Nearing Death

Death and Resurrection: Week 1

Nearing Death
Monday, November 12, 2018

Yesterday I introduced Kathleen Dowling Singh (1946–2017), a hospice worker and psychotherapist who accompanied many people at death’s threshold. She was a dear friend and someone whose wisdom I greatly respect. Last year Singh made her own journey passing from life through death and into greater life. In her remarkable book, The Grace in Dying, Singh described what she called the “Nearing Death Experience” that she observed time and again:

I realized that what I had been witnessing in the process of dying was grace, all around, shimmering and penetrating. I began, with newly opened eyes, to observe the subtlety of this grace and to observe the qualities of grace in those nearing death. I became aware that all of the observed qualities of the Nearing Death Experience point to the fact that there is profound psychoalchemy occurring here, a passage to deeper being. As I worked with dying people from all walks of life and at many different levels of spiritual evolution, normative patterns of change, of transformations in consciousness, became apparent.

There appears to be a universal, sequential progression into deeper, subtler, and more enveloping dimensions of awareness, identity, and being as we begin to die—a movement from the periphery into the Center. Further, I realized that the transformation I was observing in people who were nearing death was the same psychoalchemy—in a greatly accelerated mode—that I had noticed in myself through two and a half decades of practicing contemplative disciplines and in the people with whom I had worked as a psychospiritual counselor.

I have come to believe that the time of dying effects a transformation from perceived tragedy to experienced grace. Beyond that, I think this transformation is a universal process. Although relatively unexamined, the Nearing Death Experience has profound implications. Dying offers the possibility of entering the radiance, the vastness, of our Essential Nature, at least for a few precious moments. . . .

The Nearing Death Experience implies a natural and conscious remerging with the Ground of Being from which we have all once unconsciously emerged. A transformation occurs from the point of terror at the contemplation of the loss of our separate, personal self to a merging into the deep, nurturing, ineffable experience of Unity.

My experience is that most people who are dying have no conscious desire for transcendence; most of us do not live at the level of depth where such a longing is a conscious priority. And, yet, everyone does seem to enter a transcendent and transformed level of consciousness in the Nearing Death Experience. . . . It is rather profound and encouraging to contemplate these indications that the life and death of a human being is so exquisitely calibrated as to automatically produce union with Spirit.

Reference:
Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort, and Spiritual Transformation (HarperOne: 2000), 14, 15. Emphasis mine.

Image credit: Woman Knitting (detail), fancycarve.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
There is a thread you follow. It goes among
Things that change. But it doesn’t change. . . .
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
—William Stafford

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