Meditations on Mortality
What does it mean that people have been declared Dead and then after some period of time they apparently become reanimated and in a very few cases remember sights and sounds from when they were supposedly gone forever?
I don’t know.
But I have asked many people and I have found that the phenomenon functions something like a Rorschach test for belief. People who believe that something persists after the end of the physical body see Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) as evidence in support of their view. People who believe nothing about us survives the end of the body see NDEs as illusions generated by a system in shut-down mode.
What the reaction to NDEs conclusively demonstrates to me is how much we don’t like Uncertainty.
Give people some weird info and they’ll try to make up a story about it, to help make sense of it, which means fitting it into the world as they know it.
Someone dies. Comes back. Says they saw Hell. One person goes, ‘Ta Da, what did I tell you …’ Another person goes, like, ‘Cute, interesting projections.’
Almost no one just goes, ‘Oh.’
In the practice of meditation, there is usually but not always an object of meditation, some thing or some idea to keep attention loosely or tightly focused.
Something always hijacks attention and when it does, the idea is to notice it and go back to the object. Some see the noticing and return as the central act of meditation.
Our normal tendency it seems is to follow the distraction, interpret it, think about it — and then to be critical of ourselves when we notice our attention has strayed.
Meditating is not following it and not being critical of ourselves when we return to the object.
I have now led two Meditation on Mortality sessions in Virtual Reality, using aspects of death and dying as our object of meditation. I have de-personalized the objects, so far.
In the first session, we visualized a cemetery and kept our attention on it. In the second session, we used a funeral, just the place itself, how it looked, the words being said there.
In the next session, we will draw on the topic of Near-Death Experiences and we will start getting more personal.
There is a rough model that describes what NDEs are like for many, but not all, people who have them. The sense of floating above their own physical body and seeing and hearing from that perspective is one of the main features of the model. That is what we will turn our attention to in meditation.
Floating as a presence above your body. Not exploring it or trying to figure it out — just being with it.
‘Just being with it’ might not be so easy for everyone.
I’m trying to work this program out carefully, which is not necessarily my forte.
I am aware that focusing on aspects of mortality could provoke extremely difficult thoughts and images that would feel much more threatening than just a ‘distraction,’ as I have been referring to anything that is not the object of meditation.
I am leading an exploration and other people are involved. There is a risk. I tell people that. I also tell people that I will meet privately in VR with anyone who needs help with something that has come up in the Meditations on Mortality sessions, but I am not a licensed mental health professional. I can’t do therapy.
The most significant way we are reducing risk and helping people have a positive experience around a potentially challenging topic is by doing it together. All the programs on the EvolVR platform bring out the social in Social VR by letting people participate. People who come to meditate can check-in at the beginning, which means we actually hear from people whose bodies are back in Germany or Peru, Ukraine or the US.
Being able to check-in again at the end is especially important I think for any experience involving sensitive topics like death and dying. Describing briefly and succinctly to others what happened helps manage it. Listening to what happened for others puts individual experience in perspective. Just knowing that others with a similar intention are there, wherever there is, provides a kind of security.
My intuition is that the hybrid nature of Social VR is especially conducive to trying out activities that are new, that may be a personal stretch. Other people are there trying them out with you. That’s supportive. But really, you’re by yourself, safe at home. Not actually in the virtual place, only virtually. Both are true.
We will continue in the direction of increasingly intimate and personal objects of meditation. Through the social channels we have opened, we will keep learning how far to push.
I will continue to write and publish on Medium because I think public reflection is powerful. I know the discipline it requires from me is healthy and I feel better when I do it.
Thanks for reading.