The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.

DEATH AND ENLIGHTENMENT with MICHAEL GROSSO, Ph.D. 

JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we'll be examining death and enlightenment. We'll be looking at the ultimate human confrontation, the final frontier. With me is Dr. Michael Grosso, an associate professor of philosophy and religion at Jersey City State College. Dr. Grosso is author of The Final Choice: Playing the Survival Game. Welcome, Michael. It's a pleasure to be with you. It was Carl Jung, I believe, who suggested that in order for us to experience our full humanity we would have to address the question of what life after death is like, or what death is like, even though it may be a fundamentally unanswerable question. What do you think of that? What was Jung getting at?

MICHAEL GROSSO, Ph.D.: Well, I think Jung was saying that everyone has to die, and we have to have some kind of image, some kind of sense of the meaning of what death is all about. One of the problems of our modern culture, I think, is that we've lost some of those traditional meanings, those traditional mythologies. What I'm interested in doing is exploring resources available to us through the various sciences of parapsychology and depth psychology for creating a new myth, a new image of death -- one, however, that is based upon some believable scientific fact, so as to enable us to cope with the reality of death. I think the main point that Jung was making was that the way we envision death is going to influence the quality and the way we live. So I think that's the main connection. As we see death, so shall we live.

MISHLOVE: It seems as if death is the great leveler. I know in one part of The Final Choice you quote a Greek playwright who talks about how great and magnificent man is -- that man can create all of these things and can build and can write. But even greater than man himself is death, because there's no man who can escape death. There's a sense, I think, as we look at the history of man's exploration of death, that death is often seen as the great teacher, that death is somehow always leading us into ourselves, into the next level of depth within us.

GROSSO: I think there are many ways in which that might be possible. One sense in which death is a teacher is that death reminds us of the limited possibilities of life, reminds us that life is a finite process. We've got to bite it off now and experience the fullness of life. By denying death I think that many of us deny ourselves access to the fullness of living. But in a more specific sense, I think that certain experiences that people have on the threshold of death itself can often involve a learning experience, or even an experience that we might call an enlightening experience. Now, we're all familiar nowadays with reports of near-death experiences, and I've spent a lot of time investigating these unusual and striking experiences, and it seems to me pretty clear that the human mind seems to be built in such a way that when we come very close to the actual process of dying, some deep mechanism is awakened within us, some deep psychic unfolding takes place. Many of us perhaps are familiar with the reports of the classic pattern of the near-death experience -- lights are seen; a sense of leaving the body; confronting higher beings; a sense of experiencing a panoramic review of one's life. All this adds up to a profound learning experience for many individuals, and above all the after-effects of the near-death experience seem to be in many instances profoundly illuminating. One of the problems is that our culture tends to deny the validity of these experiences, and one of the things I think we need to do is create a mythology, create a framework of meaning that enables us to make sense of these often baffling experiences.

MISHLOVE: It seems as if the choice is ours, and I suppose that's how you ended up titling your book The Final Choice -- that we have some say about our death. I recall a line from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Rock," in which he suggests, "Near to death, but no nearer to God," being the wasteland condition of modern humanity. You yourself write extensively about how modern culture is plunging headlong into a confrontation with death -- if not through nuclear war, through ecological catastrophe, or through extermination of species or indigenous cultures. There is the sense that we can come quite close to death without becoming close to the numinous or the luminous possibilities of the divine.

GROSS: Well, the expression "final choice" makes sense to me in a very specific sense. It does seem to me that for the first time in human history the death of the human species is now a real possiblity. It's not just an abstract, mythological dream; it's a real possibility. And all the evidence seems to point to the fact that unless we do in some massive, concerted way modify our condition here on earth as human beings, the real risk of planetary death is growing, and may become an actuality.

MISHLOVE: And we've been sort of drifting towards that kind of a confrontation with our own technology and the possibility of annihilation now for decades. It would seem as if, if we're to turn that drift around, we're going to have to ultimately discover a new vision of enlightenment.

GROSSO: Well, my own feeling about that is that the threat of death itself is forcing us, or mobilizing forces from the collective unconscious, and giving us a vision. There are many indications of that -- not only the deep, prophetic experiences of near-death visionaries, but we see the same process seems to be taking place in many reports of UFO experiences, especially the so-called contactee cases, where space brothers from another world are apparently arriving to warn us of the threat of nuclear death. There are other unusual psychic phenomena taking place on a global scale today, all of which seem to converge with the same message. A few examples would be the phenomena of visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that have been taking place all over the planet. My own interpretation is that these are essentially projections of the goddess figure, and there's some kind of a message here about the importance of the feminine in the healing process of the human psyche.

MISHLOVE: What do you mean, the goddess figure?

GROSSO: Well, depth psychologists, Jungian psychologists, tell us that there is embedded in the depths of the human psyche an image of the goddess, which represents certain psychic functions of human beings, certain needs and certain forms of intuition. And it seems to me that in certain cultures right now, in certain parts of the world, actual images, anomalous, hard-to-explain images of the goddess, are actually appearing vividly to large numbers of people. In some instances, as in the case in Egypt back in 1967, this goddess image was photographed. The effect has been overwhelming on witnesses. I believe that all this process is an interrelated one. We hear a lot about channeling nowadays. I suspect that channeling is part of the same process of global awakening, the same process of mobilizing inner images and psychic energies for coping with this looming, catastrophic crisis.

MISHLOVE: In other words, just as in the near-death experience, when an individual has a close encounter with death, they may experience an archetypal confrontation with luminous beings of a healing or divine nature -- and then they come back and their life is transformed. And we as a culture, facing our potential impending social doom, are experiencing revelations of a wide variety that are the counterpart of this near-death experience.

GROSSO: Exactly. That's the interpretation that I place upon these experiences. The effect is the same. The effect is one of reorientation of values and a missionary fervor that we find in many UFO observers, Marian visionaries, near-death-experiences. They emerge out of this experience with a deepened sense of mission. And above all, the value that they stress is the value of love, and as well a sense of care for the survival of the planet, for our material existence. A kind of maternal sensibility seems to be flowering in the consciousness of many people, different groups of people, under the influence of these experiences.

MISHLOVE: It seems ultimately that for human beings to experience that kind of love and trust and openness for each other that comes from people who have been touched in a spiritual way, is almost essential to reverse the mistrust and the paranoia that lead us into an arms race.

GROSSO: Well, it seems to me that the political solution to the arms race has not worked. We need something -- politicians talk about realpolitik, the principle of reality that governs our thinking. I think we need a kind of surrealpolitik -- a higher sense of reality, a revised sense of reality, which would include this deepened trust. I personally think that trust and love have survival value. Perhaps in the earlier stages of our evolution as a species, being trusting and being loving may not have had survival value. Not so today.

MISHLOVE: Well, often spiritual teachers, be it the Pope or the Dalai Lama, when they talk to the multitudes of people, their message is very simple -- it's be good, love each other. And yet for that message to be grasped by the masses of people in the modern state, facing as we do many, many conflicts with neighboring states and with different social classes within the state, one senses that it has to grasp us somehow, it has to move us. And it hasn't been over the years.

GROSSO: Well, I think that there's an analogy here. Let's say that a person goes to a doctor, and the doctor says, "Look, you've got a precancerous condition. Quit smoking, modify your life habits, and you'll survive. If you don't quit smoking, if you don't modify your habits of life, you're a doomed man." I think what's happening, and what we may be needing, is a visceral consciousness of the imminence of our doom. Only that will work. Only that will move the consciousness of the species -- a powerful, vivid confrontation with the reality of death.

MISHLOVE: It seems yet somehow paradoxical to me, because I somehow don't believe that if we're motivated by fear that we can really make the sufficient change. If it's because we are afraid of our own doom, then we're already doomed.

GROSSO: I wouldn't necessarily agree with you. I see this whole process biologically, and the question is survival. I mean, I would be afraid if I was told that I had a near-cancer condition, and that fear might stimulate a whole change in my life style. I don't see that fear necessarily is a bad thing. It might be part of nature's trick to awaken us to a fuller consciousness.

MISHLOVE: Well, that's an interesting viewpoint. You sense, then, that the near-death experiences, the UFO experiences, the Marian apparitions, the channeling, are all somehow related to the notion of death and the notion of enlightenment.

GROSS: Well, I feel that they are responses to a threat to planetary survival. And it's perfectly clear from the content of many of these messages. It's very interesting that in the 1950s and the late 1940s, when the first UFO sightings were reported, many of them were reported around nuclear installations, and many of the first contactees included as messages from the so-called space brothers explicit references to the threat of nuclear war. So I see these manifestations as parts of a spontaneous healing of the species mind.

MISHLOVE: And yet isn't it the case that the large masses of people regard these sorts of things as fringe phenomena? They're not really touched by UFOs, or apparitions of the Virgin Mary, or near-death experiences --you know, they go about their business as usual.

GROSS: Well, yes, but what's interesting is that large numbers of people are having these experiences in one shape or form. As you know, there's sort of the myth of the hundredth-monkey phenomenon. It may be that there's a critical mass of people that has to experience these shocking encounters, and that eventually it will seep over into the larger masses. But I'm by no means optimistic about the outcome of this adventure.

MISHLOVE: One of the characteristics that these various experiences have in common, even the UFOs, is some quality of being touched by the divine, touched by luminous, radiant beings. They are sometimes interpreted as being Christlike, or in other spiritual traditions somehow spiritual -- that it's getting us in touch with a whole new order of being that we're normally disconnected from.

GROSSO: Yes, it does seem to me that one of the constant features of these experiences is an encounter with a light, with a type of energy. And what's interesting to me about these light experiences is that they appeal directly to the visceral sensibility of the individual, and have a transformative effect that does not appeal to the rational mind, but that somehow just grips the individual and reshapes him or her in a physical fashion. Again, it's my suspicion that we are dealing with a biological phenomenon about which we don't have a full understanding hitherto.

MISHLOVE: And yet somehow it seems like an extremely appealing experience for the people who have them. It's as if this light is somehow not just like light from a light bulb, but it's imbued with value, it's imbued with meaning.

GROSSO: Well, it's also the light -- the traditional symbolism of light. Light symbolizes consciousness. But the light we're speaking of is not just a symbol, it's a physical, electrifying effect. So we're dealing with something that is both a vehicle of meaning, and an instrument of physical or of psychospiritual and physical transformation.

MISHLOVE: You suggest that in dealing with the issues that face us globally, in terms of our survival, and also in dealing as individuals with the issue of our own eventual demise, that we may actually come to a metaphysical shift of sorts -- that is, no longer regarding ourselves as being pure material animal beings, and no longer seeing our consciousness as a by-product or epiphenomenon of neural circuits in the brain or our mere biology. We may come to view our biological functioning as an epiphenomenon of something larger, something that you call mind at large, or consciousness.

GROSS: Well, I think that the vast array of psychic anomalies that we witness do indicate the operation of some agency that's independent of the physical. That's why the study of parapsychology is so controversial. Things like precognition and psychokinesis and telepathy suggest the operation of some agency in nature that is independent of the physics and biology known by normal science. And all of these anomalies, I believe, point to the existence of a higher order of mind. Of course I think it's going to take a long while before we can come to grips with this reality and create a mythology that enables us to deal with it effectively.

MISHLOVE: It may be that what we're talking about really reverts back to ancient mythologies. In fact, in almost all mythological teachings there is a sense in which the whole physical universe is embedded in a larger world, a world of the divine.

GROSSO: Well, it seems to me that one of the interesting things that's happening today is that science, or aspects of scientific endeavor, are rediscovering some of these ancient truths. I myself place a great deal of stress on parapsychology as an instrument for recovering these ancient truths.

MISHLOVE: One of the things that you've written, as I recall, is that it's not for lack of evidence that we don't as a culture accept the data of survival -- that there's just an enormous amount of data, from mediumship, and reincarnation cases, that parapsychologists have accumulated.

GROSSO: Exactly. I think never before in the history of life on earth has there been so much actual scientific data that points -- not compellingly, but suggestively -- toward the survival of human personality after death. And yet, we're at an all-time low in belief in survival, at least among the intellectual classes. Why so? I think the answer is that the bias is against the belief in survival. We're in the grips of scientific materialism, which rules out a priori the possibility of survival. So even when there is evidence, that evidence tends to be dismissed. That's one of the curious paradoxes of living in a scientific culture today.

MISHLOVE: Well, as you've described the human dilemma, you suggest that here we are, drifting towards possible cultural extinction, and yet you look deeper than that. You suggest that there may be factors within our own psyche -- in effect, the society at large may simply be the projection of our psyche. And so you describe thanatos, the death instinct.

GROSS: Well, I borrowed that expression from Freud, and it does seem to me that there are many aspects of our culture that do seem to express a kind of death instinct. One illustration I find kind of baffling is that many contemporary academic philosophers and scientists and psychologists deny the existence of consciousness, have gotten to the point of denying the existence of mind. That impresses me as a kind of suicide, kind of a denial of our very livingness. In other words, we use our intellect to deny our livingness. I think that we can see this process taking place on many different levels of our culture -- the way we're destroying the environment, the way we use our intelligence to create weapons that threaten us with mass extinction. I see that as a kind of evidence for a death instinct.

MISHLOVE: One of the things you've pointed out that really struck me is that if we look at the most ancient of peoples, people who we would normally think of as the ones who are the guardians of the earth, who live close to the earth, we see that going back tens of thousands of years ago, they were then engaged in the process of destroying other species of life.

GROSS: Well, that's true. The oldest, earliest hunters apparently did wipe out large numbers of living species. But at that time it had survival value -- that aggressiveness, that cleverness, that destruction, had survival value. It no longer has survival value. Aggression of that nature is not helping us anymore. That's why I say we really need a transformation of our instinctual apparatus, so to speak, to survive on this earth.

MISHLOVE: Because we've come to a unique point in history where our own instincts have grown so large and so powerful that the earth itself isn't large enough to contain the possibility of destruction that we have developed.

GROSSO: Well, not only that; a simple example would be overpopulation. We have no problems reproducing ourselves, but that may be our problem, that we're over-reproducing ourselves, flooding the planet with our being.

MISHLOVE: So it's as if by our own behavior we are rubbing our nose in the fact of death -- perhaps in order to teach ourselves the lesson that we need to learn from all of this.

GROSS: Well, I think it's possible to see it that way, that maybe it's part of the plan of our evolution as a species to drive ourselves to this extremity where we find ourselves facing the challenge of our creative power; where we find ourselves asking, well, what are we going to use this marvelous intelligence and this marvelous creative power for -- to destroy ourselves, or to create a paradise on earth? It may very well be part of a divine plan of evolution, that we come to this point.

MISHLOVE: One of the terms that you've used to describe the potential that we have is the term metanoia. I wonder if you could define that.

GROSSO: That's a term, actually, from the New Testament, and I kind of like it because it's the opposite of paranoia. Metanoia is a term for psychic transformation -- a complete reorientation of values, a move away from fear toward radical openness and love. It seems to me that what we're involved in right now is the struggle between the paranoid and the metanoid potentialities of the human species.

MISHLOVE: In a way that may be the very crux of the problem we're facing.

GROSSO: It seems to me, and I think what's happening is that we're being forced into realizing that the metanoid strain of our human potential is the only strain with survival value.

MISHLOVE: So that suggests somehow a change in the masses of people, or in many, many people -- a giving up of our clinging to notions that we have to defend ourselves against each other.

GROSSO: Yes. Well, again, how is that going to happen? It seems to me that the only way that that actually can and will happen is through very dramatic transformations, a very dramatic awareness of the impending dangers. A notional or just an intellectual awareness that we have to change never seems to be enough, and it's exactly these anomalous experiences -- the UFOs, the spectacular Marian visions, and the like -- that have a dramatic impact on our consciousness.

MISHLOVE: In other words, people who have experienced a close encounter with UFOs, people who have had visions of the Virgin Mary, people who have had near-death experiences, go through dramatic transformations of the kind that seem necessary to us now.

GROSSO: Necessary for survival. And it seems to me that these people are not in control. They are taken up by a force that drives them, and that drives them to spread the message and to impart this new spirit to other human beings. For this reason I suspect we're confronting a biological transformation -- that this is an evolutionary process that we're witnessing, although in many instances the experiences are interpreted in the light of religious symbols.

MISHLOVE: I would suspect that also there's the possibility that human beings, maybe by some kind of halo effect, are just becoming more open in general, and that perhaps through listening to a discussion such as this one, people can make connections and open themselves up to change, without necessarily having the radical kinds of transformative experiences.

GROSS: That's right. I think there's a continuum. I think many people have unusual experiences that they don't notice or that they don't value because they don't have the meaning, the framework, that allows them to experience or to realize these experiences are important. And so there can be a learning process going on here.

MISHLOVE: Well, Michael Grosso, we're out of time now, but it's been a pleasure having you with me. I think we've really touched a lot of bases, and gone from the extremes of such things as the near-death and the UFO encounter to the kind of learning process which may be essential for the survival of us all. Thank you for being with me.

GROSS: Thank you.

END


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