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15th August 2014

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Dying before dying

I understand that the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, and also the rites of passage of the native cultures, enabled people to go through a kind of dying before dying. The 17th-century German Augustinian monk Abraham of Santa Clara put it very succinctly: The man who dies before he dies does not die when he dies. Once you have this experience, you do not see death as the end of who you are, but as a fantastic journey, as a transition to a different mode and level of existence. Whether this is a profound cosmic truth or a merciful delusion, as some of the materialistic critics of transpersonal psychology assert, it can certainly transform people’s lives.

Stanislav Grof, The Consciousness Revolution: A Transatlantic Dialogue (1999)

Tagged: bookspsychologydeathmysticismtranspersonalStanislav Grof

12th June 2014


Kugel’s last words

Kugel thought specifically about the experience of dying. He thought about the pain, about the fear. Most of all, he thought about what he would say at the final moment; his ultima verba; his last words. They should be wise, he decided, which is not to say morose or obtuse; simply that they should mean something, amount to something. They should reveal, illuminate. He didn’t want to be caught by surprise, speechless, gasping, not knowing at the very last moment what to say.

No, wait, I oof.

I haven’t really given it much splat.

If I could just ka-blammo.

Shalom Auslander, Hope: A Tragedy (2012)

Tagged: booksdeathhumourtiminglast wordsShalom Auslander

10th June 2014

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The Field of the Dead

‘It is now a year since herself was laid to rest. Laid to rest!’ He laughed, a little bitterly. ‘That is what they call it. A week after that again, call it what you like, the graveyard was closed by orders. There are people still to the fore who have their rights under the law; but it is hardly likely that many, if any of them, will try to make good their claim to be buried in Gort na Marbh.’

Gurthnamorrav, the Field of the Dead, that is what those around and about call the lonely patch to this day. Though this generation of them are ‘dull of’ the ancient tongue, such names of native savour, help to keep them one in soul with the proud children of Banbha who are in eternity. Vivid imagery, symbols drawn, in a manner of speaking, from the brown earth, words of strength and beauty that stud like gems of light and grace the common speech hold not merely an abiding charm in themselves. Such heritages of the mind of the Gael evoke through active fancy the fuller life of the race of kings no less surely than those relics of skill and handicraft found by chance in tilth or red bog, the shrine of bell or battle hook, the bronze spear head, the torque of gold.

John Guinan, ‘The Watcher o’ the Dead’, in The Supernatural Omnibus II, edited by Montague Summers

Tagged: bookslanguageIrishIrelandancestrysymbolsdeathJohn Guinan

3rd April 2014


There exist many things considerably worse than death, and the S.S. saw to it that none of them was ever very far from their victims’ minds and imagination.
— Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Tagged: bookshistorydeathEuropewarHolocaust

30th March 2014

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Life is tragic simply because the earth turns

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)

Tagged: bookswritinglifedeathreligionphilosophymysteryJames Baldwin

19th February 2014


Ghosts of the Tsunami

When grief is raw the presence of the deceased is overwhelming. In households that lost children in the tsunami it became routine, after half an hour of tea and chat, to be asked if I would like to ‘meet’ the dead sons and daughters.

Richard Lloyd Parry, ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’, London Review of Books

Tagged: JapanLRBdeathgriefsupernaturalsociologyTsunami

30th January 2014


The length of mourning

Continued incapacitating grief is the commonest variation of the usual pattern of mourning. There is evidence that the people who at first do not demonstrate their grief may later show this troubled, chronic state. To recognize a state of grief as being unduly prolonged, however, infers that there is a generally accepted length of mourning. In fact the duration of sorrow varies enormously.

John Hinton, Dying (1967)

Tagged: booksdeathdyinggriefmourningJohn Hintonpsychologyloss

23rd January 2014

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I am so happy, so happy.
— last words of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

Tagged: poetryhappinessdeathlast wordsGerard Manley Hopkins

22nd December 2013

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Two simple happenings

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going –
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

—Kozan Ichikyo

The story goes: One February morning in 1360 the Zen monk Kozan Ichikyo, aged 77, wrote his jisei (‘death poem’), put down his brush, and died where he sat.

Tagged: poetryZenZen poetrydeath poemdeathKozan Ichikyo

9th November 2013

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The quiet knife of this fact

Behind the clouds, in the south, a clear patch was growing larger, and pretty soon emptiness would have the sky. That was the way, a dream of days followed by emptiness, the huge water turning over the grains of sand, neither one knowing which was big and which was small. Mr. Cheung was uneasy and sad. He would have to die, and the quiet knife of this fact wasn’t dissuaded by the interplay of milkiness and inkiness in the textures of the Atlantic under these clouds of October, or by his prayers, best wishes, or sorrow. His mood swelled and the action of the wind over the beach seemed full of power.

Denis Johnson, Fiskadoro

Tagged: booksliteraturewritingskydeathDenis JohnsonAmerican literatureFiskadoro