Death Has No Power Over Consciousness:

  Reviewing My Spiritual Life, Part Two

By   Mariamne  Paulus


In the January 2015 issue of Emerging I began an examination of my spiritual life to determine to what extent I am able to function in the truths that I saw reflected in my consciousness back in 1965 when I woke up to the truth that I am the consciousness of my personality, not the personality itself. I do this review for two reasons: one, to hone my own purpose for these last years of my life and two, to perhaps inspire you to do a similar review.  I am convinced that we have not truly grown spiritually until we make manifest in our lives what we have come to know.

Item #2: Death Has No Power

Over Consciousness

The awareness that “I” will not die when my body dies actually came to me in a dream just prior to my experiences of awakening.  In the dream I fell out of a roller coaster.  My body was lying beneath the coaster, crushed, but I was alive, watching over my body and watching as a man rushed to help me.  I knew he did not need to hurry because there was nothing he could do. My body was dead. My awareness in the dream and upon awakening was of a simple fact of life: death of the body does not affect the consciousness of the individual. Then, during my experiences of awakening, that was a powerful truth to which I awakened that will never leave my awareness.

Just four years after my awakening, my knowing of that truth was put to the ultimate test.  My husband and I got lost in the Judean Wilderness in Israel. When it was clear that we were in serious trouble and might die in the wilderness, I left Jim in the hope that I could find help in time to save him.  During the ten hours that I climbed through a canyon in 120 degrees with no water to drink, I had no fear of dying. In fact, I felt it would be OK if I died as long as I made every possible effort to get help.  One time I slipped and fell, somersaulting toward the bottom of the canyon. I knew my body would be killed when it hit bottom, but I was not afraid. When my elbow struck a rock and stopped my fall, the first words into my consciousness were “death has no power over me.” I experienced exhilaration and joy.

Later, when I identified my husband’s body which had been brought out of the canyon, I knew that he was no longer in that body; death had not claimed him, only his body.

In the 46 years since those events, I have had numerous occasions to be present to loved ones making their transitions through death. Never once has it occurred to me that the “person” would die.  Rather, I am vividly aware that the grief we experience for loved ones is not for the person whose body has died, but rather for those of us who suffer the absence of the loved one because their physical representation is no longer visible among us.

I have been able, in several key instances, to help loved ones get free of their bodies and to “move on” to what awaits them.  I feel it to be a privilege that I am able to serve people in that way because my knowing is so unshakeable that death has no power over consciousness.

Giving Life Back to the Source

At age 77 I turn my attention rather frequently to the fact that in the not too distant future by body will die. That awareness raises issues which I have in common with others who are in my age-group or older.  Recently Jane Whistler, a member of our Love Family who lives in London and is now 85, wrote of her ruminations regarding her impending demise:

Of course life and death are one and the edge of my exploration is taking me towards a place where I sense that in old age there is a need to let go and give back my life to the source or whole from which it arose. In our culture we seem to cling to physical life as if that is an achievement rather than a cost to the whole. Maybe in old age giving our life is different from taking our life, or suicide, in youth.

We have tended to honor those who have given their lives for the sake of others in wars or in attempts to save others from danger. I am starting to believe that beyond dignity in dying there is a need to give back our life when dependency becomes a burden. Babies are not a burden as they are finishing the birth process in the manifest world, nor is disability where there is a need to develop the potential of each. Is there a moment, which will be different for each, when dependency becomes a burden for both the community and the individual? At that moment is giving back one’s life a courageous act and a welcome release?

Because this topic is very alive in my consciousness, I have pursued the conversation with Jane and will continue to intersperse some of her comments with mine. I have been focused more on the question of what kind of care I might need toward the end of my life and what arrangements OSO and I can make so that whichever one of us survives the other can be comfortable and cared for.  I am quite clear that I do not want to be kept alive artificially by life-support mechanisms, and I have written a “do not resuscitate” order into my Living Will. 

Jane Whistler, on our Journey Into Self trip to Viet Nam in 2005.

 Proceeding with Abundant Expectancy

However, I know that I cannot foresee what circumstances will surround the time of my dying.  When my mother was 90, she opted for hip surgery even though her doctors warned her that she might not make it through the surgery. Her heart doctor told her that he wanted to put in a breathing tube to help in her recovery. So, in spite of her stated wishes that she not be put on life support, she agreed. As a result, my siblings were put in the position of having to decide when to take her off the breathing tube when she did not recover consciousness after the surgery.  The blessing was that she slipped out of her body before the appointed time for the removal came.

As Jane points out, “It is not just life support machines but exceptional professional care that keeps people in limbo for years. Yes, let us hope we can all let go if we are ‘in tune,’ but most of us have had life enhancing procedures that have extended our lives before we have given it much thought, part of the reason we are all living much longer.”

 Yes, without life enhancing procedures I would be blind by now (cataract surgery prevented that) and I would be a cripple (hip replacement made it possible for me to walk again).  And it is true that I did not hesitate to get these surgeries because I did not feel I was close to death and I knew the quality of my life would be enhanced.  But the question of which procedures to undergo as we grow into our late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s will be increasingly critical.

I am aware, for instance, that the population of old people is increasing exponentially not only in the West but around the world.  There will not be enough young people to support all these old folks, and there will not be enough money to pay for the extremely expensive end-of-life care in hospitals.  The question becomes, when will we address the question of allotment of resources as well as quality of life vs. the prolonging of life at whatever cost?

To quote Jane: “But does life at any time bring situations where fighting death is not appropriate . . . where the continuing of one affects the possible wellbeing of another through use of supplies that are limited? Having for good or ill had a long life, is there a time to give it back? The young give their lives as warriors, as firemen, as rescuers, as servants, as doctors. Will the old give their lives so the young may have health care, food, and education, shared more equitably? Are sharing, sustainability, and social justice part of hope, trust and love?”

Helping Others Let Go

These are deep and important questions.  Do we, as elders, have a responsibility to the next generations not to seek to perpetuate our lives at whatever cost?  Modern medicine promotes the illusion that we can defeat death, or at least postpone it for a very long time.  But is it worth it?

My father did not want extreme measures taken at the end of his life but when he had his final heart attack he told my mother to call the paramedics.  This may have been out of consideration for her, because she was unable to be present when he was suffering. Whatever the reason, dad was taken to the hospital and shocked back many times through the night.  When I arrived he had a tube down his throat and couldn’t speak and they had him tied down so he wouldn’t pull out all the tubes.  He tugged and pulled and made sounds.  I said, “Do you want the machines turned off?” He shook his head yes, vigorously.  I said, “Do you feel complete with everyone?”  He shook his head yes.  I said, “And you are finished with life in this body?”  Again he shook his head yes.  So I told him I would go talk with the family.

Long story short, they were not ready to let him go.  So I returned to dad, told him that, and then said, “You know, these machines can’t hold you here if you are ready to go.  Just let go.  You are free.”

I kissed him goodbye, left the hospital and flew down to San Diego. In the plane on the way down I felt and saw, on the inner, that he had “lifted off” and was free.  When they finally took him off the machines six hours later, his body was stone cold.

I should add that my youngest brother was furious with me.  He said I took away Dad’s will to live.  I learned later that he was upset because his last exchange with Dad was in anger.  Anyway, I knew I hadn’t taken away Dad’s will to live; he and I had discussed his wishes at length and with Mother present, but when the rest of the family was not ready, Mother couldn’t hold firm with what she knew Dad wanted.  And so it often goes with families.

 The ideal would be for each of us to have sufficient conversations with our families and loved ones so that they can make peace with our decisions about dying and not fight death at the end.

Making Conscious Choices

Many years ago now my mentor Laurel Keyes found that her abdomen was riddled with cancer.  The doctors, of course, recommended chemotherapy and radiation, but Laurel said, “No.  Stitch me up.  I’m going home to die.”  In the time she had left, she met with her students to prepare them for her death.  She got her papers in order.  She asked for help in the dying process.  And she left, sitting up in her chair around noon one day while her son was out doing some shopping.

Before Laurel left the hospital she told me, by phone, that she had taught her students how to live.  Now she was going to teach them how to die.  She asked me if I would support her in that desire.  I agreed. 

  If  life is good,
death is good also.

— The Taoist sage Lai

First I flew to Denver to say my goodbyes to Laurel in person.  Then I prepared each morning in meditation to be there for her if she needed me when she was ready to leave her body.

On the day Laurel died I was on the tennis court when I suddenly felt as if I would be sick.  I told OSO I needed to go home.  I sat down in my Sanctuary of Silence to see if I could free myself of whatever “sickness” was settling in.  Each time I closed my eyes to meditate I felt like I was falling asleep.  Finally I lay down on my bed.  Two hours later I struggled into consciousness and knew that I had gone to the very doorway, the cross-over point, where I would have had to leave my body if I went any farther with Laurel. It was not my time to cross over, so I pulled away and came back into my body.

Not knowing Laurel had left her body, I apologized to her in energy.  “I’m sorry, Laurel, I can’t go any farther with you.”  Later her son called to say Laurel had died at precisely the time I was “asleep” and I knew I had indeed gone to the doorway of death with her.

The Way to Die

Laurel had told me, when she was diagnosed with cancer, that she was grateful for the diagnosis because, she said, it gave her time to prepare herself and others for her dying.  She then lived that out and in the process showed me and others that it is possible to face the fact of death with no fear, but rather with gratitude.

When OSO was dealing with breast cancer we talked once about the possibility that she could face death with this illness. We agreed that if it came to that, we would move to Oregon so that, if she needed assistance to get out of the body, she could have it legally.

 Jane says: “I am looking into going to Holland where euthanasia is legal rather than risking a hospital or nursing home here.  As long as [my family] knows that is what I want and respects it, I will happily continue living, but I will have no life lengthening medical treatments in the future. What I am exploring is sharing with friends and family my gratitude for a long life and also my love for them. My hope and trust in the cosmos has included the gift of life here, and now includes birth and death as doors to go through. I hope they will trust me to give my life back to the source from which it arose, and to have an appropriate form of euthanasia for me to use and not need to wait for or involve someone else. I will make the decision because I love life which includes dying.”

When death finally comes you will welcome it like an old friend,
 being aware of how dreamlike and impermanent the phenomenal world really is.

— Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

 I believe that this is a conversation we are going to have to have more frequently as time goes on and I am grateful to Jane for engaging in the conversation with me, with her family, and with others. In the West we seem to prefer not to mention death, but if we mention it, we bemoan it.  We do not, as Jane does, see death as a doorway through which we leave the life we have been living in order to move on to a next stage of growth in consciousness. 

One of the reasons we have this attitude toward death is that our Western medical doctors take an oath to preserve life; they are not trained to help their patients to recognize when it is time to let go and die.  As a consequence, patients and families have to struggle to find the courage to go against the doctors’ determination to perpetuate life in order to allow what is totally normal and natural, namely death.

The other reason we lament the role of death in our lives is that Judaism and Christianity have both taught us that we will have to wait, after our bodies die, for a miraculous rescue mission by the Messiah, or Jesus on his Second Coming, before we can be “resurrected.”  And then those religions go literal, promising that our present bodies will be brought back to life. Don’t you wonder where we will all be waiting and how those miracle workers will manage to locate, assemble and revivify all those dry bones?

Neither of these approaches makes room for the fact that each individual is a representation of an immortal soul that shares the consciousness that gives expression to this that we call life.  That consciousness is in no way dependent on the body, which is only a vehicle of expression for a few short years.

  Instead, consciousness survives the body and continues to grow in wisdom and understanding. Or at least that is my understanding and experience.  Jane puts it this way: “ As the soul that emerged from the source at my birth will return to the ‘nothingness/everything passing through the door of death . . . what we know is that we are born and die and we have more choices about both than we once did.”

Yes, it is that simple, or it should be. Death is as completely natural as is birth.  I have lived for 50 years now in the knowing that death has no power over consciousness, whether mine or yours. It is a blessing that frees me from any fear for myself as I grow older, but it also frees me from any awkwardness or hesitation in talking with others about death and dying.  And it makes it possible for me to be present with others who are dying in order to help them get free from the body and move on in consciousness.  I am particularly grateful for the knowing of this truth and for my experience in living this truth for over half of my lifetime.  u

Jane recommended, and I have read and enjoyed, a book by Atul Gawande called Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End I recommend it to you.  —Mari