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The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death Paperback – September 1, 2006
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About the Author
Stanislav Grof, M.D., internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and co-founder of the transpersonal psychology, has taught and lectured in academic and workshop settings worldwide. He has served as Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Scholar-in-Residence at Esalen Institute, and Co-President of the Grof Transpersonal Training Program. Dr. Grof is a distinguished faculty member at the California Institute of Integral Studies and the author of many books, including LSD Psychotherapy, The Adventure of Self-Discovery, The Cosmic Game, and Psychology of the Future.
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This book may be Stan's "swan song" and it's a very poignant and beautiful one. It summarizes many of the primary ideas in his previous books and relates them to what, thanks mainly to the Tibetan Buddhists, is becoming a popular subject -- death and dying.
After reading Sogyal Rinpoche's wonderful "The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying", I became very interested in the subject of death and dying, so much so, that I became a hospice volunteer. However, though it is based on an extensive study of the subject, this book is not about death perse but about consciousness, particularly about what Stan calls "Holotropic States of Consciousness".
Though I'm quite familiar with Stan's views, this book is in many ways a revelation. If I may, I'd like to share one short quote from page 140 of the book:
"...information about the universe can be obtained in two radically different ways. Besides the conventional possibility of learning through sensory perception and analysis and synthesis of the data, we can also explore various aspects of the world by directly identifying with them in a holotropic state of consciousness. Each of us thus appears to be a microcosm containing the information about the entire macrocosm."
If the reader has gotten this far, I would like her or him to take the time to ponder the import of that statement. What Stan is saying is that, if we learned to use both hemispheres of our brain and not just the left, we would begin to see the universe and our place in it quite differently. If we and our world are to survive, we need to start doing this now.
Grof writes that our modern industrial civilization typically gives more attention to the wardrobe, makeup, and even plastic surgery for the corpse than to counseling dying individuals and their families. This is in marked contrast to preindustrial societies for whom death and dying were paramount in their worldviews and important inspiration for much of their art and architecture. The shamans of many cultures - going back at least thirty thousand years - began their careers with a spontaneous or induced experience of death and rebirth. They explored, firsthand, territories of the psyche that transcend the boundaries of individual consciousness. Similarly, in the rites of passage, initiates were guided into non-ordinary or holotropic ("moving toward wholeness") states of consciousness and had a personal experience of numinous realities that transcend biological death. In the ancient mysteries, neophytes participated in various mind-expanding processes or "technologies of the sacred" to move beyond individual consciousness and experience directly the higher transpersonal dimensions of existence. The Goddess Mysteries of Eleusis, for example, held near Athens for almost two thousand years - and which it is now virtually certain used ergot, a naturally occurring form of LSD - had as their participants many of the creative and intellectual giants of Western culture. Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Euripedes, Sophocles, Plutarch, Pindar, Marcus Aurelius, and Cicero all attest to the life-changing power of their holotropic experiences at Eleusis or the other mystery sites.
Grof further enriches this emerging new picture by reviewing important developments in the fields of thanatology, scientific study of reincarnation, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and messages and visits from the Beyond. Reputable published data from researchers in these fields, while by themselves cannot be considered "proof" of survival of consciousness after death, together represent a wave of compelling anomalous phenomena that have not been convincingly explained in the traditional scientific paradigms. Grof suggests that the conflict between science and spirituality was completely unnecessary and reflects a misunderstanding between different domains of reality.
Grof also reviews the groundbreaking work with terminal cancer patients conducted by staff at the Spring Grove Hospital in Maryland, the last federally funded research project with psychedelics in the U.S. until the modern era. Describing in detail the research design, protocols, and procedure of these sessions, as well as a number of poignant case studies, Grof recounts the dramatic and often surprising therapeutic results the Spring Grove team observed in the five categories of: alleviation of emotional suffering, physical pain and distress, fear of death and attitude toward dying, time orientation and basic hierarchy of values, and psychological condition of the survivors. He and his colleagues repeatedly witnessed an astonishing process "that closely resembled the initiation practices of the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth and often involved experiential sequences similar to those reported in the Tibetan and Egyptian Books of the Dead." The inner experiences of these individuals gave them access to transpersonal and unitive domains of consciousness that helped them to live their final days, weeks, and months with less physical pain and fear of death, with more peace of mind, enjoyment of the present moment, and improved quality in their relationships. The accounts of these individuals' transitions are deeply moving and represented exceptionally rewarding experiences for the caregivers. Based on this and other well-published research, Grof invites administrators, legislators, and politicians to inform themselves by reading the professional and scientific journals, rather than the questionable reports of sensation-hunting journalists. He makes a heartfelt and convincing case that we may be depriving the dying of powerful healing tools to make their transitions easier, more joyful, and more dignified.
I recommend this book to anyone seeking to come to terms with their own or anyone else's mortality. From its strikingly appealing cover, its presentation of humanity's rich mythologies of death and rebirth, the reviews of consciousness research, and forty pages of brilliantly reproduced sacred frescoes, evocative tomb paintings, vivid mandalas, and precious personal photos - this book is itself an urgently needed manual for conscious dying and conscious living. It seems clear that our industrial civilization is plundering the earth to compensate for a deep unconscious fear of death and dying. Yet modern consciousness research is confirming what the shamans, mystics, and priestesses have always known. As the poet Rabindrananth Tagore realized: "Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come."