“To die is an awfully big adventure.”

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

According to Peter Pan, death was just another big adventure to embark upon, and his unique adventurous spirit ruled the way he approached all of his life experiences. It’s easy to think that someone, who lives his entire life with such a spirit, would believe that life and death can really be conscious adventures.

In this article, Conscious Dying: A Way In or a Way Out, I’d like to explore conscious dying, as it pertains to the actual experience of dying, which is the greatest unknown adventure of life. I investigate what happens to our consciousness when we die, where our conscious goes, and how we can stay curious about the mystery of consciousness at the moment of death and beyond.  Are there concrete answers to these questions?  Shall we see?

The main question is how can we really know what happens after we die?  This topic of conscious dying has been a topic for great contemplation and analyses for philosophers spanning millennia.  Definitive answers have eluded and challenged the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of all time and even as long as humans have been able to articulate what they are contemplating.  I delve into this subject in some of my other articles as well and you may these of interest. Your Physical Self What It Means to BE Human, and, Mind Body TheoryHere you can read some insights of the body mind theory from Aristotle, Plato, Descartes and other thought leaders.

In Waking Up and Accepting Conscious Living and Dying I explored another context of conscious dying, as it refers to navigating one’s life and death consciously.  I go further by saying that conscious living and conscious dying cannot really be addressed independently one from the other, because they are both two sides of the same coin.  The article offers some practical tools to gently guide you and your loved ones consciously through the tender dying journey, with love, honor, dignity and regard. 

In 420 B.C. one of the earliest known descriptions of a near-death experience was written in Plato’s “Myth of Er,” at the end of Book X of The Republic[1]In the late 1800’s, one of the first conscious dying experiences[2] reported and studied, was written by Albert von St. Gallen, documenting his profound mystical Near-Death-Experience (NDE),[3] as he was falling down a mountain. Near Death Experiences can be described as leaving one’s body while watching themselves from above.  It is hypothesized that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity may have even been influenced by Gallen, as he was Einstein’s distinguished and esteemed Zurich professor of geology,[4] and found his experiences noteworthy of taking into consideration.

Dr. Raymond Moody coined the phrase, “near-death experience” in his book, Life After Life in 1975.[5]

Surveys that have been taken in the U.S., Australia and Germany suggest that 4%-15% of the population have had conscious dying experiences[6] meaning, have died and come back, reporting what they saw on the “other side” of life. So, the ongoing, never-ending questions continue: Can or does consciousness exist after the body dies?  Would this mean that if consciousness after the body death exists, then it would mean that our consciousness continues to stay alive. It’s one thing to be conscious of living and dying, while we are still living, and thus planning out our life and death experiences the best we can to ensure a peaceful transition. However, it’s quite another matter to address this huge mystery of conscious dying or living after the body dies.

The point of the article is to simply present some thoughts I have on this subject of deep mystery, and perhaps these will inspire you to think of your own.

What happens to your consciousness when you die?

Some people are definite in their opinion that there is something else beyond what we know as physical human beings.  Researchers are challenged to find the answer, moreover that the afterlife is not a science. However, interestingly enough, they have found that even though the heart stops pumping, and no signs of electrical activity are in the brain, it’s possible that a person can still be “conscious”, according to Researcher Pim van Lommel of the Hospital Rijnstate in the Netherlands.[7]  Some scientists say that sometimes the mind cannot tell which is real.  Death can be a complicated process, and may not always be black and white.

Everyone has a different view, of course, and we have learned much from the millions of people who have experienced NDE’s.[8]  Some people who have died and come back, said they “woke up” in a strange environment, feeling nothing but a sense of peace.  Others who were injured, being taken away in an ambulance said, they “saw” themselves in the ambulance with the paramedics working on them.  Others were on the operating table, looking at themselves from above. And, some, like a young boy who drowned, said he “saw” the life guards doing CPR on him, and still no life, after 5 minutes.  On the way to the hospital, he returned to his body, after being shot back to life, as if out of a cannon.  There are a multitude of other stories such as these, and studies have shown that no two NDE’s is exactly alike, but many have similarities.

One of the most common conscious dying occurrences people have shared was experiencing a rapid transit through a long dark tunnel, with a bright light at the end, magnetizing them towards the light, able to see their own bodies in whatever states they were in without feeling fear.  Many even witnessed attempts to save their lives.  They even saw their relatives urging them to “come back” to life.  Many have shared an experience of being in a deep blackness, no longer feeling anything, but still aware of themselves, seeing their whole lives flick by, like the pages in a book.  Is this consciousness?

Most people that have been studied say they experience an overwhelming sense of love with an ability to communicate through mental telepathy; along with a life review.  Some people met God or other divine beings, and experienced a feeling of a tremendous joy, free of their bodies and earthly challenges.  And, many felt they were in the presence of unlimited knowledge, where wisdom and secrets of the universe were shared.  Others experienced a multitude of realms in the afterlife.  Some heard that were told they were not ready to die because they still have unfinished business and were sent back.  And some were even shown the future.[9]

All of these examples constitute what we call “out of body” experiences.  These certainly mimic being dead, yet the individual is seemingly alive in a spiritual form, looking upon themselves in their near death physical form.  Since humans are dichotomous in nature, both physical and spiritual, both of these parts of being human are important to address when talking about conscious dying.

Dr. Duncan MacDougal conducted an experiment in 1907, where he attempted to measure the mass lost by a human when the soul departed the body. What Dr. McDougall noticed was that each of the 6 patients he was studying lost 21 grams of weight.  Dr. McDougall wondered if what left was the human soul, since each of the patients lost the same amount of weight.[10]  Skeptics said something must have happened to trigger the scales, but that never became a conversation.  Does consciousness have a weight to it?

My friend, Dannion Brinkley, (Author, and Founder of The Twilight Brigade) was struck by lightning at age 27, while talking on the telephone, standing in his bedroom.  The lightening went through the electrical cord and into his body, heating everything up so much so that the nails in his shoes melted into the floorboards.  He was immediately rushed to the hospital.  After 28 minutes of being pronounced, “dead”, and many attempts to save his life failed, he was being rolled to the morgue in the elevator. His friend, who was standing next to him, saw the sheet begin to move, as if Dannion was breathing.  He screamed to the nurse that the sheet was moving. Needless to say, Dannion came back to life. (He died and came back two more times.)

My friend, Dannion Brinkley, (Author, and Founder of The Twilight Brigade) was struck by lightning at age 27, while talking on the telephone, standing in his bedroom.  The lightening went through the electrical cord and into his body, heating everything up so much so that the nails in his shoes melted into the floorboards.  He was immediately rushed to the hospital.  After 28 minutes of being pronounced, “dead”, and many attempts to save his life failed, he was being rolled to the morgue in the elevator. His friend, who was standing next to him, saw the sheet begin to move, as if Dannion was breathing.  He screamed to the nurse that the sheet was moving. Needless to say, Dannion came back to life. (He died and came back two more times.)

When he came back the first time, and after he was able to speak, he shared his experience and wrote a book called, Saved by the Light: The True Story of a Man Who Died Twice and the Profound Revelations He Received where he details his profound experiences on the other side.  He went on to write two more books, Secrets of the Light: Lessons from Heaven, and At Peace in the Light: The Further Adventures of a Reluctant Psychic Who Reveals the Secret of Your Spiritual Powers, further detailing what was told to him.  There could be many similar stories.  In Dannion Brinkley’s words, for which he was sent back to relay: “there is no such thing as death.[11]

He continues to share his uplifting insights with the veterans at the VA, spending over 40,000 hours volunteering with hospice, sitting bedside with vets, offering them a comforting view of conscious dying.  Through the 3-day Twilight Brigade intensive training, I’m honored to be one of the National Trainers. We teach participants how to consciously be with veterans and others who are dying, so that no vet ever dies alone.

Some people believe there is no life after death, and whatever we have in the here and now is all there is.  Others say there is life after death, and others say we come back (reincarnate)[12] after we die into someone else, like the Dalai Lama, where it is believed that he is “found”, rather than chosen.  Finding the next Dalai Lama is the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelgupa tradition, and the Tibetan government.[13]

The concept of conscious dying through reincarnation dates back as far as the ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks, the Buddhist and Hindu religions, Jainism and Taoism, all based on believing in an immortal soul, returning again and again to life on earth in one form or another, based on the philosophy of the soul’s karma (you reap what you sew).[14]   Some people even think conscious dying means coming back as animals, whereby the particular animal will not have a memory of being human.  In this belief, their souls need to be constantly reborn as an animal until it’s ready to evolve to a human being.

Then, there are others who believe we are born again.  Examples exist of people who have an affinity for a completely foreign culture, their music fascinates them, and they learn the language, learn to cook their foods, and learn their dances. Could this be some form of experience from a previous life?  I recently heard a story of a 5-year old boy who had a memory of himself as an actor some decades before he was born.  He would talk openly and freely to the people he was “seeing”, out of nowhere, and his mother began to worry that he was hallucinating, until one day, she opened a book, and her son was awestruck by the familiarity of the photo.  He said to his mom, “Oh, look, mommy, that’s me,” and began to tell her all the details of his experience, being that other person.  Conscious dying?  Reincarnation? All possibilities.

Then there are those who believe that all of us have a conscious spirit inside of us, and after death we either go to heaven or hell, depending on how we lived our lives.  And, if we have obeyed the Commandments and keep our faith in Jesus Christ, we will go to an eternal blissful life in heaven. If not, we will go to hell and experience eternal wrath from God, tormented forever.  For these believers, heaven is a good place and life is the test.

Quantum physicists are uncovering more and more about the theory that death is an illusion altogether,[15] and that it is all made up in the mind, including time and space. Conscious dying could also include the concept that death is a figment of our imagination, that the universe does not create life, that space and time are tools of the mind. Einstein said our minds cannot comprehend what our brains can grasp.  Is death an illusion created in the mind?[16]

Robert Lanza, scientist and author of the theory of Biocentrism, has taken the concept that death is an illusion to form a very plausible hypothesis[17] based on experiments in the possibility that everything that could possibly happen occurs in some universe, indicating that death may not be the terminal event we might think it is, because “these possible universes exist simultaneously, regardless of what happens in any of them.”[18]  Perhaps all of this has to do with consciousness we humans hold, whether it be in the form of consciously dying or in consciously living.

The challenge, and even an option, may just be to consciously un-think what we’ve thought or taught about death.  We base our experience on what we physically see (we “see” a blue sky, but science says our brain can be altered to see another color).[19]  We witness someone who has died, and we assume they are dead, because there is no more life in the body.  However, according to the theory of Biocentrism, anything we see changes as we observe something, so what we see couldn’t be present without our consciousness.[20]  We have been given the gift of consciousness, enabling us to dive deeply into subjects we have been on a discovery path for a great many centuries.

According to Robert Lanza’s biocentrism theory, space and time aren’t the hard, cold objects we think, and when we wave our hand through air, we ask, what’s left?  The answer is nothing, and the same thing applies for time and space.[21]

In the two-slit experiments that were conducted years ago, it was found that when we watch a particle pass through two slits, the particle behaves like a bullet going through one slit or another, but if we don’t watch, it acts like a wave and can go through both slits at the same time.  So, how can a particle change its behavior depending on whether we watch it or not?  The answer is, reality is a process that involves our consciousness. Lanza writes, “Energy is known with scientific certainty to be deathless; it can neither be created nor destroyed.  It merely changes form.[22] If human beings are animated through energy, then when they die, they must just transform into another form.  This is the same theory that Einstein pontificated.[23]

And, of course, there is also the belief that there is nothing more beyond the here and now, which seems a less magical outcome, because once we pass, we just step into an empty void of blackness – nothingness, like falling asleep and never waking up.   My belief and what I also teach is to know that whatever makes you feel good and gives you comfort, then it’s all you need.  If we assume that everything is made up in our imagination either way, and consciousness continues to exist, whether we’re dead or alive, then isn’t it better to go after the good feeling thought, rather than one which debilitates and deflates one’s existence?  As you shall live, so shall you die, meaning whatever behavior or attitudes you carry with you while living, you will carry with you when dying.  It just goes to show how important it is to live each day as fully and consciously as possible.

As you can see, there are many beliefs around what happens to consciousness when you die.  There are many viewpoints and this question still remains very much an enigma. We may not have the answers, but asking the questions certainly makes for having many interesting and provocative conversations.  In truth, we have no way of cognitively knowing for sure what happens when our time is up and we are laid to rest.  The mystery continues and does takes many lifetimes to explore, expand upon, and possibly explain. But it may be one of those phenomena of life that just can’t be explained, and can only be experienced.  The point is that we won’t know that until it’s our time.

Being conscious before dying is the key to dying a peaceful death.  Conscious dying, or dying consciously is a gift we earn by living consciously, each and every moment of our lives, deeply enjoying each and every day, being present, and bringing the best we have to life.

I would love to have a conversation with you if you’ve have had any experiences around dying, and I’d be interest to learn how they have impacted your life. Just send me an email and let me know at shelley@lovelifeandbehyond.com or feel free to post your answer on our Facebook page: Love, Life and Beyond.

Perhaps you’d like to share with me what YOU think happens to our consciousness (souls) after we die – let me know!

Stay curious with your life and death.  Stay present with yourself and others.  Stay excited about the possibilities of conscious living and conscious dying, and everything in between.

It’s your life.  Enjoy the journey.  And, remember to bring love into everything you do.

[1] https://iands.org/ndes/about-ndes/key-nde-facts21.html?showall=&start=1

[2]  https://dictionary.cambridge.org/es/diccionario/ingles/near-death-experience

[3] http://www.allaboutheaven.org/observations/19063/221/heim-professor-albert-von-st-gallen-and-his-near-death-experience-021104

[4] http://www.allaboutheaven.org/observations/19063/221/heim-professor-albert-von-st-gallen-and-his-near-death-experience-021104

[5] https://iands.org/ndes/about-ndes/key-nde-facts21.html?showall=&start=1

[6] https://iands.org/ndes/about-ndes/key-nde-facts21.html?showall=&start=1

[7] http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/DrJohnson/story?id=126449&page=1

[8] http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/DrJohnson/story?id=126449&page=1

[9] https://www.thoughtco.com/common-elements-near-death-experiences-2594675

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/21_grams_experiment

[11] Preface, pg ix in Secrets of the Light: Lessons from Heaven

[12] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/reincarnate

[13] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/aug/27/tibet.china1

[14] https://www.allaboutspirituality.org/animal-reincarnation-faq.htm

[15] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/biocentrism/201111/is-death-illusion-evidence-suggests-death-isn-t-the-end

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein

[17] http://www.robertlanzabiocentrism.com/is-death-an-illusion-evidence-suggests-death-isnt-the-end/

[18] http://www.robertlanzabiocentrism.com/is-death-an-illusion-evidence-suggests-death-isnt-the-end/

[19] http://www.robertlanzabiocentrism.com/is-death-an-illusion-evidence-suggests-death-isnt-the-end/

[20] http://www.robertlanzabiocentrism.com/is-death-an-illusion-evidence-suggests-death-isnt-the-end/

[21] http://www.robertlanzabiocentrism.com/is-death-an-illusion-evidence-suggests-death-isnt-the-end/

[22] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/biocentrism/201312/the-myth-death

[23] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equivME/