It is reported by many who have survived clinical death that
before the final plunge into unconsciousness the whole of a man's life is unrolled
before him in pictures. Not a detail of the panorama is omitted, and every colour,
form, and movement is reproduced in all its original lustre. Whether this is true
of all causes or only in the case of death by drowning--which most such reports
refer to--the significance is the same. In the first place, the fact clearly demonstrates
the enduring quality of the impressions we receive, whether we consciously remember
them or not. Somewhere in us, their record remains as clear as on the day they
were first made. And, in the second place, the fact that such phenomena occur
at a moment when, presumably, something we call our consciousness is leaving our
physical body, suggests the possibility of utilizing this power of recalling the
past by doing something at those moments when we are rehearsing death in the form
of going to sleep.
Sleep and death are alike in this, that they are states
of unconsciousness into which we normally pass by a gradual process; sleeping
or dying. And if it be true that at the final passage we remember our whole previous
life, what is more plausible than that in passing from waking to sleeping we recall
the events of the day; or, at least, that such a recollection would be more easy
than at any other time? If the moment for a pictorial review of life is death,
the moment for a pictorial review of the day is sleep. It is important to realize that the review before death,
as reported by the survivors, is never censorious or didactic, nor is it a subject
for either thought or feelings. Strangely enough, the review appears to be made
quite impersonally and impartially, with no attachments and with no comments.
Further, it is in pictures, exclusively; there is no talk and there is no text. Following this hint, our nightly review of the day may
be assumed to be of the same order. It is the day seen pictorially; it is the
day's events, with oneself as the central figure, reviewed without satisfaction
or regret, without fear and without hope; it is impartial and impersonal. Whether we do, in fact, make such a review or not, is
scarcely relevant to our purpose, which is to make it consciously. Should we find
that it happens, so to speak, of its own accord, our task of becoming aware of
and observing it is so much easier. But even if it should
not be natural, the values arising from attempting it are too considerable to
be neglected. To begin with, nothing is better calculated to keep us
aware of ourselves during the day than the prospect of seeing our day pictorially
reproduced at night. Suppose we were accompanied everywhere by a cinematographic
camera, and the films of each day were projected upon a screen, in our bedroom
every evening. Would not the prospective show-up compel us to watch our steps?
The gain to the day, in point of increased attention, would be incalculable.
Then too, without even any didactic object, the repetition
of the day, in terms of pictures, would be of the utmost value as a lesson in
self-knowledge. We should begin to be able to see ourselves as we appear to others,
and, in consequence, to exercise all that tolerance of other people's defects
and awkwardnesses which now we usually give to ourselves alone.
Still again, the advantage from trying to recall
the day exactly is inestimable.
Memory, will, concentration and the power
of sustained attention are all brought into play.
It is impossible to practise
such a review regularly without experiencing improvements in all these respects.
The exercise in other ways valuable, is invaluable in
respect to mental development simply. It is almost a specific against mediocrity.
There are other advantages, but they can be left to be discovered. We must now
consider the method itself.
This is an ancient meditation technique given by the
Buddha to his disciples, called ‘ Prati-
Before going to sleep, begin to count slowly to yourself
a series of simple numbers, backwards and forwards, such as 2, 4, 6, 8 10--10,
8, 6, 4, 2. Continue this repetition rhythmically. Having got this rhythm moving,
almost but never quite automatically, deliberately try to picture yourself as
you appeared on getting up that morning.
You woke, you got out of bed, you
proceeded to dress, to breakfast, to read the paper, catch a bus and so on. Try
to follow this sequence of yourself pictorially observed, from moment to moment,
exactly as if you were unwinding a film. At first you will find the exercise difficult
for three reasons. The necessity to count continuously will appear to trouble
you at this stage. Nevertheless, continue; for the fact is that counting occupies
the thinking brain and thus naturally allows the pictorial memory to work more
easily. Remember that one of our objects is precisely not to think about what
we represent. Thinking not only impedes the pictorial representation but it subtly
but surely falsifies the pictures. For numerous reasons, the thinking brain must
be preoccupied while the show is on; and there is no simpler means than counting.
The second difficulty is the constant interruption due
to failure of memory. You begin very well but scarcely five minutes of the day
have been pictured before you are at a loss to remember what you did next. In
trying to remember you almost certainly cease counting; and no sooner have you
mended the film and started it again than it breaks once more. Do not be discouraged.
Everybody without exception finds the same thing. It is no proof of mental weakness
to fail scores of times at a new mental exercise; and the fact is that the exercise
is of so novel a character that even the greatest intellectual geniuses would
bungle it when they first began it. It can be said that the exercise is possible
to everybody equally; it is no respecter of persons. Moreover, it is possible
to practise it until the film of the day appears to unroll itself without conscious
effort. Exactly as the drowned report that the film of their lives passed before
them, those who have mastered this exercise report that the events of the day,
as recorded in conscious or unconscious memory, represent themselves in their
original form and color. The interruptions, frequent at first, become fewer.
From being an inexpert operator constantly breaking the film, the persistent student
becomes expert. And his reward is not only the review of the day, but the control
of mind that has made such a review possible. None of the numerous schools of
mind-culture would have anything to teach a pupil grounded in this method. The third difficulty, which perhaps should have been
placed first, is simply--sleep. Brain-thinking, as we know, tends to keep us awake.
Worrying--that is, emotional thinking--is an even more common cause of insomnia.
Pictorially reviewing the day, on the other hand, being neither form of thinking,
induces sleep when nothing else can. At the worst, therefore, you will sleep;
and at the best you will know what it is to die daily.
see also | meditation