Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Survival of Consciousness?

 SURVIVAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS? 

The Stress Monster is really going to get me now; most people avoid this topic. Whatever happens during and after death is one of the greatest fears of all. We often agree with Woody Allen's statement, "I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens." Why did I choose to pursue this topic? Out of love. Love is after all our strongest and most blessed emotion. When my father was receiving Hospice services in my home, he was very anxious about his future. As a child, probably mischievous, he remembered being told that he was going to go to Hell. Although he wasn't sure about the orange men with pitchforks, he definitely knew he didn't want to go there. That was in 2007, and I've been pursuing this topic ever since. 

Let's look at another quote, "We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey."  (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). Are we? Spiritual and religious writers have provided a great deal of information in these areas. For the purpose of this article I'll restrict myself to psychology and other sciences. An impressive body of knowledge is being accumulated although the topic remains controversial to some. I'll mention quantum physics briefly because it provides a basis for understanding our energetic or spiritual foundations. Although the material world looks solid and stable to us, we now know it is composed of energy vibrating in different frequencies out of concordance with time and space laws of the observable world. As energy does not disappear, what happens to the energy in our body when we die? The next question is whether this energy is consciousness and whether it is or has been localized in the brain. The consciousness that appears to survive death is often described as the soul. I’ll mention four types of evidence and give you references so that you can pursue the information on your own.

 

You may have heard of "near-death experiences" (NDE) where someone has spiritual experiences of entering the afterlife but returns to life often with vivid and transcendent memories. You may have read that NDEs are just produced by conditions in the dying brain, but scientific study continues to invalidate this type of alternative explanation. You might want to start with the Near Death Experiences Research Foundation (nderf.org) developed by a radiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Long, which has collected over 2500 accounts of actual NDE throughout the world. I calmed my father's fears by reading some of these experiences to him. He said, "I sure hope it happens like that!" Our own Durham NC hosts the International Association of Near-Death Studies (www.iands.org) which is sponsoring a local convention September 2-4, 2011( 919-383-7940).You will hear presentations by two researchers in the field, Dr. Bruce Greyson and Dr. Raymond Moody. Dr. Kenneth Ring's book, "Lessons from the Light" (Moment Press, 2006) summarizes a great deal of information about the NDE and Dannion Brinkley's book ("Saved by the Light: The True Story of a Man Who Died Twice" (HarperOne, 2008) will introduce you to a man whose life was truly altered by his NDE experiences. There is even a local group which meets to share experiences and information. You can find out more about these meetings at 919-929-1073 or mays@ieee.org.

 

But where is the hard science to validate these experiences? Dr. Sam Parnia has been conducting studies of near death experiences after cardiac arrest where the mind and body are flatlined yet the patients report a NDE if they are able to be resuscitated. Specifically, Dr. Parnia is attempting to find out whether consciousness persists after the brain is effectively dead, showing that the location of consciousness, otherwise called the soul, will continue to function without the brain.  You may have heard that the NDE is just a hallucination produced by a dying brain probably due to drugs or lack of oxygen. Dr. Parnia has already ruled out both explanations and is continuing with rigorously designed double-blind trials of patients after cardiac arrest.          .

 

Another source of information consists of experiences observed or recorded at the time of death. An article on my website, "Peace on Earth and Peace in Your Heart" described the profound experiences of Dr. John Lerma, a M.D. Anderson Hospice doctor, witnessing and recording experiences of dying patients (90 percent of those who could talk) describing family spirits and angels appearing to them to assist in the transition to the afterlife. Dr. Lerma recorded this information in a detailed and scientific fashion.  Another reference "At the Hour of Death" (Osis and Haraldsson, Hastings, third edition, 1997) gathered reports from the doctors and nurses of 1000 terminally ill patients in the United States and India, finding universal feelings of serenity and peace accompanied by death bed visions "nearly always experienced as messengers from a postmortem mode of existence… the ostensible intent to take the patient away to the other world." In my case, when the time came for my father's transition, he had blissful experiences, seeing wonderful colors and flowers as well as my mother and his friends coming to help him. Earlier I had asked him to send me a sign to let me know when he got to heaven. About a half hour after his transition, owls outside his window were my sign.

 

The next source of information is stories of appearances of the deceased spirit to the living. These have been collected into books such as those written by Louis LaGrand, "Messages and Miracles: Extraordinary Experiences of the Bereaved" (Llewellyn, 1997) containing detailed question and answers about these experiences.  It has been difficult to study these experiences scientifically, but there are many true believers among those who have been visited by deceased loved ones. Often these experiences occur to family members who could not be present at the time of death or have been experiencing profound grief and depression about their loss. I have not experienced this kind of contact, although a very sensitive person visiting Forest Garden swears that my father's spirit appeared in a whoosh of energy to leave a message for me that he is happy in heaven.

 

There are, however, sources of information from spirits in the afterlife. How could this be? I would urge you to read information accumulated by Dr. Gary Schwartz who appears to be dedicating the rest of his scientific career to pursuing the question of survival of consciousness. Dr. Schwartz is a Harvard trained psychologist who was not deterred by skepticism that this question could not be researched with scientific rigor. I first encountered his work in "The Afterlife Experiments" (Schwartz, Simon and Chopra, Atria, 2003.) Schwartz assembled panels of mediums to talk to spirits of people who volunteered for these experiments but did not speak or were not even in the room with the mediums, finding 80 to 90% accuracy of the medium’s information versus 20 to 30% accuracy of people attempting to act like mediums. Dr. Schwartz became even more creative in his latest book "The Sacred Promise" (Schwartz and John Edward, Atria, 2011) when he was assisted in some of his research by Suzy Smith, a deceased medium. After her death, Suzy contacted a living medium to establish communication with Dr. Schwartz and plan experiments together. In one fascinating experiment, Dr. Schwartz used a highly sensitive camera able to detect the slightest photons of light and photograph them in the darkroom. Dr. Schwartz’ computer called deceased mediums to appear in the darkroom in random order, finding that the deceased mediums were able to produce light photons in the darkness when they were called. You may want to read Dr. Schwartz work which is at the same time fascinating and scientifically well researched.  All this encouraged me to contact a local very talented medium to assist me in contacting my family in the spirit world. The results have been truly amazing as information shared was known only to me and my family.

 

There are many books written by mediums such as John Edward and George Anderson which provide details about communications from deceased family members but little information about the spirit world itself. Publications by mediums are beginning to answer questions we are asking about the afterlife. In reading some of these stories, there appears to be a good deal of consistency between mediums' information about the spirit world. I'll mention a few books I've enjoyed: "Ask a Medium: Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions about the Spirit World", ( Rose Vanden Eynden, Llewellyn, 2010) and "Growing Up in Heaven" (James Van Praagh, HarperOne, 2011.) 

 

So after all these experiences, what is my relationship now with the Stress Monster? The big scary monster is now just a little pipsqueak cowering in the corner and I'm at peace regarding the afterlife. If this is one of your fears or anxieties, consider finding out the truth for yourself. Are YOU truly a spiritual being following a human path to the afterlife?