Facing Death

Question:

Hello Adam.

I am a P.T.S.D (post-traumatic stress disorder) sufferer. I was in hospital a few years ago to have surgery for a gall bladder removal. The operation was a success. I was taken in to recovery and this is where it all went wrong for me. I was given some pain killers into my U.V drip, but after the operation the U.V was not flushed out properly and had still contained this drug inside of it that blocks the nerves making you paralysed (meant for the operation, but in my case accidentally, in recovery). I was aware of everything. At first I thought I was taking a stroke when I felt one side of my body, may face become paralysed. Then my throat closed up and I stopped breathing. I watched and heard all the nurses and doctors completely freak out over my body. I then had the thought that if they don't know what is going on with me, then I am a gonner! So I lay there suffocating, choking and I couldn't breathe. . . I was terrified.

Then, the staff had figured out what the issue was and they were able to rectify it pretty quickly. I was breathing okay once more and of course my adrenaline glands just burst into this explosion and I was on edge for the next few days shortly after that experience.

A month later, my mum passed away with cancer in her early 50's. I watched her take her last breath and felt this anxiety for her; remembering what it feels like when you are gasping for that breath, that you can't seem to get it. . .and this is where my fear is now. I can't get it out of my head. I have this horrible ingrained belief now, that from the hospital and watching my mother dying: that I am not safe. I never feel safe, I suffer from severe anxiety and panicky racing thoughts a lot since the op. I do get breaks from these horrific days, but when they come they knock me over and I can't seem to see a way out of these racing thoughts that can last for days on end and go into weeks at a time. It's not just the thoughts though, it's the debilitating, uncomfortable, horrible emotions that come and not to mention that dreaded absolute sheer terror and fear of death. So my question is: Is it possible to face death with an open mind? Or is there any advice you can give me at all, on how to cope with P.T.S.D?

Michelle.


Response:

Ok. Sure it is possible to face death with an open mind. At the same time, is it possible to understand death at the level of the thinking mind? What is death? As soon as we begin to speak about it, we are using words and concepts to describe something which is surely beyond description. We can have so many ideas about death, be they conscious or unconscious, and so we remain with death as nothing more than an idea. Perhaps that is what death is - just an idea we have made up. Our ideas of death are what we fear the most. We believe that our concepts of death are fair representatives of the thing we call death. It is a topic so open to many different possibilities and interpretations, that we have been debating it for ages, and yet everyone’s theories can never be absolutely proved with the concurrence of everyone’s experience.

If we take death to be the end of something, the dissolution of something, then who or what is it that dies? Perhaps one of our biggest fears of death is the innate sense emptiness or nothingness, and the personal mind fears this very much. We can have ideas of death being the end of the world and the end of the senses, and we as individuals are left with nothing but an abyss. But this individual experiencer of the world and of death is the illusion. It is made of nothingness, emptiness, and it is the one that says “I will die” and “I was born”. Real death, perhaps, is the end of this individual being taken as reality.

But all words are quite meaningless here. If you wish to truly contemplate death with an open mind, this means you should discard all of your ideas about it. We are in-built with some kind of survival mechanism, and I am not saying this mechanism has to be destroyed, but you can look into death, if you wish, without having any pre-conceived ideas about it. So many of our attitudes towards death, that feel so intrinsically true, are actually just from the conditioning of society.

Everyone wants to feel safe, it is quite normal. What you experience may just be a more intense version of what many others feel - the discomfort of insecurity. I would say to allow this feeling of unsafety and insecurity. Do not try to correct it or change it, just let it be there. If you let it be there without objecting to it, you may notice that the experience takes place within a space which has no concepts of security or insecurity, yet is naturally secure because it can not be destroyed.

The body and the experiences associated with it are by nature insecure, nothing remains the same, everything is subject to change or disappearance. Do not expect yourself to feel safe, and see how this feels. I know it can feel very uncomfortable, as if these turbulent energies are in your very cells, but they are also fleeting they will not stay forever, and can not stay with you if you drop your arguments with them.

All of this helps point you towards what is true, what is without birth or death.

The option of escaping your thoughts and feelings is what creates most trouble. If you think personal escape is possible, if you think you have control over the matter, then you will feel stuck trying to get away, but perhaps never truly succeeding. Experiment by giving up all hopes of escape, as if there is nowhere you can go, nothing you can do. This non-resistance can help remove the attention from the turbulence, and let it merge back into being.

These energies you experience, the terror or death etc, all demand great importance. They demand your attention and that they be taken as problems. The power lies in yourself to designate importance and meaning. If you think these troubling feelings matter or have meaning, then they will. If you become exhausted of trying to figure them out, then perhaps you can give up trying to manage them. Be a bit lazy about it all, don’t act like these are things you must overcome and be free from in the future. If you seek to control your experience, then the experience will have control over you. If you give yourself some space, some freedom to not have an ideal experience, then you may be aware of an unaffected space that everything plays in. Be like the sky, and everything else is just clouds. The sky is not concerned with the clouds, since it is already free.

There is no technique to this. Don’t design an aim for yourself with regards to eliminating some inner trouble. Don’t be responsible for what hurts, don’t have a loyalty to it. You need not fight at all, but rather give up the fight. What happens then? What happens if you, just as an experiment, give up trying to feel differently, or give up believing that the experience should not be like this?

Some may prefer to leave death as totally unknown. We hear so much about it, see people around us die, but how much first-hand experience do we have of it? Any at all? Different people would give different answers to this. Your experience in hospital, although admittedly intense, was not death itself. I was obviously not there when your mother passed, but perhaps her experience in her last breath was not of fear? Perhaps relief, perhaps liberation? Perhaps all three and beyond?

If birth and death are happenings, occurrences, then they must take place within a space that facilitates and allows them, like the space in a room which allows people to enter and leave. 

Rather than being the person that is born and dies, could you actually be the space in which these things take place? If we do not use the addition of any thought, if you do not think a single thought - then is there any reality to your birth and death?

Perhaps some of these questions will be helpful for you, I am not sure. Feel free to comment below if you wish. Thanks for getting in touch, I wish you well.

Adam