WHAT IT IS TO DIE
(as I'm seeing it)
A revealing article on the meaning behind death and life
written by Barry Long as he approaches his own death.
Mystics and poets down through the ages have told us that
our real home is eternity. Our short stay on earth and our
deepest longing would seem to confirm that we belong elsewhere.
As I approach physical death I'm looking at whether I can
put the inspiration of the mystics into a context more easily
understood by us ordinary - albeit temporary - people of the
To do so I see I will have to draw on the same area of knowledge
from which I wrote 'The Origins of Man and the Universe' more
than two decades ago. As that knowledge extends from earth
to eternity the concepts I'm forced to use will be outside
normal rational thinking experience. But as rational thought
has no explanation of what we truly are, what we're doing
or where we're going, and since everyone must finally pass
this way, it would seem fitting to introduce another paradigm,
another way of looking at things.
In reality, each of us is a point of intelligence in the
deep space of eternity. If we were asked casually where eternity
is, we'd probably point to the deep space of the stars. And
we'd be right. For that space symbolises eternity - symbolises,
because it is external to us whereas in reality we are one
with eternity within.
It is undeniable that in our manifested state we are earthlings.
And that while here we develop an attachment to the earth
and its beauty. Even though eternity is our true home, after
death our lingering attachment to the earth eventually pulls
us back and our intelligence recurs in a new physical body.
So before birth, we are free unfettered spirits of intelligence
in the wondrous unlimited space of eternity. But attachment
(or karma) is a form of will and it determines our recurrence
on earth, drawing our intelligence back into phenomenal time
at the moment of biological conception. From then on we start
to gather a body of past - a physical and mental body that
enmeshes and cocoons the free spirit. All is not lost, however.
In the passage of time, disease and old age take their toll
of the body and mind and the dying begins - the dying to return
home to eternity.
At the time of writing, this is where I am - dying of advanced
prostate cancer. And I'm moved to set down the paradigm of
just what this dying process suggests to me.
The disorientation and pain that accompanies dying is the
slow shedding of the body of flesh and experience. The old
zest for living disappears. Appetite and interest in the world
diminish and vitality drains from the body. Weakness and need
of sleep increase. Time on earth is coming to an end.
As the attachment or karma of the particular recurrence is
lived out, the hold on the free spirit is weakened. As well,
the spirit now resonates more and more at the speed of the
eternal spirit of which it is an inseparable part. The incredible
swiftness of the resonance dislodges and shakes off increasing
amounts of the cloying biological body. This causes the final
sickness of the body, with the debilitating side effects of
the drugs and treatments being part of the whole process.
Meanwhile as the organising self - commonly called the ego
- loses interest in the external to concentrate on trying
to understand what's happening in the body, the God immanent
arises. This is extremely gradual and subtle. It is signified
by the dying individual sitting motionless and apparently
staring ahead or into space for increasing periods.
The God or Lord immanent is the spirit of intelligence that
entered the body at conception. It has no attributes. It is
pure intelligence without the corruption of mind or knowing.
The growing negation of all that the individual used to be,
allows the Lord or God immanent to 'appear' in the dying body
for sensitive loved ones to actually witness. But often the
appearance goes unnoticed because of its extreme subtlety
and absence of identifying attributes - combined with the
sense of loss and grief in the loved ones which disturbs attunement.
The closest that can be said to describe this divine metamorphosis
is that an unmistakable sweetness and love appears in the
patient, finer than anything ever seen in her or him before.
I, the dying patient, am now like the chrysalis approaching
transformation into a butterfly.
The moment of death marks the release of the last flake of
restraining past. The amazing transition is complete. I, the
spirit of intelligence, burst free and soar through inner
space to reunite with the eternal good or God transcendent.
But in truth I never left the eternal. I was simply the seemingly
cocooned empowering genius that made the biological dream
But how do I, the writer, know this when I haven't yet died?
Where does this supposed knowledge of after-life come from?
Is it wishful thinking, not just by me, but by hosts of people
who have had such intimations?
Self-knowledge and self-knowledge
To me the knowledge comes from all of us having passed through
physical death and birth many many times in recurrent lives.
For that reason I call it Self-knowledge with a capital S.
Then there's self-knowledge with a small s. Both refer to
inner experience. Any other information we call knowledge
relates to what we've heard, read or observed outside
Take self-knowledge. It arises from inner experience
such as that of having had a severe attack of influenza. If
you were a doctor who'd never had the 'flu you'd know all
the symptoms but the knowing wouldn't be a result of your
own self-knowledge, or self-experience. The knowing would
be from what you'd learned and memorised by study and observation
of others outside yourself. But if you ever got the 'flu you'd
discover the effects were nothing like what you thought they'd
be. This applies to all experience. Unless you've actually
experienced something yourself, it's not self-knowledge.
When it comes to the profoundly traumatic experience of your
own innumerable deaths and births over immeasurable time,
the knowledge has the distinction of being Self-knowledge
with a capital S. Why? Because the recurrent sequence of being
born, living and dying represents everything I, the individual
consciousness in your body now, have ever experienced, everything
I've ever been - the sum total of what I am at this moment.
Such Self-knowledge is inaccessible to the surface mind whose
exclusive focus is on one living life - this one.
Self-knowledge with a capital S is permanently stored in
the spirit of intelligence we are all born with. Spiritual
masters and teachers speak from different degrees of Self-knowledge.
This allows the individual listener to discover the depth
of their own Self-knowledge - based on the fact that in truth
(Self-knowledge) you can only recognise what you've already
lived. If you relate to what the teacher says, you are with
him in Self-knowledge and delight in hearing 'what you hadn't
realised you already knew.' If his Self-knowledge is less
than yours, or too deep for you to hear at this time, you
will leave him.
Intimations of the invisible reality are quite common. But
when the mind gets hold of these it builds conceptual structures
more related to survival after death - for instance meetings
with deceased loved ones - than the simple truth of inexplicable
When I realise immortality I realise my own Self-knowledge
- that only the body/brain dies and that I, the spirit of
intelligence, still am. When I realise God or Self I realise
the ultimate of my Self-knowledge up to that moment - that
I and God or Self are one.
The depth and scope of Self-knowledge varies in everyone
and determines the degree of sensitivity to the invisible
reality. Since the knowledge comes from having passed through
many many recurrent physical lives and deaths, death finally
is no longer seen as something to be feared, but a natural
transition from the dark of ignorance to the light of life.
Recurrence is not the same as the widespread eastern belief
of personal reincarnation. Recurrence produces Self-knowledge
which is not accessible to the mind that believes or remembers.
Self-knowledge is a totally impersonal and vaster thing than
reincarnation. All personal traits the person identifies with
die with the body, whereas Self-knowledge persists as the
guiding light in the unconscious behind the existential scene.
The Basic Dilemma
The trauma of dying physically is due to our basic dilemma.
On one hand we are the eternal spirit of intelligence or consciousness
that enables the brain to think and perceive; on the other
we are sentient creatures. We feel sensations of pleasure
and pain and a wide range of feelings in between. As sentient
beings we are mortal and must die.
That which causes the pain or discomfort in dying is the
withdrawal of the abstract spirit of consciousness from the
habit of attachment to the mortal. We must look at this with
common sense. Breaking habits is one of the most painful of
everyday attempts to improve ourselves - simple habits like
attachment to food or certain foods; or trying to break the
nicotine or drug habit. Only those who've made such attempts
can appreciate the ongoing frustration and trauma.
But when it comes to breaking the habit of consciousness
identifying with the mortal side of our nature over uncountable
recurrences, we should be able to get an idea of the massively
painful break involved - along with the wonderful relief when
the identification is broken.
My Own Executioner
When you look closely, being born - coming in - is not that
much different to dying - going out - except that one is pretty
well the reverse of the other. Gestation in the womb takes
nine months and the mother bears the pain and discomfort of
the birth. Dying from old age and disease also takes months
as the body and expectations - the products of time and experience
- are slowly dissolved. In the absence of the enfolding maternal
flesh of love, the individual must necessarily bear the pain
and discomfort. But not altogether alone, for it is the spirit
of intelligence taking us home.
As I said, I'm dying while writing this. And the extraordinary
justice is that part of what's killing me is the male hormone
that supposedly made me a man. The hormone feeds the cancer
that is spreading through my bones. Thus, I am my own executioner.
The same, I suspect, applies to woman. The female hormone
seems to feed the cancers that afflict her. All this affirms
for me that there is a greater justice behind the mortality
of the males and females we are here; that in reality
Man and Woman are already united as one lofty principle -
a principle that towers above the two lesser reproductive
genders on earth, as the sky towers over all.
Infinity of Spirit
As I'm seeing it, existence is a sensory enclave surrounded
by an infinity of spirit, or real space. The image is something
like planet earth being surrounded by the apparent infinity
of cosmic space. However, cosmic space and all the space we
perceive between objects is unreal because it is the product
of our sensory mortal brain. Anything mortal must die and
therefore neither the brain nor its effects can be real; for
what is real can't die or pass away. Even so, for anything
to exist there has to be greater reality behind it.
It is into this area towards the real that I'm looking.
The parallel I've given of earth in cosmic space, and the
image of the sensory enclave surrounded by the infinity of
spirit, shows how the brain - my brain - has to reproduce
a sensory version or model of the reality behind the brain.
And of course the parallels continue through every level of
existence. If this is not so, everything ends with the grave.
What it finally comes down to is that in reality there is
only spirit. Spirit embraces eternity and all the other superlatives
relating to the unending wonder of God. Every object and thing
in existence, from the starry heavens down to the smallest
microbe, is spirit. We can't register this because the human
brain is a vibratory sensory mechanism which can
only reproduce an infinitely degenerated version of the unmoving
power of the surrounding spirit. The brain - itself a creation
of the spirit - repeats the infinity of spirit by producing
infinite varieties of creatures, things and conditions in
a ceaseless stream of perceptible forms.
This sensory version - the whole continuous moving scene
of existence - ends with the death of the individual brain.
At that moment, the spirit of intelligence loses its identification
with what was not real and enters a new phase which has to
be called the 'more real'.
The 'More Real'
The 'more real' comprises the increasingly abstract depths
of the psyche. This vast invisible abstraction surrounds the
entire sensory enclave like a great lake around a small pebble.
The psyche itself is in turn encompassed and empowered by
spirit which permeates everything. The reality of the 'more
real' is revealed only after death has removed the vibratory
brain and its vibrating physical world.
The 'more real' represents a much swifter time than that
on earth and is an abstract extension of existence - meaning
it contains the reality behind the existence of each thing.
And it is absolutely necessary for several reasons.
The 'more real' is the place where at death the spirit of
intelligence in everyone awakens after gravitating to a degree
in the psyche equal to its own fineness and refinement of
self-knowledge. This is its heaven, its utter and complete
fulfillment. After numerous other processes, and in a time
we can't comprehend, the particular intelligence is born again
on earth, as described earlier. Thus this essential invisible
part of existence makes possible the great cycle and drama
of life and death - although to us it is really the great
cycle or drama of living, death and life.
For us in existence, the levels of the abstract psyche also
act as buffers between the sensory physical - the brain -
and the blinding power of the spirit. The spirit in existence
is paralleled by the majesty and fiery interconnection between
the galaxies and stars as revealed by our brain-made instruments
(giving further divine protection from the searing power).
Nothing physical could stand the divine profundity and power
direct. Here I am reminded of Arjuna's cry of terror 'Stop,
stop!' in the Hindu 'Bhagavat Gita' when, at his request,
the god Krishna reveals his awesome power.
This also applies after you die and is why your individual
consciousness gravitates to a level that is heaven to you
- whereas too much might be unbearable.
Related books and tapes:
of Man and the Universe - book
Where the Spirit
Speaks to Its Own - book
Death - audio
Truth of Death - video
Ah Sweet Mystery
of Death - video
© The Barry Long Trust