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Do hospices promote despair?

Posted on 25 January 2011, 14:19

In the Foreword of his recently released book with a lengthy title, Nondenominational Quantum Spirituality Lay Manual for Hospice Patients & Their Families: how sciences proves there is an afterlife, T. Lee Baumann, M.D. states that he was shocked when he attempted to volunteer his “science and spirituality” expertise to a hospice in his hometown in Birmingham, Alabama and was turned down.  In effect, he was told that there was “no need.”  Likewise, I was very surprised a few years ago when, while undergoing a weekend of hospice training, I was informed that spiritual matters were not to be discussed with patients unless they brought them up and then it was something that should be referred to the hospice chaplain.

I was further surprised when I attended a talk given by an experienced hospice worker on the subject of “compassion in dying.”  She told the audience that the key is “making the most of each day.”  Those in the audience, responding like a bunch of unthinking robots, nodded their approval, as if the speaker had provided sage advice. My reaction at the end of the presentation was one of bewilderment as the speaker never once touched upon the spiritual aspects of dying.  She never even alluded to the possibility that consciousness survives physical death.  It may be that she did not feel comfortable introducing spiritual matters to a secular audience, or it could be that she had no strong spiritual belief.

When I offered to give a talk about near-death experiences, a subject which I had become very familiar with and written extensively on, to two hospices in my home state of Hawaii, I didn’t even receive the courtesy of a reply from either of two hospice directors.   

While hospice supposedly administers to the spiritual needs of the dying patients, the problem, as I see it, is that “spirituality” seems to be translated to “peace of mind” and otherwise left to the interpretation of hospice directors who must tippy-toe around specific belief systems and leave it to their chaplains to address. Unless one really relishes the idea of total extinction, true peace of mind can only result from a conviction that consciousness survives physical death.  While the majority of hospice chaplains may accept survival, very few are – assuming they are representative of orthodox religions – prepared to go beyond the “blind faith” they espouse and offer the dying patient any real comfort in this respect. 

Searching the Internet, I came across an article by Larry Beresford of Oakland, CA at  Beresford is a journalist who has been writing about hospice care for some 20 years and also wrote “The Hospice Handbook” for volunteers.  In the article, Beresford mentioned that the spiritual aspect of hospice is being diluted.  “If my hypothesis is correct, that this essential spiritual aspect of hospice is being diluted, what might be threatening hospice’s ability to normalize death, facilitate the search for meaning, and help dying patients get their affairs in order in the broadest and most spiritual sense?” he asks, going on to say that the rapid growth of hospice caseloads may be responsible.

I gave Beresford a call to discuss the matter with him.  He pointed out that hospice now has 1.4-million patients a year and the fact that Medicare is now paying for part of the care has added to the administrative burden, especially since the Federal Government is now policing the bills. “When it comes to spirituality, there has been a real effort on the part of hospice not to impose any brand of spirituality on them,” Beresford explained.  “Generally, the chaplains will ask about religious beliefs and ask if they can help the person, but they have to be really careful in that regard.”  He also said that hospice directors are leery of the “born-again” types coming in and scaring the patients by telling them that they are going to burn in hell if they don’t accept their belief system.

Beresford’s comments certainly make sense. There is so much diversity in religious and spiritual views that someone who thinks he is privy to the truth of what follows death might only serve to further confuse the patient and lead the dying person astray.  Certainly, most hospice directors or chaplains wouldn’t approve of any Tom, Dick, or Harriet coming in to a hospice and offering spiritual views that might upset or frighten the patient.  And while some chaplains may remain objective and open to the lessons of the near-death experience and psychical research, I ‘m sure there are many who would see it being in conflict with their orthodox beliefs and thus discourage it.  And so, the hospices seem to do the politically correct thing by avoiding the whole subject as much as possible.  Indications are that many hospice volunteers are able to discuss spiritual matters with patients as long as it is informal and out of earshot of the administrators and chaplains who may not agree with what they have to say.

Beresford also mentioned that a visitor in a Massachusetts hospice overheard a volunteer say something to a patient about “going into the light” and found it offensive enough to file a law suit.  Thus, he pointed out that such complaints and law suits are another concern.  While realizing that he was defending hospice practice in our discussion, Beresford was quick to point out that he understood my concerns about the lack of spiritual counseling in hospice but wanted to be sure I understood the other side of the coin.       

What could be more comforting to dying people than to know that they will live on in other dimensions of reality?  There is an approach to this that falls outside the dogma and doctrine of organized religions, although many religious leaders are not prepared to accept it out of fear that there will be some conflict with their teachings.  I’m referring to psychical research, including near-death studies, which suggests that we live on after death and further gives some indication as to the nature of the afterlife.  In his short but concise book, Dr. Baumann, mentioned in the first paragraph, explains how an understanding of quantum physics can point one toward an acceptance of the survival of consciousness at death.  He begins by discussing the nature of light and light waves and then goes on to discuss atomic decay and the laws of the solar system.  He further discusses how the near-death experience contributes to an understanding of the laws of quantum physics.  “Science demands that our souls have an existence beyond our worldly one,” writes Baumann, a former atheist.  “We don’t yet have all the answers, but are certainly wiser.  Science supports our spirituality.  Our souls do not disperse into nothingness.”

By itself, this short book will not likely convince non-believers, but it offers a starting point or core belief that one might begin with before going on to further studying the rich scientific evidence suggesting that we do live on.  No, there is no “absolute proof,” as the spiritually-challenged seem to demand, but the evidence at the very least meets the preponderance standard of the law and should offer much hope to dying people with no real conviction on the matter. 

I’ve often heard the “making the most of each day” advice.  It is sometimes expressed as “living in the present,” “living in the moment,” “living in the now” or “living life to the fullest.”  Nice advice if one has a lot of money and can take an around-the-world cruise.  But how many dying people are strong enough to do that?  Most people with only a few months to live require constant care and perhaps pain medication. Many of them don’t have the strength to leave the bedroom or house. What exactly does that person do to make the most of each day?  Watch more TV?  Escape into a novel?  Play crossword puzzles?  Go out into the garden and smell the roses?  Call up friends and engage in idle chit-chat?  Discuss last night’s game? 

When I put the question to a friend recently, he said he would spend more time with his grandchildren.  But how much time can you really spend with your grandchildren?  And what if you don’t have children or grandchildren or they don’t live near you?  And what if the grandchildren would prefer to spend time hanging out with their friends at the local   tattoo parlor than with you?  Moreover, is it really comforting to spend time with the grandchildren, all the time realizing that it will be all over in a month or two?  As the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James put it:

“The luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with.  Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in; and his days pass by with zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values.  Place around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular-science evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.” 

The hard-core non-believers often put up a brave front and say they are prepared to walk into the abyss of nothingness since they won’t know it anyway, but as Professor James saw it that attitude is just so much bravado that melts away with age and as the moment of departure nears.

When contemplating a move to another state or planning a trip to another country, the smart person plans ahead and finds out as much about that state or country as he or she can.  He checks out books from the library, buys books, picks up travel brochures, whatever, so he is fully prepared for the move.  The person doesn’t depart without knowing something about where he or she is going.  Shouldn’t it be that way with the transition called death?

One of the biggest problems we face in confronting death is that orthodox religion has offered nothing more than a humdrum heaven or horrific hell.  If the person thinks she is going to the humdrum heaven, it is pretty hard to get excited about floating around on clouds all day, strumming harps, and praising God 24/7.

If I were running a hospice, I would make sure it was filled with plenty of reading material about what the Other Side is like.  I would begin with the three Elsa Barker- authored books offered at this White Crow web site, as well as the Conan Doyle books.
I could make a list of at least 200 books which would go in the hospice library to either 1) help convince the patient that his or her consciousness will survive death, or 2) give the person a better idea as to what the afterlife environment is like.

I would invite speakers from various groups, such as the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) or the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies (ASPSI) to give talks to the patients as to what to their understanding of death is all about. I’d also make available a number of DVD’s about the Near-Death experience and make sure that all patients watch the new BIO channel special “I Survived:  Beyond and Back” on Sundays.

Unless the chaplain had an open mind toward these things, I’d probably fire her or him.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


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Why Dr. Parnia’s NDE Test Will Likely Fail

Posted on 10 January 2011, 15:00

Many people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) report having out-of-body experiences (OBEs) – floating near the ceiling, even traveling some distances while they are clinically “dead” or just unconscious. What this out-of-body phenomenon suggests is that we do have a spirit body, energy body, etheric body, astral body, double, phantasm, parasomatic body, subtle body, whatever name be given to it, that leaves our physical body at death and lives on in another realm of existence or in another dimension. The NDE is seen as a mimic of the true death experience, the difference being that the so-called “silver cord,” the counterpart of the umbilical cord, connecting the two bodies is not severed in the NDE, and thus the spirit body is able to reunite with the physical body.

Some people undergoing surgery have reported watching the procedure from above.  A number of them have given very veridical reports that are hard to discount, identifying unusual happenings while they are “dead” or unconscious, but there is always a “maybe” or two connected with it.  Maybe she saw a similar procedure on TV.  Maybe she was not completely unconscious and heard someone in the operating room make a remark of some kind.  Maybe a nurse in ICU told her about it before she mentioned it to the physician.  Maybe this, maybe that. 

A study being conducted by Dr. Sam Parnia, the lead investigator in a research project coordinated by Southampton University’s School of Medicine in England is designed to see if the “maybe” factor can be eliminated.  The study involves pictures, symbols, words, or numbers being placed face up near the ceiling in emergency-care areas of hospitals in both the U.S. and U.K., the objective being to determine if a person having a near-death experience or out-of-body experience will, upon regaining earthly consciousness, report seeing the target object. Less ambitious studies than that being carried out by Dr. Parnia have apparently yielded no positive results.
It is my understanding that the target is being placed only about six inches from the ceiling, which seems much too high if there is any similarity between normal vision and spirit vision.  It assumes that the spirit body will hover right next to the ceiling and remain there, while having a very panoramic view of things. 
Another problem I see is that of the NDEr seeing the target object but not recording it in his or her memory bank.  We all see numerous things that have no special interest to us. When I walk to the coffee shop in the morning, I pass a gas station with a large sign displaying the cost of a gallon of gas that particular day.  I usually see the sign but do not record the amount in my conscious brain.  I pass many other signs, symbols, and objects which I see but don’t store away as I have no real use for the information.  When I met my new neighbor recently, I heard his name but two minutes into our conversation I realized that I failed to record it and had to ask him to repeat it. 

I know that there are people who are more attentive, more focused, and have sharper memories than I have and there are those who have trained their minds to remember names and numbers. Perhaps there are some who don’t need to train their minds in this respect and have some innate ability to remember names and numbers without making any effort.  However, they are atypical.

Many of the NDE reports suggest that the person is in awe of finding himself out of body and more focused on what is happening to his body.  Since the person is unaware of the test, he is not looking for the target object in the first place.  He may see it in a panoramic view, but be more concerned about other things to really take note of it.  It would seem that if the target object caught the individual’s attention, he might become curious as to why such an object is displayed in a place where nobody can see it, and zoom in on it.  However, it is not really clear that consciousness in that state works that way. 
Whatever it is about the brain mechanism that allows us to see and hear things and yet not record them will, I believe, likely contribute to the failure of Parnia’s study.

An even bigger obstacle to positive results may be remembering it when consciousness is restored.  “As I have said, for some reason beyond my ken these memories of the discarnate experiences are peculiarly evanescent, even more fleeting than ordinary dreams,” said Oliver Fox, one of the pioneers of the out-of-body experience in his book, Astral Projection.  Fox learned to leave his physical body and travel to other places, some quite distant from his physical body. He wrote that he had to make a record of what he saw as soon as he returned to his body, otherwise he would quickly forget what he observed.  Even then, much of it was fragmented, blurred or fuzzy.

In his 1927 book, The Astral Body, Arthur Powell says much the same thing.  “…the man in his astral body may succeed in making a momentary impression on the etheric double and the dense body, resulting in a vivid memory of the astral life,” he wrote. “This is sometimes done deliberately when something occurs which the man feels that he ought to remember on the physical plane (emphasis mine).  Such a memory usually vanishes quickly and cannot be recovered.”  Therefore, it may be that while the NDEr becomes curious as to the picture, symbol, or word appearing near the ceiling, he may not realize that he “ought to remember” it when he regains consciousness.
True, many NDErs have reported very vivid recollections of their out-of-body experience, but if we can equate these recollections to dreams, the recollections represent a very small percentage of what was really experienced.  Most people don’t remember their dreams, but occasionally they will have seemingly meaningful dreams which stick with them for some time after awakening. These dreams are rare with most people and then only fragments of the dream are remembered, perhaps those which are really meaningful or stir some emotions. 

There are mystical teachings that say we do a lot of out-of-body travel while we are sleeping.  The sudden muscle/joint jerk we occasionally experience when awakened is the astral body jumping back into the physical body.  If that is true, it may very well be that every person unconscious, whether “dead” or not, while undergoing surgery is out-of-body but simply doesn’t remember it when consciousness is regained.  The small percentage who do remember it recall the experience to varying degrees, just as dreams are recalled to varying degrees. This does not mean that the NDE/OBE is a dream, only that the effect on the physical brain is much the same.

If the NDE/OBE is just a dream or an hallucination, one has to wonder why they aren’t as diverse as regular dreams.  Why are they all so similar?  Why do so many people meet deceased relatives and friends during their NDEs?  Why do so many of them have life reviews?
Since mainstream science doesn’t even recognize a difference between mind and brain, it can hardly offer any guidance in this respect.  Clearly, there is so much about consciousness that is not understood.  For example, in the famous “book tests” conducted by C. Drayton Thomas, a British researcher, the communicating spirit was able to tell Thomas what was inside a number of randomly chosen closed books on a specific page.  In one test, the communicating spirit said that on page 149, three-quarters down, Thomas would find a word conveying the meanings of falling back or stumbling.  When Thomas opened the book to that page and place, he found the words, “to whom a crucified Messiah was an insuperable stumbling-block.”  The spirit informed Thomas that he was able to get the appropriate spirit of the passage but not the exact words.  He called it more “sensing” that “seeing.”

He further stated that objects on the earth plane are not as real to them as those on their own plane.  “To us they appear misty and cloudy,” he explained.  “You have heard of the aura. We can see your aura when we cannot see you, and we can see it before we see you.  At times, I am only just able to see your chair, or perhaps a corner of something which I guess to be a table; things sometimes are very vague to our sight.”

Not long after his death in December 1905, Dr. Richard Hodgson, who had studied Boston medium Leonora Piper for some 18 years, began communicating through Piper.  “I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying to find his hat,” the discarnate Richard Hodgson told Professor William Newbold in a July 23, 1906 sitting. When Newbold asked Hodgson if he could see him, Hodgson replied that he could but that he could feel his presence better.  (emphasis mine)

Soon after he died in 1925, Sir William Barrett, a renowned British physicist, began communicating with his wife, Dr. Florence Barrett, through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard.  He explained to his wife that when we die, the consciousness and subconsciousness join to make a complete mind, but that when he has to come back into the earth vibration to communicate with her the mind again separates and he has a difficult time remembering things.  When he then withdraws from the earth vibrations, he immediately remembers things that he wanted to tell her but didn’t.

“When I am in my own sphere I am told a name and think I shall remember it,” Barrett related on another occasion.  “When I come into the condition of a sitting I then know that I can only carry with me – contain in me – a small portion of my consciousness.  The easiest things to lay hold of are what we may call ideas.  A detached word, a proper name, has no link with a train of thought except in a detached sense; that is far more difficult than other feat of memory or association of ideas.”
Whether these same things apply to the spirit body still connected to its physical body as to a spirit body disconnected is a matter of speculation, but it does provide food for thought and make one wonder if Parnia is assuming too much in believing that celestial vision is the same as terrestrial vision.

The skeptics and debunkers are already claiming that lack of any results in such NDE studies proves that they are no more than hallucinations of one kind or another.  They don’t consider the possibility that celestial vision and terrestrial vision are different.  Since they don’t believe in a celestial world in the first place, how could they?
As time goes on with no results in the Parnia test, we can expect the skeptics, debunkers, and other spiritually-challenged people to wave their victory banners of doom and gloom.  If, however, there is a positive result or two, they will still have reasons to dismiss it.  The janitor dusted just before the surgery and told someone about the target picture, or one of the nurses got a ladder, found out the nature of the target, and told the patient as she wanted the test to be a success, or the symbol reflected off one of the machines. The debunkers will always find a reason to reject the results. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

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World Madness and Nihilism go Hand-in-Hand – The madness, craziness, and turmoil we see in the world today seems to have slowly developed in line with the growth of mass communication during the twentieth century, reaching an unimagined deep crater in recent years. As Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding (Sir Hugh Dowding, 1882 – 1970), put it in his 1960 book, "God’s Magic," “The problem of world chaos is linked very closely with the chaos in the mind of humanity.” Dowding is considered by many as the man most responsible for Great Britain’s victory in the 1940 Battle of Britain during World War II. “Man insists on looking outward for causes instead of looking inward. As with the individual, so with a nation. An individual who has an unquiet spirit will have an unquiet environment.” Read here
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