Essays2008 Essays2009 Essays2010














..:: Death ::..


Alan Schneider

             People often find the concept of their ultimate and final demise in death to be a matter of the utmost discomfort to contemplate in any terms, whether rhetorical or literal. In this article, we will be invited to explore this phenomenon, and this exploration will include not only expositions regarding the end of life, but the nature of life itself as experienced by the living.

          The human physical body of flesh is the carrier of the experience of human consciousness on the physical plane of manifestation. Now, that consciousness may be both immanent – or self aware – and subtle – or largely latent (unconscious) – but very few people seem to have no sense of their presence in the physical continuum of experience – consciousness, in a word. If we continue the investigation of this state of things, we quickly discover that far and away the largest component of our consciousness is derived from the activity of the physical senses – vision, audition, tactility, olfaction, and taste. These various systems of interface with the external environment all have their respective frequencies of operation – sampling intervals – and there are additionally dedicated areas of the brain that receive, log into memory, and interpret the incoming signal/data streams. This is all quite mechanistic in character, with some notable points to be made, among them that at no point are we ever in contact with the true, literal nature of the external world that the senses show us. All we ever really “know” is the complex, composite impression that is assembled in the brain – an impression of a “world” of sensation. It is this world that we effectively “die” out of at the end of “life”.

          And there is more to this picture. There is a focus of awareness in the relatively large brain that we support which supports our consciousness. The name given to this focus by Freud was ego. My ego is my most direct sense of manifestation in life. And this is a very complex expression of consciousness, indeed. The ego is simultaneously the record of all my acculturation (through memory), my ongoing sensory amalgam, the vaguely (and sometimes not so vaguely) defined elements of my unconscious impressions, and my thought constructs, beliefs, and emotions, to name just a few areas present. No one can say how many areas may truly be active in self perception. The ego has the primary task of augmenting and enhancing survival, and the quality of experience, for the physical organism. This is generally achieved by comparison of observed states of manifestation – we are all always noting the relative quality and quantity of our experiences of the world, in comparison to our memory of experience in life, and our imagined impressions of the quality and quantity of experiences of others. The ego is also capable of running several background “programs” as well, including a more or less complex ongoing threat assessment, ongoing assessment of the availability of sex partners, and a floating monitor of available resources. Any of these (and a variety of other) programs can be called into the forefront of consciousness instantaneously in response to a dramatic mosaic of drive states that is also both consciously and unconsciously monitored by the same physical senses that monitor the external world. So, my personal sense of self – my ego – is a complex, dynamic condition that continuously oscillates in both intensity and variety.

          This brings us to the first point to be made in the question of existence. There is never a fixed little “me” that I can point to as being “myself” present in consciousness at any given time. There is only a region of “me-ness” that I am aware of more or less directly through second hand observation of “personal” phenomena, almost always referenced to my experience of my physical body and its processes. What this all boils down to is: when I look for myself intensely, I discover that “I” do not really exist! The closest we come to existence is the ongoing physical sensation of the central nervous system, which seems to more or less consistently report to us on the presence of our body surrounded by a world – a body and world that we can never really know as anything other than electronic shadows in the brain. Even the brain is not directly experienced – we only know that “part” of the brain called the mind, and generally only that part of the mind called the ego! I am a chaotic blur of sensation occurring somewhere...that is the reality of my existence. The apparent structure of my ongoing self is the result of socialization with my peers – we all “talk” ourselves into the shared perception of our life and culture.

          The next point to be made is that our “phantom existence” is neurologically integrated as the result of our brain chemistry. Our perception of things is inevitable. Even if I objectively know that my supposedly concrete existence is a fallacy, my brain will still hold that existence together as a real experience with “me” at its center! It is the collapse of this perception in death that is so feared by so many. What are we to do with such a condition that is at once demonstratedly false, and so experientially real?

          A possible inroad to the dilemma of death begins with the understanding that something which is inherently unreal must of necessity live in the fear of the discovery of its own true nature – nonexistence. When we cease the incessant inner dialog that holds our perception together, we begin to confront the difficult truth of out lives – “reality” is not really there, and we are not really there. The eventual advantage to this challenging investigation is the discovery that death is not really there either. So, the beginning of the answer to the ultimate riddle of death begins in the rejection of the false truth of life.

          Since logic is a mechanism of this “false truth”, we cannot use it as anything more than a superficial support for the process. It is useful only in so far as it enables us to understand the illusion of life. A truly experiential process is needed to progressively decondition us out of the acculturated illusion of our existence. This author knows of no more effective way to proceed in this sense than the practice of meditation – the intentional and progressive rejection of the senses by turning within to seek what might be found in the vast, and frequently untapped, reservoir of our extended consciousness.

          The decision to meditate requires a certain level of courage. We are, after all, consciously rejecting what we have heretofore known as our reality, in favor of what is initially a question mark of gargantuan proportions. It is no wonder that many turn back to the comfort of their illusions! The problem with this stance is that the answer to the riddle of death can only be found in meditation. This author has spent his life in search of this and many other “answers”, and has found that all of them are revealed in the meditative state, and nowhere else! In order to know the truth, we must step completely out of the illusion – out of the mind, brain, and body – while still alive, and only meditation and certain near death experiences make this possible. Of the two, meditation is certainly the gentler route!

          The Buddhists have an interesting saying regarding meditation: “If I die before I die, then I do not die when I die...”  There is a profound truth in this observation. Meditation amounts to relaxing the ego to sleep – a sort of death of the senses – and with the onset of that sleep-like trance state, the persistent background fear of death is also lulled to sleep, permitting the contents on the deep unconscious mind to begin to emerge. This is experienced as a “life-after-death” in an altered state of consciousness. Most people have no conception of what this experience is like, since they have never known freedom from the ego and its incessant preoccupation with enforcing the illusion of existence through fear and gratification.

          The “other worlds” of meditation are many and varied. A full discussion of all of them, if such a discussion is indeed possible, lies well beyond the scope of this document. Suffice it to say that the Buddhist “death before death” opens the door to an enormous panorama of perception that boggles the mind of not only the novice meditator, but the experienced meditator as well. To this day, I am amazed at the apparently unending expressions of consciousness thrust into my perception while meditating, and this after decades of practice! The possibilities are endless...

          Life and death are partners in the illusion of existence – life by keeping us seduced in an endless display of sensory distraction, and death by keeping us afraid to leave the wheel of the mind even for an instant through the fear of oblivion at abandoning the sensory continuum. But, if there is any hope of ever surmounting death, it must lie in the acceptance of the existence of some kind of experience that lies beyond the senses, and meditation is something that can be experienced now, before physical death arrives. Any sensible person will avail him or her self of this option under that circumstance.

          The essential technique of meditation is quite simple. One must first find a quiet space that will remain so for an extended period of time. If no other quite space can be found, a library will usually suffice. Having found such a space, one assumes a comfortable posture in some kind of application – a chair will also suffice. It is advisable that one remain upright for the interval – this is the only requirement. Having found a comfortable seat, and quite space, settle back and close the eyes. Begin to notice your breathing, as it settles out into a slow, deep rhythm. Simply continue to observe your breathing as your state of relaxation continues. This will induce an initial altered state of consciousness that is ego-free. One may have visions while meditating. Simply note them and allow them to pass by as the breathing continues. One may experience agitation – particularly in the early stages of the practice. The ego is very persistent, and will not let go of its grip on consciousness easily. If the agitation becomes too severe, simply return to your ego consciousness, and try again later. You can set a (quiet) timer to bring yourself out of the meditation when first beginning the practice. Perhaps fifteen minutes is a good first interval. Upon returning to ego consciousness, take a few minutes to let your mind “normalize” to the experience of the world. Then, go on about your day. This is all there is to the practice!

          This simple exercise will, if undertaken with dedication, unlock the doors to all the states of conscious experience, and release us from both enslavement to the senses, and the accompanying fear of death. One must only take the first step...

                                                 - With Love, Alan -

                                         (CR2007, Alan Schneider)


                                                     Return to Top