by Chris Tong, Ph.D.
Excerpted and adapted from:
You CAN Take It With You
As we have been saying — in effect — in this book and the last two books focusing on death and the after-life (You CAN'T Take It With You and You WILL Take it With You), there is no bigger psychic bully than death, both as a looming inevitability, and as an actual experience. We would like to avoid thinking about death, and avoid death itself, even more than we would like to avoid being in states of boredom, doubt, or discomfort.
And yet, when we actually die (or have a near-death experience [Moody]), despite whatever wriggling we did to try to get out of it before we just gave in to it — for instance, in the form of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s four predecessors to acceptance of death: denial, anger, bargaining, or feeling depressed), we experience something quite different from what was moving us to deny, be angry, bargain, etc.: we experience the overwhelmingly loving and blissful Presence of God, even to such a degree that we never want to leave It.
Now this sequence is worth examining very carefully: first all the reactions that tend to arise in relation to all the psychic bullies in our life; then, completely giving in or surrendering; then Absolute Happiness.
The secret hidden here is in the discovery that this sequence is not coincidental. In any moment that we completely surrender our selves — surrendering our struggle, our searching for a way out, our reactivity — the Revelation of God is bound to appear in some form (e.g., in the feeling of great happiness).
Let me tell you a couple of personal stories, to give you a feeling for the breadth and power of the point being made here.
A friend of mine once took me to visit a “New Age” relaxation center whose primary feature was a set of flotation tanks. (This was back in the early 1980’s, when such things were hitting the peak of their popularity.) My friend told me, “You’ll love it! It’s a deeply relaxing experience!” Here’s the way it worked. You go into a private room, undress, take a shower, and then enter the white tank in the middle of the room. The tank is full of a liquid solution that has a heavy Epsom salt concentration that causes anyone lying back in the tank to float, effortlessly. And the tank also has a lid.
So I climbed into the tank, and lay back. It was wonderful! Just floating in that liquid. . . very relaxing, soothing. Then I pulled the lid down. The idea was that you’d stay in this “womblike” environment for about half an hour, undisturbed by any sounds, sights — any sensory stimuli at all — and you would have something like a meditative experience. Then after a half an hour, some gentle music would “bring you back”, and you’d climb out of the tank.
But, in fact, as soon as the lid went down, I felt sheer terror. I suppose it was a kind of claustrophobia. Everything in me wanted to push that lid up again and climb out. Right away! I fought down that immediate impulse, only to find distressing thoughts creeping in. What if the attendant who was responsible for turning on the music forgot? How long might I lay in that tank? And on and on.
The "relaxing experience" had turned into a nightmare. But two things held me in place. The first was the thought that I might very well have a similar feeling of terror when I died, but there would be no “lid to lift up”, no way of “climbing out”. So better to start getting acquainted with such intense feelings now, and somehow learn to practice with them. The second thing was that I had recently begun reading the teaching of my Spiritual Master, and I had some sense of the way things actually work in the realm of the psyche, and I realized that this was one of my first opportunities to see my Master’s words about “surrender” and “feeling” in action in a very personal way.
So I hung in there. I didn’t raise the lid. I simply allowed myself to feel the terror. It got worse. It grew to the point where I felt certain I was going to die. And I continued to just feel it.
And then a miracle happened. In a single instant, all the fear vanished, and I suddenly felt completely happy.
I was blown away by this. I mean, after all, isn’t it completely counter-intuitive that one instant you would be feeling complete terror, and then the next, complete happiness? It didn’t make any immediate sense. But there it was.
I was so happy. I just revelled in that happiness mindlessly without any self-consciousness. At a certain point, the music came on, and I climbed out of the tank. I looked at my watch — an hour had passed! The attendant had indeed forgotten to turn the music on at the appointed time. And I didn’t care.
At another point in my life, my then-girlfriend and I separated. The sadness and sense of loss that I felt was greater than I had ever felt before in such a separation. Over the course of a month, my life was dominated by this feeling of intense sorrow. I was a professor at the time, and, as I’d be walking down the corridors of the school building, tears would suddenly start pouring down my face, and I’d have to do my best to turn in such a way that my students and colleagues didn’t see them.
The intensity of this sorrow kept growing for weeks. Then, one night, as I lay in bed, the sorrow became overwhelming. And something very interesting began to happen. The thought came to mind that I could call a friend, and try to distract myself that way. But even as the thought arose, I simultaneously somehow knew that the pain was too deep for this distraction to relieve it. Then I thought of going to a movie. Same thing. Reading a book. Same thing. And so on. Even as this was happening, another part of me was watching in fascination as I witnessed something I had never really noticed so clearly before: my mind was primarily organized, in every moment, to search for ways to distract me from intense feeling! It was literally like watching a computer program in action. It tried one option. That failed. Then it tried another. That failed. But it systematically stepped through all my usual distractions, one by one. And then it ran out.
There were no more distractions. There was not the possibility for distraction in that moment. I no longer had an option: I had no choice but to feel this sorrow. And so, having no choice, I surrendered. I let the sadness overwhelm me. Just like my feeling of terror in the flotation tank, I felt sure that I was going to die.
And then the miracle happened again — in a single moment, the sadness was replaced by sheer Bliss.
The Gift, then, provided by the moment of our death, or our near-death, is that death forces us — with overwhelming strength — to completely surrender, and then it reveals to us the Fruit of doing so. My Spiritual Master, Adi Da Samraj, elaborates:
So what is actually going on here? How can we make sense of this general principle, as well as all the demonstrations of it — my own personal ones, and the large number of accounts of near-death experiences — which all seem to point to the same conclusion: “complete surrender restores Happiness”?
The thing that we are (unconsciously) doing in every moment (which, in the context of psychic bullies, is made most obvious) is avoiding feeling fully. The surrender that took place in the experiences I described is fundamentally a psychic surrender, in which we simply cease to avoid feeling fully:
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