something which connects us to something deep and abiding within us, as it does with something equally deep and abiding outside us.  If ‘Man’ is regarded as the representation, in miniature, of the universe, how are we to understand that?

What are those ‘greatest truths’ that Moorjani speaks of in her book, and how does life ‘enact and dramatise its processes and events’ within us, as Groves states?  How are we to understand what Man is or is not, or what the universe is or is not?

Perhaps these authors are talking about reality, not visible or material reality, but spiritual reality?  Perhaps too, they are inviting us to consider what ‘reality’ is?  It seems to me that there are times in all our lives when we know the difference between what is real, and what is not.  The literature abounds with numerous accounts of other-worldly experiences whereby the veil of illusion is lifted and an alternate reality experienced.

And are the glimpses we see then, in the intersection of those two worlds, aspects of those ‘greatest truths’ that Moorjani speaks of?  Are they the shadows of the ‘universe’ that Groves speaks of?   I wonder …

February 25, 2019 /

In September 2014, I facilitated my first Death Cafe; Death Cafe Marrickville.  Inspired by a friend who had been running Death Cafe’s in London (Death Cafe Hamstead), and who herself was deeply involved in the natural death movement, and after much thought and preparation, the time had come to step into the unknown.  Which I did one sunny spring day, heading for a nearby suburb in an attempt to  locate a cafe which would play host to my planned monthly events.

After receiving a wide range of responses, not all of which were overly encouraging, I found myself walking through a doorway and up a staircase which led initially to a first-floor landing.  This continued up to the second floor, and another small landing, on which was a black door.  Upon entering, I found myself in a huge room.  At one end of the room was a low stage, while running the length of one of the walls was a well decked out bar.  Ecclectic furniture decorated the room, with randomly arranged coffee tables, overstuffed couches and gorgeous Chesterfields quite literally consuming the entire space.  Art decor lamps offered muted light in the dim expanse, while heavy brocade drapes, hanging from a high ceiling across tall windows which faced the street, emitted slivers of the hot afternoon glare.

I remember feeling rather awkward, particularly as there was a group of men having a drink and chatting with one another next to the bar.  I wondered if I might have interrupted a gathering of sorts? After identifying the owner, I took a deep breath, launched into my ‘spiel’ and waited.  Craig, who I learnt later shared ownership of Lazy Bones Lounge with Alex, looked at me and said, “A death cafe, what a great idea.”  I was home.

Since that time, both Craig and Alex have generously hosted Death Cafe Marrickville.  Demonstrating great faith in my ability and commitment to encourage death-related discussion in the community, they have been tireless supporters of my endeavours, incredibly patient, and wonderful hosts; in addition to tea, coffee and cake, many a Death Cafe devotee has been offered a glass of wine by Craig during the afternoon session!

In reflecting on Death Cafe Marrickville, its’ been my experience that no two Death Café’s have ever been alike.  In fact, they’re all unique because everyone who attends, even the ‘regulars’ who may come and go, are internally touched in some way, or moved, by whatever they hear.  Being the facilitator, I am especially aware of this with regard to myself.  On many occasions I have learnt about aspects of the funeral industry I was previously unaware of, have had my ‘mental muscles’ poked, prodded and stimulated by attitudes, opinions and behaviour in contrast to my own, and have felt a deep communion with what I believe psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical suffering of others so often reveals; our shared humanity.

The Death Cafe movement (see deathcafe.com) has been inspirational in promoting community-based ‘death literacy’ or in layman’s terms, a forum designed to deconstruct the fear and stereotypes so often associated with death and dying related issues.

The Death Cafe movement was founded in 2011 by Jon Underwood from Hackney, East London, after being inspired by the eminent Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. He created the Death Cafe website and formalised the concept of free gatherings, hosted by willing individuals under a set of guidelines. At each meeting, people gather to discuss death and the varied topics and issues accompanying the subject. Far from being sombre or negative, feedback has proved the Death Cafes to be respectful, supportive occasions,  with warmth, laughter and lively discussion throughout. The enthusiasm generated by these gatherings has meant that the concept has travelled far and wide, mainly via word of mouth and social media.

If you’re interested in attending Death Cafe Marrickville, or just want to keep up to date with what’s on, visit us at facebook.com/deathcafemarrickville/ or at our website at waysofbeing.com.au  You can even send an email to info@waysofbeing.com.au

February 25, 2019 /

During 2015 I completed a Midwifing Death course.  At the same time I was editing a manuscript in readiness for publication in 2016.  The manuscript is an account of the Work as it was taught to me when I attended a Christian Esoteric school in Sydney, Australia, during which time I was taught the principles and practices of the Fourth Way (George I. Gurdjieff, 1866 – 1949) and Beyond the Fourth Way (Dr Philip W. Groves, 1920 – 1999).

As a product of this school, which I attended for fourteen years, it stands to reason that my perspective of life, death and the afterlife is heavily influenced by what I was taught.  But it’s more than what I was taught as a student of this School, it’s what life taught me, and that since I was a child, which has also been a significant influence in shaping my understanding of the cosmic use and purpose of humanity.

Like many people who have had access to education, I hold numerous university degrees and certificates, and while they all have relevant currency, I have always found that it is life that is the greatest university and the greatest teacher.  Accordingly, the lived experience of my life has demonstrated countless times that ‘death’ is in truth deathless existence, and our embodied existence in which we live life in the flesh provides us with the opportunity to work on ourselves.

In 2013 my PhD was conferred.  Prior to that time I never spoke or wrote publically about the spiritual experiences which continue to dominate my life.  Afterward however I did and though ridiculed, but never deterred, I braved derision, misunderstanding, fear, avoidance and anger to present my findings at national and international conferences, run bereavement support programs, and have articles published.  Perhaps it was the context in which I discoursed on death, the returning deceased, which made folk uneasy?  In truth I don’t know.

Through the coming together of the embodied and the disembodied a conjunction between two realities, one material the other non-material, is created.  It is within this space, and the stillness of reflection that can follow, that we are invited to become the living principle of a truth in action because in some way, unique to all who experience after-death contact, we know irrefutably that the dead do not die, and we do not die, we simply change our form and mode of existence.

But there’s more to it than that.  The occurrence of after-death contact indicates that something profound is not only occurring but being communicated as well.  After-death contact, the lived experience of it, is an experiential allegory of potential psychospiritual growth and development.  This potentiality 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.  Importantly, such events invite us to consider life and our participation in life from a transpersonal perspective.