3 Longing for Death
The subject of today's presentation is: the role of death-consciousness in the life of the devotee committed to the spiritual path. Notice that I have coined a term which I believe to be somewhat original: "death-consciousness". This may not be a new idea, (indeed, it is the title of a recent rock album); but, as was suggested last week, we need to remember to think of death-consciousness as a designation for one specific consciousness state on a graduated continuum of consciousness states: to think of dreams, sleep, and death all as discrete points on a consciousness continuum.
Today, what I hope to do is indicate a link between death-consciousness and the spiritual/psychological state of sehnsucht, the feeling of unrequiteable longing that will never be satisfied. I have suggested that this intense feeling of longing, this feeling of desiring something unattainable, is experienced by the subject as a byproduct of the process of projecting his consciousness up into the level of consciousness we are currently calling "death-consciousness", the level of consciousness just touching the afterlife. Indeed, the one constantly comfortable thought I get from sehnsucht is this: true joy must be prophetic--the longing, the missing, the imperfection, is pleasurable because it sees the future discarnate spiritual state of man, and transports that future state of mind back to the present; the having and the not-having become integrated in a cross-temporal event. Thus, sweet longing is represented by the night awaiting the moment when it will break into eternal day. And the reason this unfulfilled longing is so sweet, is that it actually IS fulfillable--it is fulfilled in death. We can, as it were telegraph our conscious focus forward into a future state of enlightenment, and bring vestiges of that state back with us to mundane consciousness.
Another question is: if this place of death can feel so warm, so right, so familiar, does this mean that have we been there before? on the other side of death? I might be talking about reincarnation here, but I might just as easily be talking about Man's descent from the Godhead into flesh. We have spoken many times of becoming one with God--God Who is and always was, the Great I AM. Have we not, coming from the Mind of God, already experienced Heaven in its essence, and therefore recognize the traits of the Heaven in which we were born, and from which we were expelled to Earth and its tempering trials? Is this not the true delight of Earthly experience?: that we can be here, caught in the webwork of time, and yet be free to fly with the angels, merely by shifting our attention?
On the subject of Sehsucht, Wikipedia was contributed the following:
"It is sometimes felt as a longing for a far-off country, but not a particular earthly land which we can identify. Furthermore there is something in the experience which suggests this far-off country is very familiar and indicative of what we might otherwise call "home". In this sense it is a type of nostalgia, in the original sense of that word. At other times it may seem as a longing for a someone or even a something. But the majority of people who experience it are not conscious of what or who the longed for object may be, and the longing is of such profundity and intensity that the subject may immediately be only aware of the emotion itself and not cognizant that there is a something longed for. The experience is one of such significance that ordinary reality may pale in comparison, as in Walt Whitman's closing lines to "Song of the Universal":
"Is it a dream? Nay but the lack of it the dream, And failing it life's lore and wealth a dream And all the world a dream."
[Sidebar: At the end of Lewis' The Last Battle, we see an exodus of souls marching up the hill toward the real England--the England that existed before the material England. This return the "the real England" is just such a return to the nostalgic source of all real homes. The cry is "further up and further in" because the inner is bigger than the outer. One wonders which is the more powerful feeling, the going home or the arriving at home. Do we ever get all the way home, or does the joy of arriving mount and mount into an infinite ecstasy? I also wonder, again, how we could be missing home, being nostalgic for home, if we have never been there before?
C.S. Lewis describes sehnsucht as:
"That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves."In The Weight of Glory Lewis says...
"In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat.
If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
These things -- the beauty, the memory of our own past -- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
Again, Lewis, writing in The Problem of Pain:
"All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it -- tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest -- if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself -- you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say 'Here at last is the thing I was made for.' We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want . . . which we shall still desire on our deathbeds . . . Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand."
Now, this particular association of sehnsucht with death is to be found in a line of (particularly German) writers, beginning with Novalis, through Goethe, to Thomas Mann, to C.S. Lewis. In Novalis we read:
"With bold spirit and lofty enthusiasm
The man beautified the horrible mask,
A gentle youth extinguishes the light and rests—
The end will be gentle like a sigh of the harp.
Memory melts in the cool flood of shadows,
So sang the song to doleful abjection.
But eternal night remained undeciphered,
The grave symbol of a remote power.
Notice the reference to music--we will come back to that.
More on Novalis from Wikipedia:]
"In the book Heinrich von Ofterdingen the blue flower symbolises the joining of human with nature and the spirit so the understanding of nature and coincident of the self is growing. In the Romantic the meaning of human was a continuation from Humanism and the Age of Enlightenment, but the focus was on subjective emotions not on abstract theory. Understanding and thinking rise in the comprehension of Romantic from own individual love.
"Feeling is based on the self,
thinking is based on the self,
and the development of the self creates the individual person.
Also very important is contemplation:
and the personal inward cognition
make feeling possible--they raise the bar such that sensitivity to higher intelligence, higher consciousness and higher reality become possible, and more and more possible, in the subjective reality of the devotee. The process of cognition merges again with personal, individual love. The self and nature are always linked in this theory."
I found a Schubert song entitled Sehnsucht by the German poet Johann Mayrhofer:
"The songs of the lark, up near the clouds,
Ring out as winter flees.
The earth covers its limbs in velvet
And blossoms form red fruit.
Only you, storm-tossed soul,
Only you do not blossom. You are turned in on yourself,
And in the golden brightness of spring
You are sucked dry by deep longing.
What you crave will never spring from
This soil, a stranger to ideals,
Which, despite your most beautiful dreams,
Sets its raw strength up against you.
You exhaust yourself battling against its toughness,
Fired up with the burning desire
To set off with the cranes
And to migrate to a kinder country."
You will notice that so many of these descriptions of the emotional sehnsucht journey terminate in an arrival to "a kinder country", a long-lost home.
I also found a poem by Goethe, The Holy Longing:
"Tell it to no one, except the wise men,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.
In the love night which created you
where you create, a yearning wakes:
you see, intoxicated,
far away a silent candle burning.
Darkness now no longer snares you,
shadows lose their ancient force,
as a new desire tears you up to higher intercourse.
Now no distance checks your flight,
charmed you come and you draw night
till, with longing for the light,
you are burnt,
And until you have possessed
dying and rebirth,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth."
The mention of the "butterly" in this poem once again references the transformation of caterpillar into butterly, the transition from one consciousness state to another one. Death is depicted as one more level of transformation, with the added condition that, in death, the mundane life be completely burned and purged away to make room for the new improved spiritual and verbally silent butterfly. The freedom of death is the sweetness we crave, the ultimate satisfaction.
Now, let us change course for a bit and review the idea that "death anxiety" directly correlates to language: it is understood that language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioral changes." Remember the sermons that discussed the opinions of Julian Jaynes, and his idea that consciousness is a consequence of language.
One implication of this idea is that, if the language component of consciousness were taken away, there would be nothing left; that is to say the no-thing left would make room for the delicately resonant perceptions of soul, the inarticulate, eternal soul, which does not deal with "things". When the monkey voice is silenced, the background consciousness, which we can, normally, but dimly perceive with our puny powers of spirit discernment, comes forward and we know who we really are. In death self-knowledge must be at its peak because, in death, the monkey's voice is hushed at last.
Another implication of the language component of death-consciousness is specifically about music; the question is: if consciousness is a function of language, must not music, a language decidedly more complex that verbal communication, therefore raise consciousness to a higher level, merely by virtue of its much higher abstract content? Is not music just like sleep? a place where the mobile mind consciousness elevates itself to the level of the "preconscious", or the "archetypal", or the "collective" stage? And do we not know that, beyond all these levels, of super-mundane awareness, is a state of consciousness which is even larger in scope than the collective--a level of consciousness which is more inclusive, and more primary.
Now, so what--to all of this? Well, for one thing, in a system of graduated consciousness levels, the PERMANENCY of dream consciousness, may not be be doubted, since the dream world is outside time; nor may the MATERIALITY of the aesthetic response be doubted as it manifests in angel-writing on our astral bodies, evoking physical responses which are even measurable in the laboratory.
I have identified the feeling of sehnsucht in our aesthetic responses to music and other art. That "Aha" moment in a poem of a piece of music, this place of rarefied personal density, is the seat of the ineffable longing of sehnsucht. As mentioned above, the higher-level linguistic complexities of art may be said to project consciousness into a higher level, thereby bringing the devotee more immediately into the presence of death--death and the joy that awaits him when the mundane barriers imposed between his lower and higher selves have been eliminated. The feeling of barriers being broken down, in infinite repetition, is the joy of sehnsucht--the twinge of longing followed by a wave of peace, as the subject projects himself into his own future state of death-consciousness. The longing returns when self-consciousness returns, but the self may lose itself once again in the cloud of unknowing, again and again, in ecstatic repetition.
I have often spoken of music as a transmitter of higher-level spiritual reality into a lower-level material reality; I am thereby familiar with the experience of shifts in consciousness levels, and the subtle imprint these shifts makes on the literal consciousness. Once again, especially through music, the IDENTITY of higher consciousness levels has long been intimately known to me, but, until now, the connection between music and death has not been obvious. The sehnsucht aspect of music is the most fragile and tender of aesthetic responses,(it is my favorite experience), but, so far, I have never been willing to go the distance, and hear the call of death in every strain of Bach. Now I do.
We know that the music of Bach is replete with text upon text (many written by himself) pining after death; typical titles are Come Sweet Death, Before Thy Throne I Now Appear, etc. Here is a typical text, an aria from Cantata #180:
"Jesus, true bread of life,
help me so that not in vain
or perhaps to my loss
I may be invited to your table.
Grant that I may, through this food for my soul,
measure out rightly your love,
so that I also, as here on earth,
become a guest in heaven."
Notice the word "guest" appears at the end of this poem, as it does at the ending of the Goethe poem:
"You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth."
To be sure, the poems use the term "guest" in different ways, one referring to being a guest on earth, and the other to being a guest in Heaven; but the associations with the word "guest" always include a feeling of either visiting, or being treated as an honored presence. Both of these implications may be linked to the sehnsucht/death-experience.
Bach seems always to have had his eye on the prize; and his music is so suffused with the ineffable longing of sehnsucht that it is tempting to imagine him as a morbid, dissatisfied individual, always pining for the stars, always rejecting Earthly pleasures as invalid and empty. Not so. This is the lesson I am learning from these meditations on death: that the more we imagine death, the more real becomes the heavenly landscape of "after death", and the more joyful becomes our time on Earth. The Earth is constantly bathed in heavenly light, we only must learn to see it.
I confess that for most of my life I have had a negative attitude: true, I have been dedicated to my life's work, and have submitted to the Will of the Father when it has come to where, when, and what I am supposed to do with this gift of life; however, as to the LENGTH of my life, I have very often indulged in suicidal behaviors (smoking, the chief among these) purposely designed to SHORTEN my life. I have been willing to do my work, but have been unwilling to imagine myself as an old man sucking out the final dregs of a life that has often been personally unsatisfying. A few years ago, I began to get subtle intimations about how dumb this was, and I quit smoking for the specific purpose of taking an element of suicidal activity out of my life habits. I have recently become committed to losing weight for the same reason (we'll see how firm that resolve turns out to be).
The hypocrisy is that, on the one hand I have disparaged life on earth as unrewarding, and yet I have always clung to addictive behaviors which connote a fierce attachment to mundane existence. The irony is not only that I have finally realized this, but that it has taken me SO LONG to realize this.
The main point here is that we ought to be able to identify different levels of consciousness, and learn to exercise our mobile consciousness centers so that they learn to reach into terrains of subtler and subtler material. The idea of the materiality of verbal thought is a minor component in this very interesting article I stumbled upon; it is one more of those many, many articles disproving the existence of death through proofs in quantum physics:
"LANZA'S THEORY OF BIOCENTRISM AND THE AFTERLIFE
Most scientists would probably say that the concept of an afterlife is either nonsense, or at the very least unprovable.
Yet one expert claims he has evidence to confirm an existence beyond the grave - and it lies in quantum physics.
Professor Robert Lanza claims the theory of biocentrism teaches that death as we know it is an illusion created by our consciousness.
'We think life is just the activity of carbon and an admixture of molecules – we live a while and then rot into the ground,' said the scientist on his website.'
Lanza, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, continued that as humans we believe in death because 'we've been taught we die', or more specifically, our consciousness associates life with bodies and we know that bodies die.
His theory of biocentrism, however, explains that death may not be as terminal as we think it is.
Biocentrism is classed as the theory of everything and comes from the Greek for 'life centre'.
It is the belief that life and biology are central to reality and that life creates the universe, not the other way round.
This suggests a person's consciousness determines the shape and size of objects in the universe.
Lanza uses the example of the way we perceive the world around us. A person sees a blue sky, and is told that the colour they are seeing is blue, but the cells in a person's brain could be changed to make the sky look green or red.
Our consciousness makes sense of the world, and can be altered to change this interpretation.
By looking at the universe from a biocentric's point of view, this also means space and time don't behave in the hard and fast ways our consciousness tell us it does.
In summary, space and time are 'simply tools of our mind.'"
[Sidebar: I must interject here that the term "mind" MUST, in this case, refer to the verbal, literal, or thinking mind. As Claudius says in Hamlet:
"My words fly up, my thought remain here below.The mind uses verbal structures to negotiate the worldly twists and turns of mundane existence, but the price we pay is that the extra weight of verbal materiality grounds us to lower levels of conscious identification.
Words without thought never to heaven go."
Back to Lanza:]
"Once this theory about space and time being mental constructs is accepted, it means death and the idea of immortality exist in a world without spatial or linear boundaries.
Theoretical physicists believe that there is infinite number of universes with different variations of people, and situations taking place, simultaneously.
Lanza added that everything which can possibly happen is occurring at some point across these multiverses and this means death can't exist in 'any real sense' either.
Lanza, instead, said that when we die our life becomes a 'perennial flower that returns to bloom in the multiverse.'
'Bottom line: What you see could not be present without your consciousness,' explained Lanza. 'Our consciousness makes sense of the world.'"
[Sidebar: Once again we must remind ourselves that consciousness making "sense of the world" has got to mean "rational sense", and yet we know that higher mind is super-rational.
Back to Lanza:
"He continued: 'Life is an adventure that transcends our ordinary linear way of thinking. When we die, we do so not in the random billiard-ball-matrix but in the inescapable-life-matrix.'
Lanza cited the famous double-slit experiment to backup his claims.
In the experiment, when scientists watch a particle pass through two slits in a barrier, the particle behaves like a bullet and goes through one slit or the other.
Yet if a person doesn't watch the particle, it acts like a wave, This means it can go through both slits at the same time.
This demonstrates that matter and energy can display characteristics of both waves and particles, and that behaviour of the particle changes based on a person's perception and consciousness."
This article does not contribute anything particularly original to the implications of the new physics, which have long been known to new age philosophers; however, it does emphasize a crucial point: consciousness is a slippery slope, and doesn't like to be pinned down. And yet, with death anxiety, we stupidly empower a primal fear to dominate our spiritual focus and draw us away from the experience of the diffused ego-resolution, and its joys, which typically characterize the death-consciousness state.
As you know, I have worked to develop a sense experience of the higher vibratory self, with which I may identify; and I have seen, in death, the most beautiful things; I have dwelt in that same celestial home up to which any pilgrim spirit ascends every time it witnesses the spiritual truth, the living, moving, intelligence-bearing truth of music. Recall again the idea of the birth of consciousness in language, and of the fact that human beings are more aware of their own mortality, than are animals, because we can talk about it and think about it, and animals can't. Thus, death-consciousness is simply the awareness, shared by most human beings, that physical life is limited to a span, and must end. And the heart-fluttering longing of sehnsucht tempts us with hopes of Heaven.
Remember the scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:2:
"Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our
and Proverbs 13:12:
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."
Thus, this scripture reprises the main point of this presentation: if we can take the experience of longing for a future heavenly dwelling, and, through impulse of desire, project ourselves into that future, we will have found the surest pathway to joy. The tree of life extends its roots through all space and time, and it branches flower in eternity.
Let us pray: Jesus, we long for your face to lead us further in and further up. We treasure the glimpses of Heaven we may steal for a moment here and there. We thank you for the hope these glimpses give, and for the sacrifice You made on the cross in order to ease our way Home. Amen.