Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Last Stage of Life : When the Chronic Chickens Come Home to Roost!

I see in myself and in others my age (over 60) the beginning stages of health issues that, when younger, would perhaps come and go but now appear to be turning chronic, or at least more difficult to ignore or to function normally when in the midst of an episode. 

I also see in myself and in others my (over 60) that we spend an increasing amount of time and money to obtain an accurate diagnosis and experimenting with a variety of treatments. 

I am referring to the wide range of illnesses broadly covered by the term inflammation and presumably linked in one way or another with auto immune responses. [This, in one simple sentence, exhausts the entire depth of my medical knowledge.] These maladies, as opposed to more straight forward medical treatments such as knee or hip replacements, corrective surgeries on toes or hands, dental implants, or even heart procedures and also unrelated to the broad spectrum of cancer treatments, are difficult to diagnose and treat. They are also great candidates for naturopathy, homeopathy, Ayurveda, herbs, acupuncture, and massage.

Naturally one should do what one can to assuage or even cure the body's troubles. But do I see much success in this realm of illnesses? Not really. I see a lot of time and money being spent, but very little actual results. 

I have read seemingly everything imaginable on skin disorders but no where and no one claims to know their cause or their cure. I've read every diet or elimination diet imaginable. But in these realms treatments run the gamut from merely symptomatic, mostly (self) experimental, hypothetical and, of course, sooner or later, one finds an old fashion out and out fraud.

As a yogi and a dogma-drenched believer in karma and reincarnation I veritably gloat and glow in the prospect of such mighty concepts as "past bad karma" that could take lifetimes to overcome!!!!!! "Ha, ha, ha: Catch 22." It's the metaphysical equivalent of "take two aspirin and call me in the morning!" Our bottom line explanation for anything we can't explain.

If I was taught only one thing by my beloved teacher, Swami Kriyananda--one mantra that I repeat under stress and under all conditions--it is this: BOTH-AND. Now repeat this: BOTH-AND. Sit down; have a candy cigarette as I explain and digress. This is deep stuff, so listen up.

"Swamiji" led a life under enormous "stress," most self-imposed (like creating for himself writing deadlines for his 150 books or pouring out 400 pieces of music; rushing to give thousands of public lectures, traveling tens of thousands car miles and millions of airplane miles---you get the idea). His physical health challenges and conditions warrant a non-fiction medical novel. Maybe his doctor and friend, Dr. Peter Van Houten will write that book someday. Maybe Swamiji never had leprosy, but that could be the only one he forgot to get. He accepted various medical treatments, procedures and surgeries but he took them all in as God's grace and will. He seemed somewhat indifferent to the plethora of medications he was instructed to take. Only with the insistent help from his staff, did he manage to take any of them.

But did these many health challenges stop him from a lifetime only one week of which would have exhausted you or me? No! And why? Oh, simple: his mantra: BOTH-AND! He could both be at death's door and, the same evening, give a lecture to hundreds. Just think what you could accomplish with that mantra! It is all God: Doer, doing, done. As he would remind us, owing to many things like health, energy and talent, he couldn't do any of those many things. But God could do all of them. He, Kriyananda, simply wasn't the Doer.

Applying now, at long last (you've been waiting, I know) this magic mantra, BOTH-AND, to our chickens who have come home to roost (no, not roast), you'll finally see where I am going with this very profound article: do what you can to alleviate your illnesses but at the same time be prepared for the fact that these are karmic tests. The real test is probably the degree of equanimity, faith, energy, and cheerfulness (and if you're REALLY GOOD: gratitude) you can bring to bear while going about your karma-imposed, God-inspired duties each day. But this is only the beginning. There's more.

Swamiji used to periodically tell the story of one "Sufi woman saint: Rabbi'a. She lay upon her deathbed, her body ill and in pain. Three disciples of hers came to console her. "He is no lover of God, after all," said one, "who is not willing to suffer for God's sake." "This smacks of egoism to me," replied the saint. Another of the disciples attempted a correction. "He is no true lover of God who is not happy to suffer for God's sake." "More than this is needed," she replied. "Then you tell us, Mother," said the third. "What should be the right attitude for a lover of God." "He is no true lover of God," she said, "who does not forget his suffering in the contemplation of the Supreme Beloved." **

(**excerpted from Swamiji's book, "A Place Called Ananda: Chapter 16, Afterthoughts")

It has been well said that a healing is not a cure. If we wish to be healed, we must try our best but leave the rest (to God). As I like to joke: we don't get out of this life, alive. Our bodies will need some excuse to die. We may not know the physical, mental or spiritual causes of our persistent illnesses but by remaining centered and even-minded, by focusing increasingly on experiencing God as the only Doer and actor in your life, the seeds of past karma will be roasted by cauterizing the Ego-principle. The details of past karma don't really matter. Here and now is the only reality: God Alone.

Joy and blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dying to Learn How to Die

Most of the readers of this blog know Nayaswami Tushti Conti who, after a battle with cancer, has passed on from this world just a few days ago.

One of the interesting aspects of her process was the understandable desire on her part to "die consciously." It is axiomatic in the tradition of yoga, and presumably all spiritual traditions, that to die peacefully with "God on your lips" is something of the gold standard for the death of a devotee.

Yes, it's true that a liberated master is said to exit his body consciously, knowing even the time and the hour beforehand, but in these thoughts that I wish to share, I'm not referencing that state of consciousness. Only the lesser goal of exiting in peace and with conscious, devotional awareness.

I have no pretense to offer any deep insights into the process of dying but certainly this hope of dying consciously spurs thoughts and reflections in the minds of the devotee-friends of Tushti.

No experienced hospice care giver; no experienced midwife or obstetrician; no thoughtful observer of life itself is unaware of the simple fact that each death, each birth, and each life is unique and personal. It is not reasonable, therefore, to burden one's expectations of death with a judgment of "good" or "bad" or holy or profane based solely on the incidents and attributes of a particular person's dying.

Take the daily example of "falling" to sleep. One simply CANNOT WILL oneself to sleep. To "fall" asleep, you have to let go; relax! Dying must surely have a similar aspect: not in every and all cases of natural death but the basic stages of resistance and final acceptance or surrender are fairly easily imagined and readily observed with even some modest amount of deathbed experience.

We, as devotees, must consider the importance of accepting not just the time but the circumstances of our death. We cannot say what karma of our own might be released by end of life suffering if accepted with faith and equanimity. Naturally we would all like to have a peace-filled, joy infused passing, with friends at our side, and angels and masters above! But whether or not we are granted this grace, we should not judge ourselves or others by its yardstick.

It is also axiomatic that one's thought at death importantly affects one's journey "northward" into the astral realm and, just as importantly, one's next incarnation (if any). The thought of God, and self-offering without reservation into the light, can propel one past mountains of past (bad) karma, or so it is said. (Krishna so states in the Bhagavad Gita and similarly in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and numerous other traditions.) [So, too, as we "fall" asleep our last thought can impact our sleep, our dreams, and the state in which we reawaken in the morning!]

I very much like this thought-at-death "escape clause;" in fact, I have a lot riding on it. Unfortunately I have this nagging thought that "as I have lived, so shall I die!" If one has had no God-remembrance in his daily life, why would it suddenly appear at death: the moment of extreme renunciation of attachment to the body, to loved ones, to fears, attachments, unfulfilled desires, regrets and so much more?

Yet, I think it's one of those "both-and" kind of things. I can picture, for example, a person who truly loves God but has had many challenges in life: addictive habits, for example; or extremely poor health; then, at death, this person makes a heroic effort to surrender to the love of God. At such a moment perhaps all the karma, all the challenges evaporate in this moment of supreme surrender to the light.

As the life force withdraws from the organs and tissues and breath begins to fade, the "I" is beginning to "shrink" as the life force is squeezed, as it were, into the the narrow passageways of the astral body. We do this in a partial way each night as we "fall" asleep and rest in the lower energy centers (the chakras) of the spine. This is in part how and why our senses shut off and are generally unaware or untouched by outer lights, sounds, and so on.

Deprived of the day-to-day and lifetime identification with the body, the senses, passing thoughts, memories and desires, the "I" seems to fall asleep; to wink out, like a light bulb being shut off. Thus it is that many people at death appear or in fact do fall asleep and fade away, seemingly unconscious. That seeming fact however is also illusive; hearing, being the last sense to fade away, gives to the apparently unconscious dying person a link to his or her surroundings such that, he may not be able to visibly respond or react to what is being around him, he may nonetheless be affected, emotionally or otherwise.

Reports of a last minute rush of wakefulness, even when otherwise heavily sedated, is not uncommon: whether immediately before death or within hours or the last day. Thus it is a back and forth between wakefulness and a kind of sleep. There is no end to the iterations and symptoms that can be observed in dying persons when surveying a large sampling of deaths.

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that the sojourn between earthly incarnations is marked mostly by a kind of sleep state: not unlike what we experience each night. Deprived of a physical body, with its brain, organs and nervous system (including senses) the average person is not capable of retaining consciousness in the prolonged sleep of death. It's like those who can climb Mt. Everest without oxygen. Few can do it. Deprived of oxygen of breath, most people go unconscious (actually, "sub" conscious).

But there are others who live more directly and more frequently in a state of expanded awareness, living, in effect, on the direct current of the intelligent life force that makes life in a human body possible to begin with. Deep meditators who effectively control their breath and heart rate, slowing it down not into the state of subconscious sleep but into an intense state of heightened awareness, will more likely enter back into that state during the dying process. Those whose lives on earth were lived more in the brain and higher centers (say, from the heart upwards), people such as devotees, saints, meditators, inventors, composers, scientists, mathematicians, humanitarians, and the like, are also more likely to remain conscious of the astral realm.

So as we slip towards losing our breath and our heart beat and are being "squeezed" into the astral tunnel from which we came into the body (at conception), it either appears or is in fact most people's experience to go subconscious. I suspect that one can no more by will power alone remain in the conscious, wakeful state during the final stage of dying than one can do so when falling asleep. [As the baby being born is squeezed and pushed through the mother's birth canal, so we, being reborn on the astral plane at physical death, are squeezed in the upward direction through the birth canal of the astral spine.]

The difference however is that, whether by divine grace, good karma, and/or actual life experience, it is possible, I believe and have been given to understand, to exit the body more, rather than less, consciously. But the "more" is not the day-to-day conscious mind and consciousness of the personality version of "I," it is, I am certain, the higher mind of superconsciousness, stripped of attributes but intensely aware with undertones (or overtones) of joy, peace, energy, the astral sounds or inner light, etc. No doubt, as we are taught, there are some who do so in the presence of or guidance of God, guru, etc. Again I say: there is no one set pattern or experience for everyone.

This "squeezing" is like squeezing the water flowing in a hose; by temporarily limiting the diameter of the flow, the flow shoots out with greater force. In an analagous manner, it is commonly reported that upon exiting the body and entering the astral realm, one enters into the "light at the end of the (astral) tunnel [of the spine]." There one is greeted by loved ones; by one's guru; by an angel; etc. There is a moment where a life review takes place and we see the significance of events that perhaps we didn't really notice. We receive a kind of report card. It is not judgmental, it is, in a spiritual sense, simply a review and a report. Perhaps it is a moment to resolve to do better in the future.

How long after that intense experience wherein we have a heightened experience do we retain consciousness is dependent, then, upon the factors described above. Most people, fall asleep for a much needed rest after a long or difficult life, or suffering in old age, regrets, disappointments and so on. Since this topic is worthy of a book, I can only go so far in a blog article.

Mostly my point is to offer reassurance that each of us must face our final exam as best we can with courage, faith, joy and gratitude. We need not concern ourselves for the ideally "perfect" ending. Let us live in the light rather than hope it is there in the end. It will be there one way or the other if we have lived it day to day.

As for our friend, Tushti, we know she is well and in joy. Her life was lived in that consciousness and her dying confirmed it.

Blessings to you and may we each approach life's Final Exam ready to succeed!

Nayaswami Hriman

PS A further consideration is "What of "Me" survives past death?" Maybe some other time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Here Today; Gone to Maui!

There's nothing like being a tourist to view life as a play, actors entering the stage and the exiting, to be seen no more!

Ah, indeed....paradise....Hawaii is no place for serious thought.......seriously?

Every time something deep comes into my mind, a mango or papaya intervenes, or the sound of crashing surf across the street reminds me of the waves I am missing!

Well, we've enjoyed our brief time here, though time stands still when there's nothing going on and no appointments to meet, or decisions to be made!

It's interesting how we humans, parading in our swim suits and beach attire, are SO self-conscious of appearances when, in fact, being far from home and away on vacation, no body will remember you or care. The few who notice have no comment and what judgment they render is silent and fleeting!

If one were at home, at a pool, spa, or lake, and being around friends, the self-consciousness would grow in leaps and bounds, but why should it? advantage of being "mature" is the ease and conviction with which one simply doesn't care to imagine what others might think or see!

Seeing all these people parading by I wonder what stories are there to tell! Imagine how much their stories differ from their outward appearances!

I think it is good that one takes a break from routine and from familiar surroundings and people. It is good for the soul to be unknown and to shed the "clothes" of self-definitions and the expectations and opinions of friends in order to be "naked" before our soul and our God.

We've had a lovely time here on Maui and are thankful for the friends who have made it possible to take this break from a very intense schedule.

The politics of America faded, thankfully, from view, and so have many other things, yet, not everything. There are existential issues that no one can dismiss.

A dear friend, for example, has been in transition from this world, fading daily, but not quite gone and not quite there. The pall of death, its meaning and its finality, weigh upon the waves as I ride them joyfully toward the shore. It's not sadness for her departure, nor yet for any sense of my own loss, but rather the question lingers, "Will I be as present and joy filled as she when my time comes?" The sense of impermanence of life, indeed it's lingering meaningless, hovers like a dark cloud.

Not that I have a particular investment in meaninglessness, it's just, rather, the question of WHAT exactly is MOST meaningful? What parts are important and what parts are NOT!

When in my mid-twenties I traveled to Europe and Asia for over a year, I remember flying back to America and praying that I not get caught up in the littleness of life (again). Well, I've learned that it's not the details that are the problem; it's our attachment and identification with them. After all, it's no small detail when one is hungry or thirsty! It can become pretty important then.

Why can't I just take a vacation? A vacation is NOT a vacation from issues; it's a break to put them in perspective. If you don't plan or take a vacation, you are avoiding your issues!

I am deeply grateful for the grace of a true Guru, for the practice of kriya yoga, true friends and the privilege of spiritual service. All of these bring the parade of life's potential meaninglessness into clear and beautiful focus.

Joy to you and welcome home to me!


Friday, May 22, 2015

When the Soul Leaves the Body Our Spirit Expands!

Last weekend, May 16-17 (2015), the worldwide Ananda family gathered on the grounds of the Crystal Hermitage at Ananda Village (near Nevada City, CA) to dedicate the small meditation chapel ("mandir") under which is buried the body of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda. It's been two years since his passing in 2013.

I recall many years ago Swami Kriyananda describing his experience after the death of his own father. It was, he said, as if his father's spirit, at last released from his aging and broken body, was re-born fresh and youthful, vigorous and vibrant. Swamiji said he felt his father's spirit as a young man embarking eagerly upon his life's journey.

Ever since then, and with the passing of my own parents, and others, I have tested this for myself and have found it true. Of course the stronger the spirit of a person in life, the stronger the spirit after death. Thus it was that at the dedication weekend many members from around the world remarked upon this phenomenon, saying that since Swamiji's passing two years ago we have felt his spirit even more strongly than when he was alive.

Several times during his life of lecturing I heard him say that when the soul is released from the body into the astral world, feelings and emotions are, as if, uncorked and thus far more intense. In our physical bodies our emotions are distracted or suppressed by other competing feelings and sense-impressions like hunger, heat, cold, missed appointments, unpaid bills, a mosquito buzzing near our ear, or the loquacious uncle attending the funeral whom you find annoying but must politely tolerate.

Consider that the last many years of Swami's life he had to contend with an aging and often seriously ill body. Reflect what your "aura" or energy or magnetism is like when you have a cold, flu, a stomach ache or a toothache! You withdraw within yourself and contract from interactions and activities. Your energy or aura contracts.

Despite his aging and ill health and throughout his entire life, Swami Kriyananda's spirit in life was larger than life, so it is not surprising that after his death, his great spirit has been strongly felt.

Yet it is not as if his spirit contracted or declined in the more ordinary way that aging or ill people find their world shrinks to a small room, to taking medicines, going to doctors, and more or less disappearing from sight having lost interest in the world around them. Swamiji continued his lifelong travel habits serving his guru's work, lecturing and writing. But his focus narrowed nonetheless to fewer outward activities and reduced daily communications with as large a family of individuals.

Yet in his case, his spirit, rather than shrinking, shifted into another form: bliss! Instead of vigorous activities and intense daily people connections, he shone with an inner bliss that he often could not contain and which readily expressed itself in tears of joy or laughter, or deep inner calmness.

Nonetheless, the testimony of many people from around the world is that his spirit is more with us now than ever. It seems to many of us that his wisdom is even more accessible now. We find that he seems to be subtly guiding our thoughts in uncanny but tangible ways.

My way of putting it, for myself, is that I feel as if I think more like him than I did before! There have been times when I could hear his thoughts as my thoughts. So, perhaps he has bequeathed to each us some portion of his spirit--as his legacy and gift!

Thus I conclude that for those souls who, on earth, had an expansive and expanding consciousness, we will find our spirit expanding joyfully and greatly when released from the confines of the body!

Joy to You,

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, May 1, 2015

To Live or Leave : A Friend Struck Down!

Last Monday, April 27, 2015, a dear friend (not just to me but to dozens) was struck down in what can only be called a freakish accident. He's alive though he might just easily have not survived. At present he remains in a coma.

It was a glorious day, that day......warm Spring sunshine and blue skies. Having come from work and back back to his home in the Ananda Community in Lynnwood, he evidently decided to go for a stroll up to a nearby grocery store. He walked with his roommate and Godson. The street along which they walked is a busy arterial. Cars speed past between 35 and 40 miles per hour (my guess).

A woman driving by, perhaps with her car windows down to enjoy the beautiful day, was suddenly distracted by some paper flying around in the back seat where her child sat. Turning to deal with it, she lost control of the car. It went over the curb and glanced my friend a blow sending him crashing to the cement sidewalk. As the car speed towards them, his Godson was alerted by a strange sound and had the reflexes to jump to the side and was unharmed. But our friend was smashed to the ground, hurt, bleeding and unconscious. He remains so four days later, though we are hopeful his brain will gradually but steadily regain functionality. To what extent, however, no one can say.

This is at least the basic story as we understand it. I think many people, including myself, have been present at sudden death or injury. It's a psychic shock to one's nervous system, just as much as a physical injury causes the body to go into a state of shock.

Seeing someone in the hospital, more or less unconscious, badly bruised and his body struggling to live is a strange experience. He might be able to hear familiar sounds or voices and there are some movements of hands and feet, though difficult to say whether wholly automatic or responsive. The many who are visiting with him and staying overnight sing, talk, joke, read, meditate and hold his hand and offer loving touch: these things are both natural and are, we are told, helpful to his recovery by stimulating sensory nerve channels to the brain (an explanation of mine clearly lacking proper medical jargon).

Being as he and we, and all his friends, are "yogis," actively on the spiritual path and practicing meditation, there's no lack of reports from every side of various individuals' respective opinions, feelings, and intuitive insights into where "he's at" and what's going on for him and his soul.

One reports that she thinks he's really enjoying all the cool medical equipment he's hooked up to. (Really?) Another says he's come to her in meditation to say good-bye. Another says the Masters are holding him and giving him a choice to leave or stay. Yet others say his life force is strong and he's going to recover.

I don't discount any of these things. But, let's face it, no one can prove any of it at this time. My personal orientation and commitment is to a blend of hope supported by objectivity.

I happen to be, on paper, the one with the power of attorney to make medical decisions for our friend. In fact, I seem to have the least to say and the fewest opinions on the matter. I am looking for signs, from any source, including my friends' intuitions, but certainly from concrete medical evidence of his condition and his responses.

His medical directive states his reluctance to be on extended life support or terminally unconscious. I doubt that is going to be the case and I am cautiously optimistic I will not have to make any such decision. And, if I did, I would consult his brother and our many friends such that we would be in this together. I just happen to be a name on a piece of paper. So far as "I" am concerned, Divine Mother will have to show her will. I certainly will not shirk any responsibility but I am all too confident after a lifetime of attempting to live by faith, that the Divine Will will show itself (with sufficient clarity that I can read the "words").

Nonetheless, how can I not at contemplate the worst case of having to make a "fatal" decision: either to remove support and see him leave his body (maybe); or, continue support and see him recover so incompletely as to be unrecognizable and have no life at all. Or, recover sufficiently to have a life well worth living! For now, I am willing to wait and see, and, to imagine this decision point will not occur.

It's curious to me because both my friend in his directive and most people I know, including myself, would, when merely contemplating the decision abstractly, vote NOT to stay in our body if we are useless or unconscious. But my strong suspicion is that if any one of us were actually in such a condition, we'd most likely take the risk to live in the hope that we can recover sufficient functionality and consciousness to have a life of meaning and purpose.

Life, you see, HAS to be the choice unless the circumstances are starkly clear and the chances of meaningful life extremely poor. Life IS the choice God through the cosmos has declared. Despite death and destruction vying constantly for supremacy, life goes on. Life reappears. Life survives even in the midst of death. The flowers and buds of Spring always appear after the winter of death.

I see no other choice than hope. Life is always a risk: for each and every one of us. From day to day. That very Monday, the most heart-touching photo of our friend and "son" was taken. Perhaps even within the hour of his "accident." We can never know the hour of our karmic summons. We live as though we are immortal because we ARE immortal in spirit.

But living is the right choice. I don't say that this is ALWAYS the choice. I say, simply, that life and living are the natural and the super-natural "law" of creation.

What, then, is the karma here? Consider the incredible odds that it would take to be out walking on that street passing that exact spot where a car suddenly jumps the curb to strike one down in a nearly fatal blow? One thing we yogis can know for sure is that this was no "accident." Whatever the karmic cause, this was no coincidence. It is too strange.

What this signals for devotees is a sign of grace: an opportunity for spiritual growth. For our friend, well, yes, though time will tell. It is incorrect to think that this tragic incident is BAD karma. No, it can only be an opportunity to work off karma or even to rise above karma. For the rest of us, his friends, this is an opportunity to come together, to give, to pray, and to share.

I cannot now, nor will at this time, say "I am grateful for this happening to our friend." But I believe that the time may come when I, and others, will be able to say this. Better yet, I do hope and pray that the time will come when he, our friend, can say this. But for now, we must do our part and not concern ourselves unnecessarily about the outcome, whether for him or for us. We must unite in Spirit, for in Spirit we are One and, for the time being, Spirit is the only connection it seems we still have with our friend.

May the Light of Truth, Wisdom, and Love shine through the darkness of uncertainty and the seeming appearance of unconsciousness.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again: Death & Reincarnation

The mystery of death, its suffering and its cold finality, have preoccupied humans for probably longer than humanity itself. The possibility of continued existence through successive rebirths is also an ancient belief.

One minute a person, often a loved one or maybe a patient in your hospital, a passenger in a car nearby, or a soldier in the Humvee ahead of you, is there and the next moment he or she is gone. It's an eerie and startling experience.

Once in college as I was studying in my curtained off garage study and meditation room, an accident took place late at night. I heard a scream and then sudden silence. A car had struck a motorcycle outside my house and the cyclist was lying dead on the street. There was no one else around, apart from the driver of the car. The night was silent and this poor soul had been swallowed up by it.

Another time deep in the woods I watched an inexperienced canoeist paddle out to help some boys whose canoe had tipped over as they steered away from the deadly rapids and falls towards the portgage trail. But as we, and his wife and children watched in astonishment from shore, the self-appointed rescuer, not in control of his own canoe, literally paddled out and right over the falls -- never to be found. The look on his face only yards away from us as he realized in horror his slow-motion, surreal mistake will never be forgotten. His wife's tortured screams and shock still ring in my ears.

The lights go out and the building is untenanted. What a mystery.

We, identified as we are with our bodies, cannot help but feel a sense of loss and grief in the face of death's silence. Paramhansa Yogananda, the renowned master of yoga (life force) and author of the classic story "Autobiography of a Yogi," described the death experience on many occasions and in some of his writings.

Meditation as practiced by a master is, quite literally, the conscious reeanctment of the death experience but without its finality. Thus such a one is competent to speak of it. We also have descriptions from those who have had the near-death experience.

Death resembles our nightly sleep experience in some ways. Just as when we fall deeper into sleep, the body and its senses become insensate as our life vitality withdraws from the body. But at death with the last breath our life force makes its final exhalation journey to the base of the astral spine before beginning its return journey and ascension up the central spine (sushumna). In this ascension our life force is squeezed and compressed and many people feel anxious or fearful. In addition, at this moment our physical body has ceased breathing. Much of the struggle against the cessation of the breath cycle has already taken place earlier such that at the final exhalation there is not necessarily further struggle. The life force by this moment is so internalized that awareness of the body and breath has vanished.

As our life force (astral body) squeezes into the sushumna and begins to rise in its tunnel, we are entering another birth canal and often feel a similar level of stress and anxiety as we observe in a new-born during its progress through the mother's birth canal. The near-death report of going through a long dark tunnel is in fact a description of this phase. The light at the end of that tunnel is the light of the astral regions into which we are about to enter: being re-born onto the astral plane!

The light welcome us and comforts us as our life force exits through the region near the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (the negative pole of the sixth chakra). The expansion of our astral body upon its exit is like the diver, out of breath, breaking the surface and taking in much needed air. It is a relief to come out of the tunnel!

As the physical mouth takes in food and water, the "mouth of God" at the medulla (the astral body) takes in life force to sustain the physical body. Just as food and water cannot revive a dead person or as water into a battery cannot revive a dead battery, so too does the physical body rely most essentially on life force (known as prana, chi, cosmic energy, etc.). Thus there are corroborated stories of saints who, to demonstrate this truth, are given the grace to live without food or water--for decades. Therese Neumann in Bavaria in the 20th century was one such saint who was repeatedly examined by medical doctors.

Still, the death experience can be anxiety filled and dreaded, especially to those unprepared for it especially in how they have lived. The more we live for bodily comfort and pleasure and for ego-affirmation the more we feel deprivation and fear for losing control and awareness in the body. The more a person lives on a higher mental, emotional, or spiritual plane the less attached to the body and the more likely one is to be calm and peaceful. Death, it has been well said, is the final exam of how we have lived our life.

It is not always so, of course: cases of instant death; prolonged unconsciousness and so on. But it is often the case.

One of the great mysteries is to what extent do we remain conscious and to what degree is the after-death experience a pleasant or unpleasant one. This is as varied as the cosciousness of humans and cannot be but merely generalized.

Death deprives us of the body. To the degree one cannot exist without sensory stimuli, one feels the deprivation presumably as loss, as loneliness, and as suffering. This can be temporary as part of the death process or it can remain: depending upon the intensity of one's identification with the physical body. We can call this sensory deprivation.

Like a fish out of water or a climber reaching great heights, our experience depends largely on the degree to which, during life, we have experienced the "oxygen-less" (breathless) altitudes of superconsciousness. Deep and (near) breathless states of meditation are achievable by anyone willing to make the effort to meditate using proven methods of meditation.

Those of great artistic sensitivity or scientific, inventive, philosophical, or other high states of mental concentation and ability also may remain conscious in the astral state. Those who possess great compassion rendering humanitarian service and engaged in prolonged hours of self-forgetfulness which lift them beyond bodily identification also experience more readily the airless astral regions in comfort and joy.

But most people who receive the comfort of the Light upon exiting the body cannot, for very long, sustain conscious awareness in these higher altitudes of the astral region without falling back asleep for having been deprived of the vehicle of their physical body.

Before doing so, however, first two things are commonly experienced. One is some degree of comfort: whether described as being welcomed by loved ones, previously departed, or by God, angels, or one of the masters. Relief at having survived what they thought was death is no small part of the joy one feels upon entering the astral realm.

Another is the reading of the book of life. In some timeless moment we see, if but in an instant, a re-run of the life just lived. We may discover to our surprise important scenes we hadn't noticed. But we receive as if from the soul's even but temporary awakening a God's eye view of our life.

This is the judgment so often referred to. It is Self-judgment however even if we, having failed to become acquainted with our Higher Self, experience that Self as "Other" and therfore as a Judge.

But as I say, those who cannot but briefly sustain this high altitude of superconsciousness then fall asleep. Old age can bring suffering of all levels and many in fact desire and need, as we do nightly, their earned repose. Those who can remain awake on that high plane do so. For those I refer to the chapter, in Autobiography of a Yogi, entitled "The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar." In this chapter he describes the astral and causal regions.

A sideline to the astral realms relates to the effect of shedding the confinement of the physical body. Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda, describes how, uncorked form the physical form, our feelings and states of consciousness are greatly intensified on the astral plane. If we have a calm, peaceful and harmonious consciousness we expand joyfull into that. If we have lived with lust and desire, anger and resentment, we expand into the seemingly endless hell of such states which, deprived of a physical body, can find no outlet, no fulfillment.

Just as near dawn we begin to stir from our deep nightly slumber, so too souls begin to stir when the time of their rest is soon to be over. And, like we at night, they too may have intermitten dreams of loved ones or scenes from their prior life during this astral sleep. But near dawn, we stir, sometimes fitfully, for the next life's lessons and tasks (and desires) call to us.

Yogananda taught that when a couple unite sexually, and sperm and ovum unite (these are not necessarily simultaneous, I know), a flash of light occurs on the astral realm. I once read in National Georgraphic that when the sperm penetrates the husk of the ovum, an electrical charge goes off! At that moment, those souls whose time it is to return all rush, competitively, to enter that womb. But only those souls who have some relative vibrational harmony with the consciousness of that couple (we could say karmic resonance, too) are attracted to this light. Thus begins, as Yogananda put it, our first race for survival: a portent to the endless contention and effort required to live in a physical body.

What then is reincarnation? Reincarnation posits that individual souls return to new bodies repeatedly over vast epochs of time as the consequence of past actions (which include past desires).

It is said that this process is necessary because our immortal and changeless soul has misunderstood its true nature by identification with the passing drama of its many physical forms and the cumulative effect of the likes and dislikes, actions and reactions which arise from it. These many lives offer the soul the opportunity to learn and grow towards Self-realization (or to postone those lessons). Self-realization is the realization that we are the soul and not the body or personality. This soul, or Atman, is destined to become one with the Creator but this destiny must be obtained by its willing choice, not by compulsion.

Surveys show that the majority of humans on this planet subscribe to or accept as plausible the idea of mutliple births.

Yet the fact of death is undeniably final as it relates to our body and the personality which had inhabited it. Countless, however, are those who claim they have had some post-death contact with their loved one. Many are the stories of near-death experiences attesting to our disincarnate and deathless reality.

What aspect of our Self continues and what aspect is lost? There are remarkable and many stories of children with clear and convincing memories of their past life. (The relatively recent story, "Soul Survivor," is worth reading.)

Since we can safely say that most humans DO NOT remember their past lives (except perhaps in flitting glimpses or oddly familiar feelings about others, places, or objects....but just occasionally), something is lost, to us at least. Of course isn't memory loss in THIS lifetime a serious problem? Why should we fret, then, over loss over memory due to the intensity of the after death sojourn in astral sleep. Interestingly, it seems that dying takes place early as year after year our memories fade, as if in anticipation!

If the power goes out when your are sitting at your computer in the middle of multiple programs, your work is at least partially lost. If a program crashes and cannot be restarted, the data remains on the hard drive but, without the program, cannot typically be accessed. When you delete a file, only the index of how to find that file is erased. The file itself remains on the hard drive. Deleting that index is somewhat akin to the loss of the physical body. But the matrix of the astral body retains the data for later use and recovery. The conscious mind may have no access to it, however.

Each life is indeed unique: as to time, space, circumstances, events, and the resulting combination of attitudes, habits, and insights the grow up around this unique time-space experience. But when we die, those external circumstances whose influence is undeniable disappear and with them those merely superficial incidentals of our personality which depended upon them.

More deeply ingrained attitudes are like data files that remain intact in the matrix of the astral (energy) body of light. We are using light in modern technology as a transmitter of voice, data, and video signals. So it is not difficult to imagine a body of light in which a matrix of qualities, memories, tendencies, and attitudes reside.

Unlike computers, however, that which IS ("I AM"), the Infinite consciousness contains all thoughts, all past, present, and future. Thus in truth (in God's infinite consciousness) NOTHING is lost. But until our souls awaken and then merge into God, we only recover bits of data from our past. Hence it is that Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras explains that one who has achieved perfect non-attachment to his body and all objects remembers his past lives.

This does not mean that those children who are born with clear memories of the former life are necessarily great saints but, for reasons we cannot see, they are blessed with that memory perhaps to bestow a message to their families and others with "eyes to see."

Thus we mustn't feel badly to the degree of our grief and sense of loss, whether for ourselves or for others at the time of death. We can strive, however, to live with faith and to live on the higher plane of God-realization, compassion, concentration, and nobility of character. From the great heights of the mountain peaks of consciousness beyond bodily identification, we see the valleys and hills of life below as one great panorama.