1999, Newleaf, Dublin; ISBN 0 7171 2873 3
This book stands head and shoulders over anything previously published on the difficult subject of death and dying. It is a wonderful read from start to finish and will undoubtedly reward anyone who lingers over its lyrical prose or who is involved in working with the dying. The fact that it is the first published work by a relatively unknown hospice-worker from Florida may come as a surprise, but Ms Dowling Singh is obviously a gifted and highly perceptive woman and must now be a serious contender for the mantle laid down by the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
This book combines her personal observations of working alongside the terminally ill, with the views of transpersonal psychology, Buddhist techniques on death and dying, contemplative practice and the wisdom of traditions of the world to produce a ground-breaking over-view of a process that is still often shrouded in mystery and ignorance.
Perhaps the real contribution of this work is the ability of Ms Dowling Singh to differentiate the subtle stages of transformation in the transpersonal, spiritual, psychological, philosophical, energetic and physiological experiences of the person approaching death. Other authors have previously considered individual aspects of this multi-faceted process, but few if any have succeeded in grasping the vast complexity and depth of the subject in so comprehensive a manner.
The author looks at the internal and external processes that occur before, during and after the traditionally recognised final stage of ‘acceptance’. She throws light on the passage of the individual through the transformative fields of chaos, surrender and transcendence as the soul is reincorporated in the Ground of Being from which consciousness has arisen.
One of the most interesting aspects of this study is the parallel it draws between the incremental stages of ego development (which occur as a result of the creation of dualities ie self/other; life/death; mind/body; persona/shadow) and the need for the dying person to heal and transcend each of these divisions, in reverse order, during the “nearing death experience’.
“Due to the psychic disruption of the realisation of impending mortality, the life review and life resolution processes that usually ensue, and the dramatic reawakening to bodily sensations and awareness, the mental ego has undergone transformation. Healing has already begun in the rift between persona and shadow. Remorse and forgiveness have played their own parts in the process and there is a deconstruction of previous priorities. Also healing has already begun in the rift between mind and body. We can perceive the stilling of the mind and the filling of the heart…
These stages are also met by those involved in contemplative practice and “many meditation traditions developed in an attempt to mimic this physiological response in order to reap its transformative correlates in consciousness and identity.”
As one might imagine, much of the inner cartography relating to the latter stages of the dying process appears as a mixture of snatched conversations with semi- comatose patients, intuitive rapport-making, observations of subtle-energy changes and parallels drawn from research in near-death experiences. It is to Ms Dowling Singh’s credit that she makes such an arcane subject both understandable and credible. There is probably no-one more capable of making an educated guess as to the soul’s progress through the transformative fields of death and dying and to accompany it in a compassionate and inspiring manner.
In the chapter entitled ‘From Tragedy to Grace’, the author looks at the possibility of extracting hope and meaning from the crucible of suffering.
“In the dying process, people experience transformation in the movement from tragedy to grace. Expansion of the identity into transpersonal levels seems to occur universally. For some people this transformation occurs several months or weeks prior to the death of the body; for others, it may be hours or even minutes before death that the surrender – which is the fulcrum of the psychospiritual transformation – occurs. The tragedy of the loss of ‘me’, violently at first and then with increasing gentleness, is transformed into grace.
“ This is a deeply humane and thought-provoking book for anyone who may ever have to face the death of a client or a loved one (or indeed, one’s own death). It offers hope and the promise of grace abiding beyond pain and loss. I would really like to have someone who thoroughly understood this work by my death bed when my time comes. An important book.