Tag Archives: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

How to Overcome the Fear of Death–Two Possibilities

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The fear of death always comes at or near the top of people’s worst fears. Some psychologists believe that this is such a potent fear, we push it down into the subconscious in order to avoid it. Yet from its hiding place the fear remains active, re-emerging in times like the death of a loved one, making grief even more painful and anxious. Avoiding the fear of death clearly isn’t the best tactic. One reason that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross‘s famous five stages of dying became so popular is that she gave us a rational framework for handling a once-taboo subject.

Rationality is one of the two ways a person can overcome their own personal fear of death. The starting point for most rationalists, particularly scientists, is to assume in the absence of data from the afterlife that our consciousness is extinguished at the moment of death. In a short video on the subject of “What happens after we die?” physicist Brian Greene takes the position, when you’re gone, you’re gone. Continue reading

Deepak Chopra: End-of-Life Experience and How to Die Well

shutterstock_107006774Let me begin by reassuring you that this isn’t going to be a grim post. But it begins in an area people are uncomfortable with. We all must die, yet this is one inevitability that almost nobody feels comfortable talking about. That includes doctors and nurses, as was discovered in a newly published study from King’s College in London. It surveyed the staff that surrounded dying patients in hospices and found that they witness every common end-of-life experience (ELE). These fall into two types, and one of them will seem very strange.

The first type of ELE seeks final meaning. Near the time of death, people often want to be reconciled with family members who have become estranged, and this desire can be so strong that the moment of death is postponed until the estranged person visits. There is often a desire to put one’s affairs in order and to right past wrongs. It is observed that patients who have been semi-conscious will have a moment of sudden lucidity in which they express their dying wishes before lapsing back.

This whole category of ELE is psychologically intimate, and a significant number of doctors and nurses feel uncomfortable being present for it. Two inhibitions stand in the way. Doctors spend most of their energy trying to extend life, so learning about dying isn’t part of their training. Secondly, it is still considered a sign of weakness for a doctor to feel emotional about death, which leads to distancing himself from the actual experience.

The second type of ELE is labeled transpersonal, although the common word for it would be spooky. Dying patients, far more often than is acknowledged, have highly mystical experiences. They get visions of departed ones who have come to take them away. They sense the transmission of light and love from other realities and can visit those realities. ┬áThe study found that such ELEs could not be accounted for by the medical state or treatment of the person — the ELE occurred in clear consciousness.

Yet probably the most uncomfortable ELE in this category was observed by the staff, including seeing something leave the body at the time of death, finding that a peculiar synchronicity occurred, such as the clock stopping at the moment of death. It’s more common than you would suppose for relatives who were not present when the dying person passed away to have them appear at the moment of death. Needless to say, modern society is skeptical enough that ridicule and quick dismissal of these transpersonal experiences will arise, even though they have been reported continually in every culture since history has been recorded.

The study makes the point that ELEs, which of course do not occur with every dying person, bring comfort and consolation; they seem to be a natural mechanism that surrounds the climactic event of death. Which brings us to the paradox of how we die. In the 1930s, eighty percent of people still died at home; now more than eighty percent die in the impersonal setting of a hospital. Massive expense is involved in trying to cure the last disease each of us will have, the one we eventually die from.

As medical technology shrouds the dying process, as people become more and more discomfited being around it, nature doesn’t seem to care. Mind and spirit experience death the old-fashioned way. Happily, the paradox resolves itself in favor of death being much less scary than we imagine. There is every indication that we are meant to die at peace, and so we do.

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Originally published May 2011

How Children Heal

In last week’s post, I referenced the gradual but miraculous healing of an infant who was diagnosed with a hole in her heart and brain damage at birth.  Three years later, she was fully healed without any medical intervention.  The story inspired me to think more deeply how we heal and about what we can teach our children about health and healing.

I found a fascinating reference to this topic in an out-of-print book called Healers on Healing, an anthology of short essays by healers from many medical and alternative fields. Doctors, psychologists, nurses, counselors, shamans and energy workers alike weighed in on the topic.  The common denominator in every piece was the notion that healing professionals don’t heal anyone—they removed obstacles or build confidence so that their patients could heal themselves.   It was humbling to be reminded that we heal our bodies, rather than chemotherapy or drugs or surgery.

But the stories of how children learned to heal were the awe-inspiring.  In an essay by Patricia Norris—a therapist, researcher and biofeedback pioneer—she describes her first-hand experiences with children healing from cancer. She writes,

Children are naturally open, accepting, trusting, enthusiastic and nonjudgmental in their approach to healing.  They are in the process of learning everything: to walk, run, speak…how to handle their bodies, their language and culture.  If you say, ‘When you turn this knob, the TV will come on,’ they say, ‘okay’ and turn the knob.  Tell them that they can make their hands warm, that they can send more blood to their toes, or that they can send white bloods cells to fight their tumors and they say, ‘okay’ and do it.  One task (to a child) is the same as another.

Norris goes on to tell a story about Garrett—a young boy with a brain tumor.  He quickly learned how to warm his hands, then his feet, and then any part of his body to which he turned his attention.   He then learned how to affect his heart rate and how to send blood or white cells to empower his immune system.  The use of biofeedback equipment proved that he learned to effectively regulate and heal his own body. 

Norris’ work also uncovered another important insight: A sick child feels much more empowered than a sick adult.  She gave an example of a child diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease—a debilitating cancer of the lymphatic system.  The child didn’t take on the role of “victim”—instead she felt capable of participating in her own recovery from the outset.  She knew that she wanted to live and marshaled her inner strength, courage and positivity to recover.  Once healed she told Norris, “The way I changed, even more than getting over the cancer, is that I like myself better now.”  How many adults are able to handle themselves with such maturity and confidence in the face of a deadly disease?

As I read Norris’ essay, I thought about the signals I’m sending my daughter Ayla about how to heal.  Do I take on the role of victim when afflicted with a mild cold—whining and complaining about my pain? Have I imprinted her with too many images mama racing to the medicine cabinet for a pill when a headache strikes?  While those pictures may be true, I also know that I often take deep breaths or dit in a warm bath when I am in physical pain—but perhaps my self-healing actions are mostly hidden from view.  I want so much for Ayla to trust her intuition when she’s unwell and to trust in the miracle of the human body.  But in the short term, her views will reflect mine—and this presents me, and every parent, with a huge responsibility beyond feeding, clothing and educating our children.

When Ayla gets a boo-boo, I am quick to offer hugs, kisses and Band-Aids.  But what if I sat with her, after the tears subside, and invited her to imagine her bruised toe getting better.  Or told her that her body could make itself better most of the time—and we checked on a cut every day and witnessed the miracle of clotting and skin re-growth.

What I’m learning is that some of what we classify as miraculous healing need not be so mysterious.  The healing process is guided by our own attitude, intention and the support we receive from practitioners who provide helpful interventions and lots of encouragement.   Healing is utterly natural, and human, when we learn to step into our wounds rather than turning ourselves away from them.

 

To learn more about Taz Tagore’s writing, visit Labor of Love. To learn more about the nonprofit she co-founded, that brings creative and spiritual tools to homeless youth, visit Reciprocity Foundation.

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