Some time ago I had the incredible experience of finding myself in a discussion about music with Ornette Coleman.
"You might find this very strange," he said to me, " but what I am searching for with my muisic is a way to conquer death."
I didn't find it strange at all. Death has been a focal point of my work for over 20 years. Ornette, this one is for you and for anyone else willing to confront the inevitability of their bodily death and do something about it. There exist practical methods to prepare for death, measures readily available to anyone with access to the internet.
"Preparing for death" seems a misleading phrase. you actually prepare for the survival of life. Preparing for death also has the side effect of what Sufis call "waking up." Or looked at the other way, waking up has the side effect of preparing for death. For myself this moment I'll define waking up as being aware and perceiving reality outside the standard physical, emotional and intellectual programs - usually accompanied by stronger sensation and feeling; perceptions appear much more vivid. Waking up has various degrees and gradations ranging anywhere from mildly pleasant to extremely intense. Therefore, preparing for death results in experiencing an increased vitality and appreciation for life.
However, preparing for death is not conquering it. What do I mean by conquering death?
Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain's to die.
How strange it is that man on Earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.
- John Keats
Mystics tell us there's no such thing as death. They say that a certain something or other exists inside of everyone that stays eternally alive, that survives the cessation of bodily functions. By identifying with this eternal aspect, which we'll call the Voyager, we can learn to maintain a thread of consciousness upon leaving the body at the time of death. This is not easy. All our lives, from the moment of birth, we have been programmed by cultural conditioning and social reinforcement to identify ourselves completely with the physical body. When the body dies, we die states the underlying belief and fear many of us live with.
I don't know exactly what will happen at death. I don't have a memory of having died before. The experience of my physical death remains unknown to me though there have been a few times of looking at it very closely from this side of the veil. Some knowledge of death has been preserved in certain traditions. So, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I propose to use what is known about death as a springboard into the Unknown.
Death occurs as a very shocking and traumatic, but survivable experience according to various myths and religious traditions around the world. The most developed death survival technology comes to us from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and also from the Ancient Egyptians. The Tibetan Book of the Dead serves as an amazing resource by providing step by step instructions for guiding the Voyager through the transition of death. The American Book of the Dead by E. J. Gold places the Tibetan teaching into a cultural context more suitable to those of us born in the West.
Much of the funerary rituals in Ancient Egypt dealt with aiding the soul's journey through the Land of the Dead in order to reach the Western Lands and attain immortality. The spells that comprise the Papyrus of Ani, the so-called Egyptian Book of the Dead are to help prepare and handle the adventures and encounters the soul, or voyager, may experience in this perilous quest. The instructions in the Tibetan Book of the Dead have the same purpose.
Death is a mind-blower, and if you've never functioned without your ordinary mind, you won't know what hit you. Common wisdom in this belief system says it likely won't be that bad if unprepared. You'll blackout and before you know it, you'll find yourself in an infant body ready to face the drama, education and intelligence test of life once again but with no memory of having lived before. The ability to maintain a thread of consciousness from one lifetime to another is what we mean by conquering death. Maintaining this thread of consciousness can be done by remembering ourselves, identifying with the Voyager rather than the corpse we leave behind. The key to this - presence and attention.
To Be Continued ...