Soul merging?
November 14, 2006 1:14 AM   Subscribe

Metaphysical Filter: Can you help me to find information related to this metaphysical experience?

Since this event, I've been searching for similar accounts to help me understand what I was witness to. My research has not been fruitful with regard to this particular experience, so I turn to you for respectful suggestions for where I may find leads.

In preface to the following, it's meaningful to note that I'm an experienced hospice nurse. Also, prior to this experience my brother and I were rigid agnostics:

My brother and I were gathered at our beloved fathers death-bed, as we had been for the preceeding few days. At that moment, there was no sign that death was imminent and my father was between consistantly regular breaths when my brother proclaimed, "Maggie, he's gone." Before I could protest, my father took another breath... his last. I remember screaming at my brother that it wasn't possible for him to have known that Dad was gone at that instant. My brother told me that he didn't have the words to explain it, but that he "felt" it. Later when pressed, he reluctantly described what he felt: "I felt the sensation of spinning energy in my chest . It funneled up to my head where it lingered. The energy then burst outward through the top of my head." When asked, he said that it wasn't painful, but in fact, was a sense of release from constraint.

My brother and I have since come to view this experience as our fathers last gift to us. However, I need to know if this experience is unique and, more importantly, how to incorporate it into my logic-based reality construct.
posted by dudiggy to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My only experience with death-bed situations and the unusual meta-physical occurences that accompany them come from my father, a priest, a very universalist, somewhat agnostic priest, but a priest nonetheless.

He is often present at the last moments and has numerous stories, some of the phenomena have become a little commonplace for him.

One such phenomenon is that he can often sense that a dying person is "holding on" as he puts it to something. As the person's priest, if there is not something obvious, such as a loved one on the way, he will gently talk to them for a moment and then end with simply "giving them permission to die." Usually, he says, this immediately triggers the flatline as if on cue. Sometimes they are just waiting for him to walk in the door.

Most of his stories involve a palpable sense of something. Often the family can't see it for their grief and he, in his years of doing this can feel it over the phone.

Strangely, as his family, we have always had a sort of sixth sense about the impending phonecalls, the spoiled family dinners (and vacations even) and we can feel them coming too.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:36 AM on November 14, 2006

I've heard of a seemingly well dog being taken to a routine vet appointment, only to have found an incurable ailment. The dog is euthanized and disposed of by the owner. Immediately upon returning home, the owners other dogs begin to howl mornfully. Perhaps there is some sort of detectable chemical trace associated with death that can be subliminally percieved.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:21 AM on November 14, 2006

My brother and I have since come to view this experience as our fathers last gift to us.

If I were you, I'd just cherish the experience and not look for an "answer". I've had a few moments like this, and I really have learnt to just let them occur, without too much analysis.

I'm sure there are a dozen frameworks your account will slot into quite neatly (for example, Pollomacho's experiences could imply that your brother gave your father permission to let go), but without a dash of scientific method you're never going to be able to choose between them.
posted by Leon at 3:26 AM on November 14, 2006

Upon reading your brother's story, I immediately thought of the Hindu concept of chakra. I'm not implying that your brother tapped in to some metaphysical life force at that moment, but that it seems like others have experienced this feeling of "spinning energy".
posted by muddgirl at 5:33 AM on November 14, 2006

I'll give you an analogy that you may or may not find helpful:

I have a similar, very powerful emotional reaction to certain types of music. Under the right conditions, I feel a sort of intense, external presence and, as the music develops, I'm occasionally put in a kind of ecstatic state that feels both painful and exhilarating at the same time.

When I think back on these moments, I have two separate frames of reference that I can use to understand the event. The first one, a more material one, involves me thinking about the mind's susceptibility to sound and the ways that a particular piece of music can hypnotize with recurrent thematic patterns and then force a kind of hyper-awareness when those patterns shift or are broken.

The second frame of reference is an explicitly spiritual one. Those moments of transcendence can feel like a kind of release from the self or a transcendent merger with a powerful force outside myself.

Neither one feels fully appropriate to the experience itself. Each one captures an aspect of it without having the final word. This is as it should be, since we're talking about the mind's becoming conscious of its own contingency, its dependence on external circumstances.

This may relate to your experience, dudiggy, because you and your brother also experienced a sort of self-transcending moment, albeit more profound and more personal. You could look for a material explanation or you could insist on a spiritual one, but I'm guessing that neither one will feel fully satisfying to you. The material explanation is obviously going to offend the emotional intensity of the moment and the spiritual is going to run against your perfectly reasonable sense that we are, at the end of the day, just electrified meat.

Why not just be grateful for the experience as it was? Understand that, for you and your brother to be pushed into this place is a powerful expression of the bond you have with your father and the ways in which your self is dependent on him. Or do what people have done throughout history when they come up against their mind's ability to explain phenomena: create something that tries to bridge between the emotive and rational aspects of their ecstasy. Turn your joy outward instead of circumscribing it with logic.
posted by felix betachat at 6:09 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Your story as-is makes all the sense in the world to me. "Understanding" it is not the same as having to know what exactly causes things or how they work.

When it comes to death, almost everything is unknowable. You have been given a demonstration of death's power to overrule the logic of the lives we live.

You can live with as much adherence to logic as you like, but in the moment of death, what will happen? You will not just click off like an appliance. The brain-activity experienced during (and just following) death is something we will never be able to knowingly prepare for. If that is our final experience in life, then a reality construct that explains away the power of such experiences is not exactly logical, is it?

What you received from this experience with your father and brother is logical. It is the logical conclusion to the very end of a powerful relationship. If you had been suddenly siezed with crippling panic attacks and blacked out, you wouldn't question the logic of it; so why should some sort of powerful sensation of another kind, even if it's alien to you? Accept this, as you said, as your father's last gift: an experience of closeness with him that defies belief, which may even change the way in which you anticipate your own death.

And thank you so much for sharing this; you have already magnified his gift by sharing it with so many people.
posted by hermitosis at 6:26 AM on November 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

I have a personal account that is similar, and quite intense. A relative had lost the battle to cancer, and was in her final stages. She lay still on the bed and it was a matter of hours to her death. We kept a rotational vigil to accompany her in the room.

In the final few hours, a sort of telepathic communication was possible. Directing simple questions to her such as "are you cold? Does it hurt? etc" without speaking (thoughts only) would cause her to nod her head up and down or left to right.
posted by gadha at 6:36 AM on November 14, 2006

how to incorporate it into my logic-based reality construct.

Not everything in our universe can be properly constructed in our finite little minds.

What happens beyond this realm of our logic based reality is magic - make of that what you will.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 6:42 AM on November 14, 2006

This is what a friend had to say about your experience:

"Consciousness is a spiral that goes on forever upward. Your body has a seven-fold nature. It contains the Divine, Life, Human, Desire, Vital, and Physical bodies. The different vehicles interpenetrate each other and are connected by the Mind or Ego. When death of the physical body occurs the higher vehicles leave the body through the head upward in a spiral motion. You now exist in Super-Physical realms of reality, the world of Causes or Spirit World, until it's time for rebirth. I hope this helps a little, I'm a bit rusty on my Metaphysics at the moment. There's an identical Metaphysical concept in the Eastern Philosophies of the Seven-Fold body. Here's a painting by Alex Grey depicting death, he's an amazing artist and I believe that he's seen the Super-Physical Realms."

I personally don't have more to add other than that I'm pretty blown away by how the painting depicts what your brother described feeling.
posted by infinityjinx at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm an atheist, with a strong mechanical view of the human mind. That is to say, I don't think the mind is anything more than the physical action of the brain, so there is nothing of the mind that remains after the moment of brain-death.

That said, I knew when my cat was hit by a car, even though I was inside at the time, and the sound of screeching tires was common on our street. It was an extraordinarily powerful sense of knowing, and also very matter-of-fact -- "oh, that was Snowball, I had better go outside". No question in my mind. I don't believe that Snowball's spirit or whatever came and told me (for one thing, she lived until I could see her), yet I can't deny that there was some sort of connection between us at that moment, because how could I have known otherwise?

Suffice it to say that there are a lot of things we don't understand about death, the brain, and our own senses. I don't think it does any good to try to deny these moments, when they happen. Better to accept that something happened that your logic cannot explain -- which doesn't necessarily mean that your logic can never explain that particular thing. Perhaps you don't have all of the data it would take to explain it yet.

Or, on the other hand, it could be something that can never be explained by your system of logic. You should read Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. This book really helped me come to terms with the idea of Gödelian incompleteness -- the idea that a rigid and consistent logical system always contains some gaps, no matter how complex the system. In other words, it's not only OK for your logic-based reality construct to fail to explain a few things, it's actually inevitable. But just as Gödel's proof did not destroy mathematics, what happened needn't destroy your reality construct, even if it can't be explained. Gödel's proof means that logic is a never-ending process, rather than a destination. If you read Hofstadter's book, I think it will help you with incorporating what happened into your worldview.
posted by vorfeed at 9:35 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Materialist spitballing— Your brother had an emotional experience which was powerful enough that he "felt" it. The death pronouncment was premature, but a pretty educated guess and pretty close. In a sample size of one, all sorts of odd things happen.
posted by klangklangston at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2006

BardoThodal, expains what happens when we die, everyone dies. The two part link expains it.
posted by hortense at 9:59 AM on November 14, 2006

Two and a half months into my mother's hospice stay, I happened to be dancing, arms linked with 25 strangers, around Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and his guitar, when I felt a sudden, desperately intense tingling in my scalp, as if my skull were trying to come apart along the sutures, such that I would have pitched forward except for the support on either side.

I broke the circle and ran outside to a phone, and the nurse at the hospice told me my mother had died minutes before, and the death certificate was being prepared for the doctor's signature. I remember very little of the rest of that day, save that sunlight seemed strangely striated, as though air were not quite completely transparent saran wrap stretched between objects.

As far as my personal metaphysics are concerned, despite a passage of years, I have not been able to conceive a pattern which could allow me to knit the strand begun on that day into my view of the world, but I do keep my mom's old needles around, just in case.
posted by jamjam at 10:18 AM on November 14, 2006

In 1989 or 1990, my mom woke up at 2 a.m. in our home in Taipei, Taiwan, with an intense belief that her mother was dead. She eventually made it back to sleep, but learned the next morning that her mother was in surgery following a brain aneurysm and experienced brief brain death that night, though she recovered to live another 15 years.

I have read of studies that show that mothers and infants often have brain waves in sync. I wonder if that connection can exist outside the mom-baby pairing, between spouses, friends, and other close loved ones. Perhaps it continues invisibly across great distances.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:07 PM on November 14, 2006

the descriptions you quote, involving spinning and the head, also precisely echo certain interpretations or descriptions of the (long-ago) Egyptian concept of the soul, or 'ka.'
posted by mwhybark at 5:45 PM on November 14, 2006

Part of the gift is it does not fit into your frame. The world is infinite perhaps. If you are open to it you will see more in your own experience. That is the realm that this lives in- not ideas/concepts, belief/faith, but experience.
posted by pointilist at 8:17 PM on November 14, 2006

I'm not like you -- I'm a rigid atheist. No matter what people tell me or show me, I look for an explanation outside of the metaphysical. Really, though, there are two kinds of people: those who search for a 'higher' explanation (existence of the soul, God, faeries, what have you) to the little 'mysteries' of life (like the experience you and your brother had) and those who search for a 'lower' explanation (confirmation bias, subconscious sensing, expectancy effect, that sort of thing) to these moments. (And then the ones who don't search at all, I guess. How boring!) For instance:

I get funky feelings all the time. Worry about the health of my dad (he's not sick -- it's just a fear that I have that he will be sick), suddenly feeling like I'm going to get a big breakthrough with a job I'm working on, and so on. Once, I woke up with a pit in my stomach about this thing I'd been slaving over for six months. Not two minutes later, the phone rang -- the project had been canned. I'm not psychic, though, because I hadn't woken up once for six months feeling good about it. I, too, have experienced sudden, unexplainable moments where I'm overwhelmed with emotion or 'energy' in my body or some strange sort of sensation that I don't recognize. It's usually during a truly trying situation or emotionally-charged moment. From my perspective, I think it's probably body chemistry.

Here's the thing about metaphysics and religion and faith and so on: it's all about what works for you. For me, the absence of that stuff is what makes me go. If metaphysics seems like a good explanation to you, then go for it. Incorporating it into your world-view is only as easy as you let it be. If you'd like to come up with a logical reason for the whole thing, then say so, and I'm sure AskMe will be more than happy to give you any number of ways that the body reacts to stress and emotion to produce a feeling. But I sense that you would like to believe that it was something more, that that would help you deal with the death of your dad. If that's the case, then all you need is to allow yourself to embrace that.
posted by incessant at 12:07 AM on November 15, 2006

Thank you all, for your thoughtful answers. I took something significant away from each of them. Infinityjinx, I too was blown away by that picture. And jamjam, I was moved by your poetic reference to your mom's old needles. Felix, you nailed it when you said neither explanation will satisfy me. Hermatosis, thank you for making it feel okay to share such a private moment, publicly.
posted by dudiggy at 5:35 PM on November 15, 2006

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