Before my first samadhi experience, I had implicit faith in the wisdom of Dylan Thomas. He said we should rage against the dying of the light. As a sixteen-year-old boy with no experience in death and a great desire to be heroic, he won me over.

Then a few months later, by focusing on my breath and third eye in pranayama meditation, I found myself ascending the tunnel and entering the Light of real Being that every great mystic from Jesus to Patanjali talked about. It was the brilliant white bliss of samadhi, the breathless “death” state that is the pinnacle of yogic practice. And I realized Thomas had it completely backwards. 

The real light awaits us on the other side.   

If you have heard of people who have had near-death experiences, or NDEs, samadhi is basically identical. When NDE subjects “come back to life” after flatlining in a hospital bed or the scene of an accident, most describe travelling up a tunnel and becoming immersed in a brilliant white light that feels like infinite love. Afterwards, returning to regular waking consciousness, they perceive with razor clarity that their real Self is something much greater than this bag of bones, and they are left with a profound sense of joy, peace, and purpose. The yogi who enters samadhi experiences the same thing. 

Why would we want to rage against this? 

In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche observes that people in the West are deeply uncomfortable talking about death. As a consequence, knowledge of the intricacies of physical death and the process of dying is obscured or never shared. We don’t know how to help our loved ones as they make the final passage, and we are filled with terror when we near our own end. 

It was ever thus. Ignorance creates fear, and fear leads to suffering. 

We suffer throughout our lives, because regardless of how much we tell our conscious mind that we’re not bothered by the thought of death, our subconscious knows better. We wouldn’t struggle to seek security in our lives if this wasn’t true.

It’s much worse when we reach our deathbed. As our mortal light begins to flicker, we suffer consciously and acutely because we’re still stuck in the belief that only darkness awaits us. 

Samadhi washes away all ignorance by immersing us in the light of knowledge of the true Self. In revealing the Light of our own immortality, it frees us from fear and allows us to live a vastly richer life. The lives of the saints, mystics, and NDE survivors attest to this.  

To conquer death, however, we need to confront it and ask questions. In the Katha Upanishad, the youth Nachiketas does exactly this. 

Given the opportunity to ask anything of Yama, the Hindu god of death, Nachiketas asks him to share the truth about whether or not we really die. Yama pleads with Nachiketas to ask for something else. He says he will give him all the wealth, women, and elephants in the world. Nachiketas doesn’t fall for the ruse and continues to press. Yama finally relents and shares the truth with him: 

There is the path of joy, and there is the path of pleasure. Both attract the soul. Who follows the first comes to good; who follows pleasure reaches not the End. 

Yama then explains at length that the secret to overcoming death is to discover the omnipresent Spirit within. The Katha Upanishad doesn’t report Yama describing how to do this, because observant students of the Upanishads and Patanjali’s yoga sutras would have known that they needed to apply the techniques for attaining samadhi consciousness.      

I had the good fortune to experience samadhi at a young age, and this is why I left “Do not go gentle into that good night” behind me at sixteen. However, I have never stopped appreciating Dylan Thomas’ brilliance as a poet. His “And death shall have no dominion” still stirs me: 

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

This comes closer to the truth. We are sparks of the great Light that lies beyond the dimness of this earthly plane, and this is why we shouldn’t rage. We would do better to go gently seeking knowledge, then perhaps we might ease much of death’s suffering. 

 © James Andrew Grove

4 thoughts on “Go Gentle Into That Good Night

  1. Dear Jim,

    Your writing is eloquent and the topic is important as it relates to 100% of us.

    I don’t pretend to know any of the references you are making but your words speak to me. I had the fortune to have been with three close family members in the months, weeks, days, and seconds leading to their passing.

    Two of the three, ages 38 and 89, went in peace at the end, knowing that they had done all they needed to do in their lives. The last, age 78, was tormented that they had yet a lot of boxes to check off, wrongs to right, and mountains to climb.

    Like pearls on a string, each moment passes to the next, until there are none. To “rage against the dying of the light” is like holding on to the necklace that will never be yours to keep.

    Thank you for this. I look forward to your next blog.

    1. The experience of sitting at the bedside of those dying is deeply transformative. It is impossible afterwards to not carry an acute awareness of the reality of death with you every day. I have taken this as a blessing in my life, as I’m sure you have also. “Like pearls on a string” — well said — thank you for this.

  2. Very nice Jim.

    Did you have a Guru to help you reach samadhi?

    Do you use a mantra when meditating?

    I often find that when I focus on the third eye, it confuses my meditation. I’m told not to try to see from the third eye, but to be conscious of it. I often find myself trying to see with it; my natural eyes usually being closed.

    1. Great question. I had a guru, but she did not “help me” reach samadhi in any direct sense. Samadhi simply comes as a natural product of regular meditation practice, and the practitioner should not “try” to attain samadhi, but simply let it come when it comes. There is a natural, organic process to our unfoldment, and there is no need to try to accelerate it or force it. On this note, we should be wary of those who say they can “accelerate” our awakening. It is true that all sorts of different experiences and conditions of consciousness can be invoked through different manipulations of breath and posture, and these may convince us that we are making profound discoveries, but they don’t necessarily represent any degree of awakened consciousness–simply more sensory phenomena within the confines of our phenomenological experience. Samadhi, for instance, is a state of intense clarity and presence in awareness, and not a sense of feeling “spaced out” as some describe. If you feel spaced out, that is not samadhi. As for seeing with the third eye, this is the same: It should not be forced in any way, and there are actually potential dangers in attempting to do so. Seeing with the third eye happens naturally over time with years of steady practice. None of these things should ever be forced.

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