Our Ultimate Fear Explored
I stumbled upon an article this evening in the New York Times that discusses recent scientific studies of the use of psychedelic drugs, specifically psilocybin, MDMA and LSD on terminally ill cancer patients. The primary focus of one of the studies is to attempt to reduce anxiety and fear built up around imminent death in the participants.
The joke stands that the only guarantees in life are death, and taxes… After the laughter, deeper analysis of that statment yields the following: For most folks life and death are separate entities. So what then is life? And furthermore, what is death? The commonly accepted belief regarding death is that it is the end of life or it’s polar opposite. A fuzzy grey area at best.
It’s safe to say that most folks try to ignore entirely the thought of death until they simply no longer have that choice. Others latch on to stories passed down to them through the generations – stories built upon fear of post-mortem pain; stories that require them to abandon all honest questioning and cling to faith and belief. But as stated in previous posts we won’t be operating within the confines of faith or belief here. We will instead deal only with what we can experientially confirm. All else is conjecture and is therefore not knowledge.
When faced with imminent death a shift occurs in one’s awareness. All of a sudden you’re forced to come face to face with what it means for the body/mind you’ve come to know as ‘you’ to no longer exist. What if you were to look at ‘your hands’ and see nothing? What if you were to look at any ‘body part’ you’ve come to accept as ‘you’ and it no longer appeared? What if no thoughts or images or sensations of ANYTHING appeared ever again? What would remain?
All that would remain is consciousness.
But what does consciousness ‘do’ when there is nothing to be conscious of? The answer is strikingly simple. Consciousness does nothing. It remains as it always is; present and aware. Aware of what? Of itself and itself alone.
The masters all say for a clearer understanding of death we only have to look to deep dreamless sleep. In this sleep there is no awareness of objects. You know this experience. No thoughts, no images, no sensations, no time. Just consciousness aware of itself. But Self-awareness is not a ‘thing’ which the mind can readily categorize or ‘identify’. It is beyond the mind and therefore does not lend itself to the minds ways. It is instead the mind’s source. Consequently, the mind can only go so far until it comes to the edge of the cliff and there it must stop and defer, for it can go no further. As a result, the experience of deep sleep is typically misinterpreted.
The Times’ article states that 20-30 milligrams of psilocybin reliably stimulated mystical insights and also elicited sustained positive changes in attitude, mood and behavior in the study volunteers. After 14 months of participation in the psilocybin study 94% of the subjects said that it was one of the top 5 most meaningful experiences of their lives and 39% said it was THE most meaningful experience of their lives. One participant stated, “I now have the distinct sense that death is not the end but just a part of a process, a way of moving into a different sphere, a different way of being.”
The fear of death is sourced in the lack of Self knowledge. It is founded in the belief that who you are is an individual body/mind with a beginning and an end. And these psychedelic experiences make it clearer to the participants that who they truly are is not separate from the whole. It makes it clearer to them that the idea that life has a beginning and an end is erroneous. And consequently the idea of death as the end of life loosens its stranglehold.
Are psychedelics the answer? No they are not. Can they act as an opening, just like peering into the grand canyon or watching a hummingbird land upon a flower? Of course they can. But nothing short of Self-Realization can provide the absolute disollution of that fear. Only awakening to who you truly are can reveal that death is but another transition of awareness, and in Truth awareness remains even in death as it only, always, ever is: Self-aware. Self-luminous , brilliant, and pure.
Ironically, nothing is needed at all. Just the sincere desire to know the truth. No drugs are required. Just clear seeing. Just taking the time to look closely at experience. Therein lies the beauty of Self-exploration. It only requires deep, sincere desire. And the Truth will bear itself as thee.