Last things

Charles 6 Comments

Posted by Vale

When I was at school there was a short lived craze for making yourself faint. If I recall, you hyperventilated and then got a friend to squeeze you round the chest, at which point you passed out.

It’s now claimed that this is equivalent to a near death experience. There’s a discussion here, with descriptions of how to to do it (along with a firm warning about not trying them yourself).

Here at the GFG we don’t think it’s a very good idea either. It may be unsafe of course but we also disapprove because, while we believe strongly that people should prepare for death, self inducing a near death experience is, we feel, one of the less constructive approaches.

Religions have suggested alternatives. Hinduism promotes the idea that life has stages and that after the Celibate Student and Family Man the good Hindu will become a Hermit in Retreat and, finally, a Wandering Recluse. Not surprisingly it notes here that practice of the last two stages has become almost obsolete now.

The Christian tradition of meditating on the ‘Four Last Things’ (Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven) may have more going for it.

Facing up to death, living with the knowledge of its inevitability, trying to prepare yourself all seem to me to be essential elements both of living and dying well. Meditating on Last Things would surely help prepare the mind.

But what Last Things might you meditate on? Death Judgement, Hell and Heaven don’t do it for me at all.

As an alternative I have started work on a personal list. It’s provisional at the moment but might include: meditation on ancestors and all that has made me the person I am; on the things that, from this vantage point, have turned out to matter; on the things that I have made or started; above all on everything that I have learned to love.

This feels like work in progress though. What would be amongst your Last Things?


  1. Charles

    I can empathise with knocking oneself out as an adolescent through over-consumption of wine, weed and whizz, but I’m unfamiliar with the craze you describe in your first paragraph!

    An interesting post on Last Things, Vale. The whole Judgement thing doesn’t necessarily need to separate faithers and non-faithers if Last Things are interpreted as assessment of both the good and bad things in our lives: our achievements (virtues) and our mistakes (sins).

    Your list in your penultimate paragraph seems very positive. Or does it include remorse as well as gratitude? Love—whether of God, humankind, life, or ourselves—can only be appreciated with an understanding of its opposite.

  2. Charles

    Sage words, O Vale. I can’t see how having a near-death experience actually prepares one for death at all (and we did that stuff at my school, didn’t seem very deathly at all to me, perhaps because I was more interested in trying to get the better-looking of my contemporaries to let me try it out on them….)

    I like your list, but I’d also want to turn outwards, as it were, and away from my own personality, my own ego; to meditate and enter that state of feeling entirely and only here and now, which in turn results in a sense of one-ness with “nature, “God,” “the universe.” Quote marks, because the state of being I vainly try to describe, the one the mystics tell us of, is all or any of these concepts, because it is beyond concepts.

    That seems to me a good preparation for death, for the ending of consciousness.

  3. Charles

    Near death experience? Not exactly mine……The day after my father’s funeral,
    I knelt alone at his freshly filled in grave, having planted a cluster of flowering snowdrop bulbs. As I sat back I experienced a feeling, an incredible sense of total serenity – oneness – peace.  I felt that everything was just ‘right’: the sky was blue, the birds were singing, nothing really mattered, and all was well and all manner of things were well…… I did not think of my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends of years,  I was aware of them but they were far from me. Perhaps it was grief? Maybe I was in a Celtic thin place, close to those who had gone before, close to that time which is ahead and before each of us? It was incredibly simple, it changed my outlook on my life, my faith and my death. There was no question of lacking, of longing, of regret, of tallying, of judgement nor of fear. I can only describe it as ‘completeness’.  I can’t really describe it in words. In that eternal moment of solitude, I felt that I could gently bleed myself back into the earth and that would be well too. I have never felt that way before or since, but I will know it when I do, and I hope it is at the moment of my death.

    PS The snowdrops were rapidly scoffed by the wild rabbit population – my Dad would have warned me about that probability!

  4. Charles

    How moving and lovely Evelyn. It seems to me that there is a link between your experience and GMs ’emptying’. – that part of our preparation for death should be about shedding too.

    I’m not so sure about the self recrimination Richard. I grew up in a sincerely protestant household, went to church three times every Sunday in my youth and, frankly, wearied of the endless efforts to make us feel uncomfortable about ourselves. Original sin – that doctrine of helplessness in the face of our own natures – is simply a device to keep us in thrall to the saviour who can put it all right for us (and of course the churches who guard access to salvation).

    Of course we do bad things – but, if the principle of your life is love and kindness, you know and deal with it when it happens. What purpose in regrets after, at the end of your life. If there was a place for it in my last it would come, I think, under the heading of ‘what has turned out to matter’ – because so much of what seemed awful at the time will have turned out not to have been important at all.

    Thanks all.

  5. Charles

    I have a feeling that we are too close to ourselves to be able to conduct a useful audit. Not enough perspective. Leave it to others — even then there won’t be a consensus. The older we get, the bigger the element of too-late. Late-flowering remorse ain’t going to put much right. Reconciliation is a useful objective. Repentance can be a species of self-loathing, a fruitless self-indulgence.

    I’m with Gloria. Unself-awareness is a useful fading out tool. I think I’d add self-directed meditation on courage. We’re going to need it, and we owe it to others to make a decent fist of the last, horrible bit.

  6. Charles

    Ah Charles, the last bit isn’t always horrible! We’re scared it might be (well, I am, anyways!) and we remember the horror stories, but we forget those who “went out like a light,” “just keeled over there and then,” “when he woke up in the morning, he found she’s he’d gone.” Way to go, provided it’s not too soon, just before I’ve finished this..what, now? Me? Oh, bugger!

    But this isn’t to disagree that a meditation on courage would be a very useful bit of prep.

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