THEOSOPHY, Vol. 87, Issue 3
March-April, 1999
(Pages 110-114; Size: 10K)

CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES
ON THE OBJECTS

[3rd article in this series]

True wisdom of a spiritual kind is freedom from self-esteem, hypocrisy, and injury to others; it is patience, sincerity, respect for spiritual instructors, purity, firmness, self-restraint, dispassion for objects of sense, freedom from pride, and a meditation upon birth, death, decay, sickness, and error... 

--THE BHAGAVAD-GITA
["THE VANISHING LINE"]

A PBS television series called POV (Point Of View) broadcasts the work of independent filmmakers. The recent film The Vanishing Line was directed and produced by Maren R. Monsen, M.D., an Emergency Department physician at San Francisco General Hospital.

The subject of the film is death and dying. As a physician Monsen is trained to vigorously preserve life. However, in the face of certain death, she begins to realize that her training is not always appropriate. In order to understand and formulate a minimal-care response to individuals who request no intervention, Monsen seeks out friend and colleague Jim Brigham, a hospice social worker. In the course of their work together Brigham shares the story of his wife's illness and death, a life-changing experience that led him to hospice work.

Brigham was married to Cay for 24 years. During the marriage Cay developed multiple sclerosis. They lived together for 12 years before she died. Brigham describes standing at the foot of her hospital bed after she stopped breathing. In his own words:

I remember thinking, "Is this it? Is this all there is?" So I went over and I leaned over and kissed her on her lips. And when I kissed her on her lips the heart monitor went, "Beep beep beep beep beep beep," like that. And I went, "Whoa!" And my son said, "Dad! Do that again!" So I did. I kissed her on the lips and it went, "Beep beep beep beep." And I remember turning to Tim and saying, "Tim, I'm not going to do that again. We have to let her go. It's time for her to go."

[silence]

There was just me there at the foot of the bed and I kind of had almost a panic like somehow I'd missed something. Here we had done all this preparation for dying and I had been encouraging her as though death was going to be this wonderful moment, and I thought, "Gee, nothing happened." And I had this sense like something more should be happening and I'd missed it. And just as I was thinking all those things, I had this -- whatever -- like a message in the sense that ... not so much like a voice but somehow saying to me, "Open your heart." And I remember thinking to myself with my mind, "Open your heart? What does that mean! I've been given this instruction and I don't know what to do!" And here I've done all this meditation and lots of things like that and I've used this expression a lot with Cay during her illness. I used to say to her, "You open my heart. You know, this experience with you is opening my heart." And suddenly I don't know what that means, opening my heart. And then it was as though she kind of said to me, "We don't have much time here. Open your heart!" And I remember this kind of, I guess you could call it a prayer or something, just saying, "Look. I really want to open my heart. I don't know how to do this but if there is a way you can help me open my heart, I want to do that." And all of a sudden it was as though something in my deepest self opened up. It was as though, kind of, I was looking up, I guess, above Cay. I wasn't looking at her body. I was looking beyond, literally beyond. It seemed like I was seeing something that wasn't really a vision but it was like this great expansiveness. As I looked out onto it, I thought to myself, "Oh. I'm seeing the other side or something. Something has happened here. I'm being given this gift, I guess, of seeing the other side. There was this sort of shift and the experience was more like I was on the other side. And it was like I'm on the other side of something with me and the rest of the world over there and I'm over here. And I'm kind of holding hands with Cay except I knew that I wasn't holding her hand because she didn't have hands anymore because she wasn't in a body, but the closest you could come to describing it was holding her hand, as though that hand had to go soon and was barely there. And it was the most marvelous thing because I could see that everything worked just like it should. All our mistakes are okay and in the biggest picture that I'm seeing everything is really just love. And then there was a last shift and the last shift was kind of going from this sense of seeing the world and everything in it probably for all time to just being it ... as though I didn't have any sense of being anymore. There was no me. And then at some point I was back in earth time, I guess, and I realized that I was back here standing at the foot of this hospital bed and I had just had this most profound of experiences.

In my work as a hospice social worker I'm holding inside of me that this act of dying is not a terrible horrible thing. It's a very sacred thing and a very beautiful thing and I don't try to convince everybody of that but I hold in my heart that that is so and I try to be there in whatever way that can help them touch the beauty and goodness that I experienced in the process.

Brigham's dismay followed by his plea for help brings to mind a passage written by William Q. Judge:
For Arjuna, sinking down upon the seat of that chariot which is his body, fell back upon his own nature, and found therein the elements of search and courage, as well as those previous ones of gloom which arise first, being nearer the natural man. Reliance and pressure upon our own inner nature, in moments of darkness, are sure to be answered by the voice of Krishna, the inner guide. (Notes on The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 26-7.)
When Brigham is able to "open his heart," he sees what he describes as not a vision but a great expansiveness. H.P.B. has insisted that the terms "above" and "below," "higher" and "lower," in reference to invisible spheres whether physical or spiritual, have no meaning:
...the Occultist does not locate these spheres either outside or inside our Earth, ... for their location is nowhere in the space known to, and conceived by, the profane. They are, as it were, blended with our world -- interpenetrating it and interpenetrated by it. There are millions and millions of worlds and firmaments visible to us; there [are] still greater numbers beyond those visible to the telescopes, and many of the latter kind do not belong to our objective sphere of existence. Although as invisible as if they were millions of miles beyond our solar system, they are yet with us, near us, within our own world, as objective and material to their respective inhabitants as ours is to us. But, again, the relation of these worlds to ours is not that of a series of egg-shaped boxes enclosed one within the other, like the toys called Chinese nests; each is entirely under its own special laws and conditions, having no direct relation to our sphere. The inhabitants of these, as already said, may be, for all we know, or feel, passing through and around us as if through empty space, their very habitations and countries being interblended with ours, though not disturbing our vision, because we have not yet the faculties necessary for discerning them. Yet by their spiritual sight the Adepts, and even some seers and sensitives, are always able to discern, whether in a greater or smaller degree, the presence and close proximity to us of Beings pertaining to other spheres of life. Those of the (spiritually) higher worlds, communicate only with those terrestrial mortals who ascend to them, through individual efforts, on to the higher plane they are occupying.... (The Secret Doctrine I, p. 605.)
Brigham, standing at the foot of a hospital bed, entered the "great expansiveness."

Next article:
CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON THE OBJECTS
[4th article in this series]
THE MONK AND THE PHILOSOPHER

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