Grace in Dying: How We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die

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In this brilliantly conceived and beautifully written book, Kathleen Dowling Singh illuminates the profound psychological and spiritual transformations experiences by the dying as the natural process of death reconnects them with the source of their being. Examining the end of life in the light of current psychological understanding, religious wisdom, and compassionate medical science, The Grace of Dying offers a fresh, deeply comforting message of hope and courage as we ...

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Overview

In this brilliantly conceived and beautifully written book, Kathleen Dowling Singh illuminates the profound psychological and spiritual transformations experiences by the dying as the natural process of death reconnects them with the source of their being. Examining the end of life in the light of current psychological understanding, religious wisdom, and compassionate medical science, The Grace of Dying offers a fresh, deeply comforting message of hope and courage as we contemplate the meaning of our mortality.

While the prevailing Western medical tradition has seen death as an enemy to be fought and overcome, Singh offers a richer and more rewarding path of understanding. Combining extensive training and education in developmental psychology with profound spiritual insight, she balances expert analysis with moving accounts drawn from her experiences working with hundreds of dying patients at a large hospice.

Singh moves beyond the five stages of dying revealed in Kübler-Ross's classic On Death and Dying, and finds in the "nearing death experience" even more significant and forming stages of surrender and transcendence. These stages involve the qualities of grace: letting go, radiance, focusing inward, silence, a sense of the sacred, wisdom, intensity, and, in the end, a merging with Spirit. Through this intense process, we come to experience at last the reality of our true self, which transcends our finite ego and bodily existence, and our merging with the source of being from which we originated. Dying is safe.

In clear, nontechnical language, Singh reveals the transformations that come with dying, using the vocabulary of growing Western, as well as Eastern, wisdom.

Written for those aware that their life is coming to an end, those who care for the dying, and, ultimately, for all of us who inevitably face our owndeath and the deaths of the people we love, The Grace in Dying reveals that dying is the most transforming, powerful, and spiritually rich of life's experiences.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Living, Dying, and Transformation

The shortest, the swiftest, and the surest way to plumb Truth is through a mortal leap into the Unknown.
Henri Bergson

I am an ordinary person working with ordinary people dying ordinary deaths. The people I work with are neither saints nor sages. Although occasionally devout, they are not spiritual adepts. These are the people who have been in line with us at the supermarket or in the next lane at the traffic light; they are our parents, our friends, our spouses, our children, ourselves. The deaths I observed do not include the sudden, violent ones of attack or accident or the unexpected ones of a heart gone suddenly awry. They are the routinely prognosed deaths of terminal illness, the final fading away of a body riddled with cancer or stilled by a failing essential physiological system: ordinary people dying ordinary deaths.

What I have observed in these deaths, however, and what I have experienced is most certainly not ordinary; it is profound, transcendent, and extraordinary. By and large, people die in solemnity, peace, and transformed consciousness, radiating energy that can only be described as spiritual. Death, as no other moment we encounter in life, announces itself in resplendent silence. Death is so absolute that anyone's encounter with it is transforming. It provokes the strongest of feelings: terror, sadness, rage, utter fascination, and an interior acknowledgment, an intuitive recognition, of liberation.

William James, the American giant of Psychology and philosophy, once observed:

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main these experiences and those of the world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.

It is my observation, after having been with hundreds of people who are dying, that death is most definitely one of those points where "higher energies filter in," where, as Mircea Eliade describes it, there is "a rupture of planes."

Wisdom traditions have acknowledged this for millennia. In the West, a series of treatises in the Middle Ages referred to as the Ars Moriendi, the "Art of Dying," set forth a cartography, a map, of the psychospiritual transformations of the dying process in Christian religious terms. At that time in that culture, there was confidence in the prevailing worldview that death, like life, is a pilgrimage. Dying persons, at the edge between life and death, were seen as beings glimpsing the mystery in a way that is rarely possible for those of us in the midst of life; they were seen as beings moving more rapidly in their pilgrimage into spiritual dimensions.

In the East, Padmasambhava gave a precise map and explanation of the dying process in the Bardo Thodol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the eighth century. The essence of its teaching is that, in the dissolution of dying, we move beyond the personal sense of self and the delusions of ordinary mind. In the gap created by that movement, the nature of Reality is revealed, experienced, and entered into. Buddhist psychology sees dying as the moment when the fundamental nature of mind, the essence of who we are, sometimes called the Ground Luminosity or Clear Light or Immutable Radiance, naturally reveals itself in its vast glory'

These viewpoints contain great wisdom. Our culture -- America, at the turn of the third millenniurn -- has lost much of that wisdom and we are only now in the process of regaining it. A profound shift is occurring in human consciousness regarding the perception of death and dying. This shift was ushered in by the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others who first turned to dying as a legitimate, heretofore unexamined, area of research. The shift gained further impetus from the hospice movement, the AIDs epidemic, and the advancement of medical techniques that increase the probability of near-death experiences. The limited, yet significant, resurgence of spiritual practice in the West as well as a general and evolutionary maturing of human consciousness have also contributed to the emergence of the study of death and dying as a field of research and interest. Unequivocally, death is coming to be seen as our final stage of growth.

It is to this study of death and dying that the ensuing observations and thoughts are offered, in the hopes that with careful examination, some understanding of the transformational possibilities of the human psyche, and the privilege of some inspiration, we might begin to articulate our own wisdom about this dying experience through which we all must pass. It behooves us as contemporary Westerners, who often react to images and concepts from other cultures and other times either by recoiling from them or by sensationalizing them, to mature our own wisdom tradition. It is time for us to observe and to describe the psychospiritual transformations normal and inherent in the dying process in precise terms that we can embrace as our own.

In this discussion, I describe the experience of dying by exploring the transformations that many of us who work with the dying are beginning to see. These transformations appear to be inherent in the dying process itself.

It has been said that death is a mirror in which all of life is reflected. 'When we look into this "mirror" of death and dying, we get a clearer image of ourselves, a clearer image of the inherent possibilities of human consciousness. Increasing our insight into what is generally considered to be the unfathomable nature of death and dying--particularly knowledge that reveals dying's transformative and transcendent power--helps us to understand our fear of death and to decrease that fear.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Singh, a hospice worker with training in psychology and an avid interest in religion, here combines a Kubler-Ross-like approach to death and dying with an Eastern religious take on finitude. She questions our sense of death as an "outrage" and her book is filled with the cornerstones of Buddhism and Tibetan religion, ideas that provide no easy comfort ("Our fear of death is grounded in a strong sense of the `I'"). Some of Singh's consolations are not as strong-minded as this analysis of the ego, however. Occasionally, she uses insights that are hardly transcendent ("As we enter the Nearing Death Experience, both emotion and cognition clear.... Beatitudes flow naturally from our being, now a vehicle for of Spirit"). She is at her most perceptive when she seeks to explain why death is so frightening to us: "We are able to maintain the illusion of a separate self... able to maintain it until we enter death row. The moment we receive a terminal prognosis is the moment that fiction begins to transform into documentary." Singh works with terminal patients and can give careful accounts of dying bodies and minds, yet she also notes that the living in fact have no idea what death is like. Nonetheless, her book serves a wise and moving expression of the living helping the dying and should give solace to those facing death as well as to their friends and family.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062515643
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

 Kathleen Dowling Singh, Ph.D., has extensive training and experience in both transpersonal psychology and many spiritual traditions. She works with dying patients in a large hospice in southwest Florida and regularly addresses audiences on death, dying, and the hospice movement.
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Read an Excerpt

Living, Dying, and Transformation


The shortest, the swiftest, and the surest way to plumb Truth is through a mortal leap into the Unknown.

— Henri Bergson

I am an ordinary person working with ordinary people dying ordinary deaths. The people I work with are neither saints nor sages. Although occasionally devout, they are not spiritual adepts. These are the people who have been in line with us at the supermarket or in the next lane at the traffic light; they are our parents, our friends, our spouses, our children, ourselves. The deaths I observed do not include the sudden, violent ones of attack or accident or the unexpected ones of a heart gone suddenly awry. They are the routinely prognosed deaths of terminal illness, the final fading away of a body riddled with cancer or stilled by a failing essential physiological system: ordinary people dying ordinary deaths.

What I have observed in these deaths, however, and what I have experienced is most certainly not ordinary; it is profound, transcendent, and extraordinary. By and large, people die in solemnity, peace, and transformed consciousness, radiating energy that can only be described as spiritual. Death, as no other moment we encounter in life, announces itself in resplendent silence. Death is so absolute that anyone's encounter with it is transforming. It provokes the strongest of feelings: terror, sadness, rage, utter fascination, and an interior acknowledgment, an intuitive recognition, of liberation.

William James, the American giant of Psychology and philosophy, once observed:

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main these experiences and those of the world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.
It is my observation, after having been with hundreds of people who are dying, that death is most definitely one of those points where "higher energies filter in," where, as Mircea Eliade describes it, there is "a rupture of planes."

Wisdom traditions have acknowledged this for millennia. In the West, a series of treatises in the Middle Ages referred to as the Ars Moriendi, the "Art of Dying," set forth a cartography, a map, of the psychospiritual transformations of the dying process in Christian religious terms. At that time in that culture, there was confidence in the prevailing worldview that death, like life, is a pilgrimage. Dying persons, at the edge between life and death, were seen as beings glimpsing the mystery in a way that is rarely possible for those of us in the midst of life; they were seen as beings moving more rapidly in their pilgrimage into spiritual dimensions.

In the East, Padmasambhava gave a precise map and explanation of the dying process in the Bardo Thodol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the eighth century. The essence of its teaching is that, in the dissolution of dying, we move beyond the personal sense of self and the delusions of ordinary mind. In the gap created by that movement, the nature of Reality is revealed, experienced, and entered into. Buddhist psychology sees dying as the moment when the fundamental nature of mind, the essence of who we are, sometimes called the Ground Luminosity or Clear Light or Immutable Radiance, naturally reveals itself in its vast glory.

These viewpoints contain great wisdom. Our culture—America, at the turn of the third millenniurn—has lost much of that wisdom and we are only now in the process of regaining it. A profound shift is occurring in human consciousness regarding the perception of death and dying. This shift was ushered in by the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others who first turned to dying as a legitimate, heretofore unexamined, area of research. The shift gained further impetus from the hospice movement, the AIDs epidemic, and the advancement of medical techniques that increase the probability of near-death experiences. The limited, yet significant, resurgence of spiritual practice in the West as well as a general and evolutionary maturing of human consciousness have also contributed to the emergence of the study of death and dying as a field of research and interest. Unequivocally, death is coming to be seen as our final stage of growth.

It is to this study of death and dying that the ensuing observations and thoughts are offered, in the hopes that with careful examination, some understanding of the transformational possibilities of the human psyche, and the privilege of some inspiration, we might begin to articulate our own wisdom about this dying experience through which we all must pass. It behooves us as contemporary Westerners, who often react to images and concepts from other cultures and other times either by recoiling from them or by sensationalizing them, to mature our own wisdom tradition. It is time for us to observe and to describe the psychospiritual transformations normal and inherent in the dying process in precise terms that we can embrace as our own.

In this discussion, I describe the experience of dying by exploring the transformations that many of us who work with the dying are beginning to see. These transformations appear to be inherent in the dying process itself.

It has been said that death is a mirror in which all of life is reflected. 'When we look into this "mirror" of death and dying, we get a clearer image of ourselves, a clearer image of the inherent possibilities of human consciousness. Increasing our insight into what is generally considered to be the unfathomable nature of death and dying—particularly knowledge that reveals dying's transformative and transcendent power—helps us to understand our fear of death and to decrease that fear.

Read More Show Less

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2000

    Great Book on Death and Dying

    For a meditation instructor reading this was a wonderful and refreshing change. Instead of treating death like a nightmare it addressed it like it is - a transformation.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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