Throughout the ages, man has pondered the meaning of life and the mystery of death. Practicing Conscious Living and Dying: Stories of the Eternal Continuum of Consciousness is an interesting and inspiring book that addresses these matters through the phenomena of near death experiences (NDE). Author, Annamaria Hemingway, expertly weaves historical information, modern research and study, and first-hand accounts of individuals who have experienced NDE’s to promote “a philosophy of life that ultimately becomes a practice for the act and art of living and dying well.”
Hemingway points out similarities of NDE’s with ancient myths, philosophies, art, and literature across cultures that “have been recorded throughout history” including the “spiritual traditions of India and the Greek wisdom of Socrates.” She references the teachings of Plato and the Buddha, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and even the visions of Black Elk, a contemporary Oglala Sioux, as examples that can “shed light on the mystery of birth, death and rebirth into a continuum of consciousness.”
Practicing Conscious Living and Dying includes information on studies conducted of people who’ve been resuscitated after being declared clinically dead and others who have experienced out-of-body occurrences, including the research of Carl Jung, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Kenneth Ring, and Peter Fenwick. According to Hemingway, Dr. Fenwick believes the true explanation of NDE is “the existence of consciousness beyond the brain” and suggests that “there may well be a spiritual dimension.”
The meat of this book — and primary source of inspiration — is the stories of those who have gone through a near death experience. These personal accounts illustrate how the individuals have been “empowered and gained wisdom” and their lives transformed, even those “who do not consider themselves to be religious, or even necessarily spiritual.” These life-changing experiences have led to working with parents who’ve lost children, assisting those who are dying, training search and rescue dogs, sharing art with children, building schools for the underprivileged, and many other loving acts of kindness. Hemingway, who experienced her own NDE, emphasizes “they are permanently changed and exhibit the deep commitment to…acting with justice and love in their dealings with others.”
A society that tends to ignore “death, dying and the bereaved,” Hemingway believes, leads to “fear and alienation” and a sense of being “traumatized and alone” when death touches our lives. Acknowledging death and the dying process allows us to become “free to live life more fully,” and leads to an understanding of the connectedness of all beings. Viewing death as a transition, not an ending, is an “invitation to continue the work of the healer, the poet, and the philosopher — who use their creative gifts in the service of humanity.”
Practicing Conscious Living and Dying: Stories of the Eternal Continuum of Consciousness offers a wonderful opportunity to expand our awareness of and engagement in the process of conscious living and dying, awaken our commitment to others, and find meaning in our lives.
Donna Baker Church is a freelance writer and editor. Donna may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .>