now, God has let me come to you. All our friends are here too. Its all true, what we believed about God ...this is only a temporary separation." I went to sleep and didn't wake for hours.The next day I felt good, the sun was shining again; there was meaning to my life."
Maud probably identified herself as Fred's wife. When he died, she died. Her sense of herself,that is. Her brains activity can be guessed at: when her grief passed a certain point, her leftamygdala was triggered, and its positive contribution to her sense of self was restored. Whenobjects identified with the self are lost, so is the self. In fact, one study found that the mostprominent predisposing factor in sensing the presence of a deceased spouse was that theirwife or husband had died unexpectedly (8). Without time to prepare themselves mentally, theyweren't able to resist their own grief, and the threshold was passed.The human sense of self is partly a social thing. If a person experiences too much rejection atthe hands of others, as in child abuse, their self-esteem can be lowered below a certain point,also triggering this process. There are several studies on child abuse that support this idea(6). As the cycle of abuse proceeds, dissociative states that first appear as ways to escapefrom the abuse can become permanent options, ‘traits.' (7)The following case (author's collection-paraphrased) illustrates the point:
"As a child, I severely abused in every way a child can be. I grew up never having even one toy. I would be locked in a closet for days at a time. I spent my whole childhood wanting to die.He (her father) wouldn't give me any food or water. I lost all sense of time in there. I felt myself falling into a space I came to think of as ‘the pit of despair'. Eventually, I came to the bottom.There, I found angels waiting for me. They held me and comforted me and told me how my I was being prepared for something important that would come later on in my life. They promised me that they would never leave me and that they would always protect me. Now,when I do massage, these same angels appear and give me spirit guidance. They helped me to become a healer, and I can't imagine anything I'd rather be. I can't say that I'm glad I was abused, but having been abused is a part of my life, and I like my life. Now."
There are several points that both these stories have in common with near-death experiences,such as the angels and meeting a dead person. It seems as though they both felt they weredying, and used the mechanism for healing these feelings that appears in the death process.A lot of my work is devote to exploring the idea that mystic experiences are instances of thedeath process occurring outside of their normal context. I don't see these as pathologicalinstances of the experiences. It seems more likely that our continually evolving minds foundadditional applications of the new neural mechanisms associated with the death process, andthat is the source of human spirituality.In another article, we have looked at the similarities between romantic love and religiousdevotion. Love, however its defined, has a powerful ability to lessen (attenuate) death anxiety.The death-process, as revealed in near-death experiences, seems to return, over and over, tothe experience of love and being loved, of being reunited with loved ones, and of looking at lifein terms of how much love we creat for ourselves while we live.Both love and the experience of religious bliss lessen the anxiety that threats to the sense ofself create. Love from others heals wounds to the self, which is partly a social thing. Religiousbliss and ecstasy heal threats to the more privately felt self. The death process begins with thefear and resistance that helps us to try to survive, but once death begins, and survivalbecomes impossible, the fear that expectating death creates is replaced by a feeling that'severy bit as good as the fear of death was bad.Our species is the only one that can hold the thought in our minds: "I will die.' Ours is the onlyone that needs a way to cope with it, and its long-term effects may be among the mostimportant factors that shaped our cultures.As children, we might run to our mommies when we hear things that hurt our feelings. Asadults, we run to God when our feelings are hurt. The fact of death is understood as an ideafirst, so its natural salve is more ideas . Ideas like the ones that religion uses to assure people