The New York Times ran a somewhat interesting piece on deathbed visions recently. Called "A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying," it was written by Jan Hoffman and appeared originally on February 2, 2016. Throughout the article, the term "deathbed" is used rather loosely, as some of these visions occurred months before the patients actually died.
A woman who died of ovarian cancer is quoted as saying:
I was laying in bed and people were walking very slowly by me. The right-hand side I didn’t know, but they were all very friendly and they touched my arm and my hand as they went by. But the other side were people that I knew — my mom and dad were there, my uncle. Everybody I knew that was dead was there. The only thing was, my husband wasn’t there, nor was my dog, and I knew that I would be seeing them.
This account is given of a 13-year-old girl:
While the patient was lying in bed, her mother by her side, she had a vision: She saw her mother’s best friend, Mary, who died of leukemia years ago, in her mother’s bedroom, playing with the curtains. Mary’s hair was long again. “I had a feeling she was coming to say, ‘You’re going to be O.K.’ I felt relief and happiness and I wasn’t afraid of it at all.”
An octogenarian WWII vet had visions that were both disturbing and omforting:
The patient had never really talked about the war. But in his final dreams, the stories emerged. In the first, the bloody dying were everywhere. On Omaha Beach, at Normandy. In the waves. He was a 17-year-old gunner on a rescue boat, trying frantically to bring them back to the U.S.S. Texas. “There is nothing but death and dead soldiers all around me,” he said. In another, a dead soldier told him, “They are going to come get you next week.” Finally, he dreamed of getting his discharge papers, which he described as “comforting.” He died in his sleep two days later.
The article notes that disturbing visions, while less common, are not unheard of:
Not all end-of-life dreams soothe the dying. Researchers found that about 20 percent were upsetting. Often, those who had suffered trauma might revisit it in their dying dreams. Some can resolve those experiences. Some cannot ...
This fall, Mrs. Brennan, the nurse, would check in on a patient with end-stage lung cancer who was a former police officer. He told her that he had “done bad stuff” on the job. He said he had cheated on his wife and was estranged from his children. His dreams are never peaceful, Mrs. Brennan said. “He gets stabbed, shot or can’t breathe. He apologizes to his wife, and she isn’t responding, or she reminds him that he broke her heart. He’s a tortured soul.”
Researchers make the point that these experiences should be called visions rather than hallucinations, a term with derogatory connotations. There is an ongoing debate about whether or not to sedate patients whose visions are troubling. Should the caregivers' priority be ensuring the patient's comfort or facilitating his/her spiritual journey?
No researcher quoted in the piece explicitly endorses the idea that some of these visions may be veridical, but at least the value of such visions is not dismissed out of hand, as might have been the case a few years ago.
Let's continue our exploration of the relationship between the incarnate self (the ego) and the higher self. We begin by taking a step back to look at the overall picture of human mentality.
First, there is the conscious ego of the incarnate personality. Then there is the subliminal self (as F.W.H. Myers called it), which includes both the subconscious and the superconscious.
The subconscious – dubbed "George" by Arthur Ellison, who compared it to the autopilot of an airplane – is a programmable faculty that can access information and provide creative breakthroughs when properly instructed. It functions largely as an information retrieval service and as a way of organizing information.
The superconscious is the total intelligence of which the earthly incarnation is only a small part. It is typically difficult to access while we are incarnate. Perhaps because the brain serves as a kind of filter, most of the knowledge and wisdom of our higher self or super-consciousness is denied to us during our earthly journey. On rare occasions, some individuals do enjoy brief, tantalizing, life-changing direct access to the superconscious. Such episodes are known as instances of "cosmic consciousness," as described by Maurice Bucke. For the most part, our exposure to the superconscious is limited to bits and pieces that manage to bleed through whatever barrier ordinarily blocks them; it seems that the subconscious serves as a backdoor access route to the superconscious in these cases, and the material often reaches us in dreams or reveries.
The superconscious is what I've called the diamond (an image that's not original with me, having been used by the channeled entity Silver Birch, among others). Our incarnate ego-consciousness is one facet of the diamond. The diamond has many facets, each representing a distinct incarnate personality, which collectively can be described, somewhat inaccurately, as a series of "reincarnations." Together these various personalities and their experiences make up the total self.
But – and here is where it starts to get interesting – the total self is also interacting with other selves, other diamonds. We see evidence of this interaction in the work of hypnotic regression therapists such as Michael Newton who bring patients to a "between lives" state. In this condition, the patient appears to identify not with the incarnate ego but with the higher self. She typically remembers multiple incarnations while understanding her true self to be distinct from any of them. She also remembers the process of learning from each incarnation and choosing the conditions of her next incarnation. And the patient invariably describes herself – i.e., her higher self – as one member of a group of colleagues who are all engaged in the same kind of exploration. In fact, intense emotional bonds form among these various higher selves; hypnotically regressed patients would frequently break down in tears when reunited with their "between lives" friends.
So the diamond is not an isolated thing. Unlike Simon and Garfunkel, it would not sing, "I am a rock, I am an island ..." Instead it is part of a community of souls all striving for advancement and needing to advance together.
To extend the diamond imagery, we can imagine these various diamonds as parts of a continuous chain – a diamond bracelet or necklace, so to speak. The total string of diamonds, which may be unimaginably vast, presumably equals the totality of consciousness in existence and is therefore equivalent to "God."
Now here's the tricky part. The diamonds exist outside of our space-time cosmos. They are not bound by temporal linearity. So what they will do, they have already done, and what they will become, they already are. The journeys undertaken by the component psyches have all been accomplished, and the stringing-together of the diamonds into an unbroken strand has already been done.
But the journeys were and are necessary to inform the diamonds. And the journeys were and are bound by linear time.
In other words, we can look at the situation from two very different perspectives – the perspective of linear time, with which we are personally familiar, and the perspective of existence outside of time, about which we can only speculate. Our own perspective, as incarnate beings here on earth, is limited, while the perspective of the total self is unlimited or at least radically less limited. And each perspective is correct in its own terms.
Previously in this blog, we've talked about the brilliant 19th century satire Flatland, by Edwin Abbott, which compares the limited perspective of a two-dimensional being to the more advanced perspective of a three-dimensional being. Flatland is directly relevant to the issue we're facing here.
From a Flatland perspective we are engaged in a long ongoing journey, but from a higher perspective we have already completed the journey. And yet the journey was necessary in order to make the perfection of the diamond possible. What we're talking about is a strange loop, a tangled hierarchy, a hand drawing itself, a snake swallowing its own tail, a Mobius strip. The end is implicit in the beginning; the beginning contains the end. Like the time traveler who saves his ancestor's life and thus ensures that he will be born, the perfected diamond directs the journeys that will make possible its own perfection.
I admit that there is no way to fully grasp this, inasmuch as it would require a higher dimensional level of understanding, which we as incarnate beings simply don't have. That doesn't mean it's not true, any more than the third dimension (height) is untrue just because Flatlanders can't perceive it. I suppose this is where faith comes in – faith in the original sense of "trust" (the ancient Greek word is pistis). We have to trust that there are not only quantitatively but qualitatively different levels of reality and of consciousness, and that at higher levels the paradoxes and mysteries that presently bedevil us will dissolve.
We can say, then, that the higher self both is and is not God. And the incarnate self both is and is not God. From a timeless perspective, in which everything has been accomplished, the incarnate self is part of the higher self which in turn is part of God, and therefore the incarnate self partakes of God. But from a space-time perspective, the incarnate self is still busy informing and perfecting the diamond – the facets have not yet been polished to a high shine – and the diamond has not yet linked up with the other diamonds, because it is not yet ready.
So from a Flatland vantage point, the incarnate self is on a journey to become a polished facet of the diamond, and the diamond in turn is on the journey to become one facet of God. But from a more elevated perspective, these journeys have already been completed and the incarnate self already is – and always has been – a polished facet of the diamond, which already is (and always has been) a facet of God.
Since we cannot really grasp a non-Flatland perspective except as intellectual abstraction, we cannot quite "see" the diamond chain as a completed fact. To us, if we intuit its reality at all, it is a work in progress. But this is a feature of our limited perspective. If we were able to grasp higher perspectives of consciousness, we would see the whole matter quite simply – just as the hero of Abbott's Flatland, the redoubtable Mr. A. Square, saw everything with startling new clarity when he was lifted up, quite against his will, into Spaceland and observed his two-dimensional home from a height for the first time.
I wrote this post as a reply to a Facebook friend who was (correctly) criticizing the fashionable notion that all religions say the same thing. It seemed worth sharing here, if only because it saves me the trouble of writing something new.
I think all religions are the same in one sense. They all seem to involve getting in touch with one's higher self. This higher self may be identified as God, Jesus, one's Buddha nature, the Ground of Being, or whatever. Also, all religions seem to have been founded by someone who actually did get in touch with his higher self and then tried to pass on what he had learned. He may have had an NDE or a series of OBEs, or he may have been an expert meditator, or he may have experimented with psychogenic drugs, or he may have had some neurological quirk that opened up his consciousness. One way or another, he experienced "cosmic consciousness," at least fleetingly, and was able to retain and communicate some of what he had learned.
The differences among religions, which are substantial, come about because a) it's difficult even for an adept to distinguish between the wisdom of the higher self and the fears and biases of the ego, b) the acolytes are not nearly as advanced as the founder and tend to misunderstand his teachings, and c) as the movement grows, it becomes more ossified, ritualized, bureaucratic, political, and worldly.
I'd add to the above that one possible explanation of the divine figures seen by NDErs is that they are symbolic representations of the experiencer's own higher self. So there may be a consistent tendency, whether one is incarnate or discarnate, to objectify and misinterpret the higher self as an outside entity.