May 26, 2010

The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death

I'm presently reading Stanislav Grof's inspiring book, The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death. Grof is one of the pioneers in consciousness studies and his findings amount to deeply spiritual revelations into the ultimate mysteries of human existence. If we get too caught up in the depressing aspects of failing religious institutions, it is wise to examine the considerable evidence for a flowering of consciousness in our times. Signs of rebirth are everywhere if we know how to recognize them and eventually they will effect the Christian tradition as well, but a considerable part of that effect will be to humble the tradition, compelling it to take its rightful place alongside of, and not over, a plethora of rich spiritual alternatives. Here is a little blurb from Wikipedia:

Stanislav Grof (born July 1, 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia) is one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of analysing, healing, and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche. Grof received the VISION 97 award granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Václav Havel in Prague on October 5, 2007.

And here is an extremely interesting account from a theology student who was involved in a train disaster with the collapse of the Munchenstein Bridge in 1891:

Near the Birs Bridge, I felt a sudden, strong shock that ensued from our erratic progress. But at the same time the train stopped in the middle of the fastest run. The shock threw the riders up to the roof. I looked backwards, unable to see what had happened. From the powerful metallic crashing that resounded up ahead, I presumed that there had been a collision. I opened the door and intended to go out. I noticed that the following car had lifted itself upwards and threatened to tumble down on me.  I turned in my place and wanted to call to my neighbor at the window' "Out the window!" I closed my mouth as I bit my tongue sharply.

Now there took place, in the shortest possible times, the ghastliest descent that one can imagine. I clung spasmodically to my seat. My arms and legs functioned in their usual way, as if instinctively taking care of themselves and, swift as lightning, they made reflex parries of the boards, poles, and benches that were breaking up around and upon me. During the time I had a whole flood of thoughts that went through my brain in the clearest way. The thought said, "The next impact will kill me." A series of pictures showed me in rapid succession everything beautiful and lovable that I had ever experienced, and between them sounded the powerful melody of a prelude I had heard in the morning: "God is almighty, Heaven and Earth rest in His hand; we must bow to His Will."

With this thought in the midst of all the fearful turmoil, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of undying peace. Twice more the car swung upwards; then the forward part suddenly headed perpendicularly down into the Birs, and the rear part that I was in swung sideways over the embankment and down into the Birs. The car was shattered. I lay jammed in and pressed under a heap of boards and benches and expected the near car to come crashing down on my head' but there was sudden quiet.  The rumbling noise stopped. Blood dripped from my forehead. After a short struggle I worked my way out of the heaps and fragments and through a window. Just then I formed for the first time, a conception of the immensity of the disaster that had taken place...

Stanisilav Grov then continues:

Heim concluded his paper by stating that death through falling is subjectively a very pleasant death. Those who have died in the mountains have, in their last moments, reviewed their individual pasts in states of transfiguration. Elevated above corporeal pain, they experienced noble and profound thoughts, glorious music, and feelings of peace and reconciliation. They fell in a magnificent blue or roseate Heaven, and then suddenly everything was suddenly still. According to Heims, fatal falls are much more "horrible and cruel" for the survivors than for the victims. It is incomparably more painful in both the feeling of the moment and subsequent recollection to see another person fall than to fall oneself. In many instances spectators were deeply shattered and incapacitated by paralyzing horror and carried a lasting trauma away from this experience while the victim, if she or he were not badly injured, emerged free of anxiety and pain. Heim illustrated his point with his own personal experience of seeing a cow falling, which was still painful for him, while his own misfortune was registered in his memory as a powerful and even ecstatic transfiguration - without pain and without anguish - just as it actually had been experienced.