“The ritual embrace of death is a protection,
not against death but against madness.”
– Mary Douglas
In my work as a philosopher with an interest in near death experiences – death – I somehow always end up by returning to life. Whether it is people I provide with spiritual consulting and guidance or people who want to talk to me after a conference or speaking engagement, even though their questions are mostly about what happens when we die, fear of death, sadness or grief – the answers I give always relate back to life.
Society often rejects death and accuses the preoccupation with it as morbid and removed from reality. However, I have come to see the embrace of death as an embrace of life at a much deeper level that has a bigger capacity to understand the inevitable pain and suffering of life.
There is a saying that death is really about life and in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying we find the words: “Death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.” Also Greek philosopher Plato tells us the same that it is not before death, when we leave this world like a fish jumping out of water to see what water really is, that we are able to see life in its true light.
People who have near death experiences confirm this as what they learn about death on the other side is really about a deeper understanding of life that leaves them in complete reverence. While many people like the pleasant blissful experience they experience on the other side, still they say that life has profound meaning and purpose, and that heaven as our chance to love is right here on earth, right now.
If we accept this conclusion, we cannot escape the irony that the thing that scares us the most – death – is actually the thing that will bring us the most insight and understanding about the deeper meaning of life.
As the quote in the beginning, the embrace of death is a protection against madness and as such the embrace of our fear and sadness is also a protection against anxiety and depression.
Seen from a spiritual point of view death is not an end but a rebirth. Death becomes a rebirth through spiritual awakening and when we look at most religious and spiritual rituals, we find that they are really about spiritual regenerations as death and rebirth rituals.
From salvation to enlightenment, religion and spirituality is about rebirth but for something to be reborn something else has to die. In essence, I believe that this is what the dark night of the soul – anxiety and depression – is all about. Not through the rejection but through the embrace of the dark night can our fear and sadness die so that we can be reborn with a deeper reverence and understanding of life.
One of Wayne Dyer’s books is titled: “There is a spiritual solution to every problem.” This may sound as a cliché and not every spiritual solution is the right one as both dogmatic religious tradition and some new age forms of spirituality are out of balance. But still the deeper spiritual truths revealed through religion and spirituality is often bigger than anything this physical world can offer alone.
If we look at the universe from a scientific point of view, only 5 percent of our universe is matter: all atoms, the stars, the planets, etc. – science can only account for 5 percent of our entire known universe. Every scientific conclusion or viewpoint is based on this small part of our universe. On the other hand religion and spirituality is open to the whole and aims to include our entire universe.
Religion and spirituality that goes to the source of God and our being is reaching for a deeper truth that includes 100 percent of our universe. Like the fish that swims in water, science and its limited 5 percent universe cannot understand God or our true being any more than a part cannot understand the whole it is placed in.
And yet both science and atheists look arrogantly at religion and spirituality and see faith as a form of blind illusion. Of course some people fit the description, however, people who truly seek God and their inner essence, do so not because they need to believe in something or are afraid of death, but rather because they experience fulfillment. Fulfillment like love makes no sense to materialism but to religious or spiritual people, the fulfillment that is experienced through reunion with 100 percent of our universe is more than the hard material evidence based on only 5 percent of existence.
The benefit of fulfillment to depression and anxiety through practices such as meditation is also well documented by science today. For example, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn has been studying mindfulness-based stress reduction since 1979 and proven its power to cure psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Also a recent scientific study of the benefits of meditation on cancer patients, who suffer more intense psychological stress due to their condition, found the same. It concluded that this mindfulness-based approach is “an effective intervention” against anxiety and depression and that “spiritual well-being” is related to both conditions. The results of meditation were better coping ability with their illness, greater sense of purpose, closer relationships, increased spirituality and an overall deeper appreciation for life.
Spiritual well-being is the fulfillment that both religion and spirituality can bring through the reunion with God and our true being. Many problems such as depression and anxiety are caused by the lack of fulfillment and the pain of separation from our inner essence.
At the birth of western civilization, Plato introduced duality through his world of ideas and later another philosopher, Descartes, cemented this duality that the west is still struggling to overcome. Duality, if not understood correctly or in-depth can be a cause of pain and separation.
However, what Plato meant with his world of ideas was the hidden essence of this world and likewise Descartes’ duality was a path of separation to point towards our true nature – the “I” – but this essence was still part of a union with our body. Duality was only meant to point out a part of the whole not to separate us from our essence and union with the whole.
This sense of union and completeness is exactly what religion and spirituality offers. By locating our essence within and pointing out the “I AM” of our true being and through this ultimate truth of our universe religion and spirituality connects us with the whole – the 100 percent – of your universe.
As a part being separated from the whole, from God or our essence, we will experience pain and suffering because we are disconnected from the truth of being. The separation is a form of non-being and to overcome this separation we must seek reunion with God or our true being.
Philosopher Martin Heidegger tells us that homelessness is coming to the world because we have abandoned being as the source that determines us: our essence. The homecoming – coming home to ourselves – lies in letting go of things that are not part of our true being and giving ourselves the freedom to be.
Like science with its 5 percent category of our universe cannot satisfy our deeper needs, so also any therapy or cure that does not involve this essence of our being cannot be a successful treatment as it is denying this source. The root problem of the depression and anxiety of the dark night of the soul is a lack of fulfillment, and this homelessness can only be overcome through returning home to the source of our being.
This true being, God or ultimate nature of reality is the goal of religion and spirituality. As also science tells us that everything is interconnected, this hidden essence of life is also the essence of death. This is why all the questions that I receive about death always end up in an answer about life.
Death and life are interconnected through the essence of life, your rock and solid foundation, both in life and hereafter. All there is; is life and the truth of being is found in its essence. The truth is always simple and this essence is all you need to know or rather realize. This is the aim of this book and once you realize this truth, it will become your rock and solid foundation in the dark night of the soul.