Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Since 1987, Dr. Walter Pierpaoli has made it his mission to invite the world’s physicians, scientists and researchers to the tiny volcanic island of Stromboli which is situated off the coast of Naples in Italy. The purpose of these gatherings is to discuss the many aspects of aging and cancer. The following lecture was presented at an august gathering of scientists and medical doctors at the Stromboli Conference on Aging and Cancer in 2016 and published by Profound Health Publishing (reprinted with permission).
“Why We Die”
by Bradford S. Weeks, M.D.
Fano Italy – October, 2016 – The 6th Annual Stromboli Conference
I was very intrigued to be given the challenge by Dr. Walter Pierpaoli, world-famous endocrinologist and researcher, to lecture on the topic “Why We Die”. This analysis transcends my capacity for sober scientific inquiry so it became quite a challenging and worthwhile topic to reflect upon at this, the twilight not only of our careers but our lives. Let us consider together Why we Die.
Allow me this disclaimer: Nothing that I say here is provable, little is scientific; rather it represents my effort to come to terms with this supra-scientific, existential question. Unanswerable questions are themselves worth considering.
What I have paid attention to as a scientist and clinician during my career are a host of seemingly more practical topics than “Why we Die”. Always in the vitalist camp, I studied acupuncture and homeopathy before attending medical school and was guided primarily by the work of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) who taught a path of spiritual science called anthroposophy. Anthroposophical medical colleagues have been my closest companions over the past 40 years in the healing arts. Subsequently, the therapeutic aspect of the honeybee venom is what I focused on way back in medical school, being as it is a very powerful and therapeutic albeit little used or understood agent. Don’t dismiss venoms because, after all, “The dose makes the poison” (in Latin:”sola dosis facit venenum”) This wisdom was taught initially by Paracelsus (1493-1541) who wrote: “lle Dinge sind Gift und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht es, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist.” In English translation: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dosage makes a thing not poison.”
After founding the Americal Apitherapy Society in 1985 and creating collaborations with Apimondia, we promoted many therapeutic treasures in the honeybee hive over the past 40 years. This potentized my work inonco-immunology, that practice of helping cancer patients enhance their immunity. I consider this remedy of critical importance in light of the face that the physician within remains much more powerful than the physician without – the one paid to supply conventional cytotoxic chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I’ve focused for the last 10 years on remedying cancer stem cells, as opposed to vast majority of my oncology colleagues who focus instead on killing cancer tumor cells. Why? Because I understand that the cancer tumor is little more than a confused and enthusiastic bystander at the cellular and cytoplasmic riot which we call “cancer” while the cancer stem cell is the instigator and ring-leader at this riot. I have discovered that the more fertile area of study to help people dealing with cancer and all chronic degenerative illnesses is the field of psychoneuroimmunology and the practice of CorThot™, understanding that our thoughts affect our emotions, which in turn affect our biochemistry, That is curative trickle-down effect. Along the way and mysteriously closer to the topic at hand, “Why we die”, I have focused on sleep medicine because I believe that one of the most important determinants of health is the quality of one’s sleep. “The rest of your days depend upon the rest of your nights.” I maintain that the most important prognostic question we can ask our patients is “How do you sleep?” If they respond that they sleep like a baby, we doctors have little that we need remedy: they will be and remain healthy.
Most recently, I became a reluctant convert to the highly controversial medical opinion that omega 3 fish oils are relatively deleterious to human health compared with the role unadulterated, omega 6 fatty acids. This position originally championed by my old friend and mentor David Horrobin, M.D. (1939 –2003)and most recently by electrical engineer of Brian Peskin, is consonant with actual biochemistry (1) and has led me to encourage patients to quite simply “eat the seed”. The seed is the most nutrient dense food on earth. Eating the whole seed – husk and all – is part of the optimal diet – provided it is raw, cold-pressed, finely ground into a bioavailable powder and comprised of seeds which are organic, non-GMO and glyphosate free.
But enough of my procrastination. This consideration of Why We Die being indeed a daunting topic, my preceding auto-biographical review should serve only to reaffirm my disqualification to address such metaphysical topics. But launched now as we are, I invite you to travel with me towards a reasonable and comforting answer.
When our friend and mentor Dr. Walter Pierpaoli invited us scientists and clinicians to travel to the ancient Italian city of Fano to wrestle with this question, I queried myself whether the process of dying might be reduced to pathophysiologic in nature affording us the easy out of perhaps potassium levels, mitochondrial fatigue and the like. But no such luck; the topic was not How we Die (infection, toxicity, trauma etc.) but more intriguingly, Why we Die. For that we each had to dig deep.
We’ll need poetry for that. We scientists are comfortable focusing on facts and logic but for this work we need to think differently. I gave a medical lecture once year ago and the gentleman that introduced me was a wonderful poet. At 90 years old, he specialized in writing erotica and he read a couple juicy pieces during my introduction. Afterwards, I thanked him and confessed my devotion to the Muse. In acknowledging my appreciation he confided in me the following assessment: “Nobody remembers the Roman generals, but everyone remembers the Roman poets.”
What particularly interests me about “Why We Die” is the actual moment of transition from life to death because that is actually a discreet moment. It exists and therefore it can be studied. What happens at that transitional, binary instant? Then alive. Now dead. Why does that happen? My conclusion leans more towards empowered choice than disempowered victimization. I wonder how you will see this question as we proceed.
We have many sobering examples in our lives which force us to consider the fact that we die by choice, when we are ready, intentionally. Accidents and murder aside, I want you to consider that we die when we are ready and willing. Death being a choice – a letting go, a relaxation, a decision not to exert muscular resources – both cardiac and diaphragmatic – in short, a giving up. Do we die against our will or do we choose death? Is there a choice at the end? Do we exercise free will? Do we go when we are ready?
By now, I suspect that you are considering loved ones who at some time in your life have stopped living. We all know of the person who says, “I need to stay alive until my grandson graduates from college,” and then they die. Today, we are considering how that person and others pulled off such a feat! Can we make ourselves die? How can our mind dictate to the body: “I will stay alive until I see my proud grandson graduate and then I will die?”
There was the elderly lady in Boston who proclaimed to her loved ones that she was ready to die and then, quite unexpectedly for Boston, her beloved baseball team made into the world series championships. When this happened, she advised her loved ones: “I’m going to wait until after the Red Sox win the world series and then I will die.” After the season ended, she died. She didn’t kill herself in the typical way we think about such a taboo deed, but she did kill herself somehow strategically. Who else can take responsibility? It seems she somehow thought herself to death. This case study is very interesting to me and it defines the first piece of the puzzle: death can be a decision.
I have an uncle, and we all know people like this, whose wife was with him seemingly 23.5 hours of the day for the better part of a month when he was in extremis, abed dying. At one point, she said, “Honey, I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.” When she returned, he had died. Have you run into these instances where people seem to manage to die alone?
Doctors will agree: people typically die alone. Death is a private event and despite external factors, people often manage die alone. So we need to understand how, without putting a gun to one’s head, one can make oneself die? This was my question. Fortunately, I did consult the user’s manual. I don’t know if, when you were born, you were given the User’s Manual for Life and Death, but it comes with instructions and if you didn’t get it upon birth, it’s helpful to review it now.
LIFE and DEATH: The User’s Manual
1) We are spiritual beings temporarily on earth;
2) The microcosm reflects the macrocosm – look above and below for hints;
3) We understand our eternal essence in our core being;
4) We are thinking beings and our thoughts create our reality;
- We are spiritual beings temporarily on earth. We humans are spiritual beings having an earthly experience. I don’t mean to proclaim a religious truth, but simply to assert that we’re something more than just matter. I believe that the microcosm, which is what we experience at this quantifiable level, reflects the macrocosm, which is more unmeasurable in nature. I think that we all know these things in our core being. But we forget. There is what Robert Frost described as “the obfuscation upon earth”. At times, get a glimpse of eternal truths and at those times we re-cognize things that we know and we all can think. Let’s go through that. If you don’t know Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality, it’s fabulous but more to the point, it is persuasive.
“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight to me did seem apparell’d in celestial light, the glory and the freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore, turn wheresoe’er I may, by night and day, the things which I have seen, I now can see no more.”
He’s talking about the realm of childhood and asserts:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”
This isn’t science, this is poetry; but as we consider the question of “Why we Die”, I want to invite your minds and hearts to consider that we’re not just mobile, reductionistic matter with the potential to reproduce but rather that we’re actually enlivened, ensouled spiritual beings
- The microcosm reflects the macrocosm. The Emerald Tablet in the 8thcentury written by Vicilius and translated by Isaac Newton, says that “That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below, to do the miracles of only one thing,”and, in the Bible we read that the Lord said, “I came to make things below like things above and the things outside like those inside and I came to unite them in one place.”
I love the photographs available on the web (Google “macrocosm and microcosm”) where a brain astrocytoma cell resembles Hubble photo of part of the cosmos and a close up of a human iris resembles a nebula for everywhere we look we see that realty plays out in similar manners at various levels of experience.
Hints of this insight lie scattered around us and, when viewed with reverence, can inform us about existential questions we might otherwise remain oblivious to. Goethe described this need to attend phenomenon with reverence in Faust who sought to lean Nature’s secrets: “if hand profane should seek to raise, it seeks in vain”
Everything fails me – every thing –
These instruments, do they not all
Mock me? Lathe, cylinder, and ring,
And cog and wheel – in vain I call
On you for aid, ye keys of Science,
I stand before the guarded door
Of Nature; but it bids defiance
To latch or ward: in vain I prove
Your powers – the strong bolts will not move.
Mysterious, in the blaze of day,
Nature pursues her tranquil way:
The veil she wears, if hand profane
Should seek to raise, it seeks in vain,
Though from her spirit thine receives,
When hushed it listens and believes,
Secrets – revealed, else vainly sought,
Her free gift when man questions not,__
Think not with levers or with screws
To wring them out if she refuse.
from Goethe’s Faust (2)
For example, to approach the question of Why We Die, might we not imagine sleep and death to represent a micro and macro relationship of similar physiologic experiences? What happens when we sleep? I will return to this topic in the pages ahead.
3) We know these truths in our core. To recognize means to be re-minded or to re-collect those cognitive events which we once knew and then dismissed. We recognize them when we re- cognize them and here I want to assert that most of what I am telling you is easily recognizable – if you allow your thinking to transcend logic.
We know in our core that we are not simply matter. Substance is what you perceive with your senses but you and I are made of more than substance. Let us be instructed by the wisdom of etiology: the Latin word “sub stare” means “to stand beneath”, so like a coffee cup would be the substance holding the coffee, your body is the container – the substance – for your spirit. If you can see the world filled with substance holding spirit, then we understand that when the substance disintegrates, as in death, something insubstantial remains and is released.
4) We are thinking beings. The best advice I ever received from my mentor Otto Wolff, M.D. who encouraged me to think.“Remember Brad: To be a great doctor, you don’t have to know everything, but you do have to be able and willing to think.”
In medicine today (as in metaphysics), there is too much assumed knowledge and too little rigorous, de novo thinking. Again, we seek the counsel of great poetry and to the rescue comes Edna St. Vincent Millay, a stunning redhead from the State of Maine in the early 20thcentury.
“Upon this age that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind—
Upon this gifted age in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric. . .” (3)
Can think our way to an understanding of existential truths? Let’s give it a try: What is life? We can’t really understand death unless we understand life, what Robert Frost termed “The Trial by Existence”. When I lecture to scientists, the thought currency is logic. If a scientist is not logical, people get rightly concerned. Nevertheless as regards the topic at hand, Why we Die, I would suggest that logic is insufficient. It’s a start and is important, but imagination, which Einstein appreciated, is required as well: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
But more wisdom is required, so let us together awaken out intuition and finally, we my open up to inspiration, mankind’s most refined thought process. Inspiration which is really communion with the divine, the light within, “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9 King James Bible).
I’m going to be using poetry in this talk because I think it brings us some imagination, some intuition, and some inspiration. Again, I’m not going to read all these poems. I would love to. In fact, I would be happy doing nothing but reading you poetry, but I will refer you to these.
In the first poem, Robert Frost describes life as a “ trial by existence” and he describes how, upon awakening after death in heaven, every soul is given the opportunity to come back to earth and to strive to make the world a better place. He terms this lifetime an obfuscation upon the earth” because:
“Tis of the essence of life here,
Though we choose greatly, still to lack
The lasting memory at all clear,
That life has for us on the wrack
Nothing but what we somehow chose;
Thus are we wholly stripped of pride
In the pain that has but one close,
Bearing it crushed and mystified.”
This poetic insight reflects the belief that, if one returns to earth, that this is consequent to a choice. The element of choice is what I want to focus on. I’m going to make the point that I think we choose when to die, that there’s free will, just as there was in choosing to be born.
Let’s learn how Robert Frost defines life. It is a stunningly beautiful image. “God has taken a flower of gold and broken it and used therefrom the mystic link to bind and hold spirit to matter until death comes.” In the poem, The Trial By Existence, the poet teaches that life eists when spirit is bound to matter. I choose to accept that as an inspired fact. Death therefore would be the dissolution or better still the disassociation of spirit and matter. Does that make sense if you apply what Steiner termed “heart-warmed thinking” as opposed to cold, hard logic? (Warning to you logicians: bear in mind and heart what Goethe had Faust teach us above: “The veil she wears, if hand profane should seek to raise, it seeks in vain…”)
Are we going too fast? Let’s review. Logicians can agree that the question of Why We Die is unanswerable unless we know what death is. Definitions anyone? There’s various legal definitions most of which consider “brain death” to be the ultimate criteria involving “Irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions and of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.” (4)
But finally, regardless of what official cause of death is printed on a death certificate, a person is considered dead when too little oxygen reaches the brain. This is in accordance with the legal definition of death which is simply the permanent cessation of brain function.
I’d like you to consider what I think death is. I think death is the final and ultimate disintegration of the union of four different aspects of the human body. This is not my thinking. This is from the clairvoyant scientist of the spirit, Rudolf Steiner who taught that human beings are compose of a physical body, an etheric body, a soul and spirit.
The 4-Fold Human Being
4 Integrated and Interweaving bodies:
Physical Body = Substance /Matter
Etheric Body = Enlivened / Life Force
Astral Body = Soul /Emotions
Ego Body = Spirit / Executive
When these four bodies are integrated and functioning well, we are alive and healthy but disease is a deterioration of these bodies and death is their complete disintegration.
Logic can serve us here, so follow me in this line of microcosmic and macrocosmic thought: We humans have substance (minerals and other matter) in our body (microcosm) but the rules governing matter and the mineral kingdom in the world (macrocosm) do not include etheric vitality (i.e. being alive). The beautiful quartz crystals in my clinic office are matter devoid of life. That’s the mineral world. We humans, in addition to being composed of minerals and other physical substances, are also infused with life, what Steiner termed the etheric or vital body. In the macrocosm, the realm in which we observe exclusively matter and life intertwined is the plant kingdom. But humans are more than plants – more than just enlivened matter; we are ensouled – as evidenced by our feelings and in the macrocosms we share this level of enlivened and ensouled existence with the animal kingdom. For example: step on a cattail in the swap and there is no discernable suffering. Step on your house cat’s tail and the suffering is apparent! Therefore, similar to the animal kingdom, we living humans are comprised of matter and life and also feeling each named as follows: the physical body, the vital or etheric body and the soul or astral body. And finally, we humans have also a further attribute for which there is no macrocosmic equivalent in other kingdoms: we alone have a spirit and our human executive function often described as an ego.
The animal lovers amongst us might protest here that animals have a spirit and ego but rather than seek refuge in etiologic arguments and definition of terms, I will simply state my (not provable) opinion that the mother bear does not love her cub. What appears to us as loving behavior is simply instinctual adaptive behavior. It is not freely given so it is not love. Only the human being, on our good days, has the capability to love.
I only belabor this definition of human life – the integration of these four bodies – because such a picture can help us transcend logic and approach the otherwise unanswerable question of Why We Die. Frost suggests that the life-defining initial integration effected by God and his “flower of gold” only happens subsequent to a choice freely given.
“And none are taken but who will,
Having first heard the life read out
That opens earthward, good and ill,
Beyond the shadow of a doubt;
And very beautifully God limns,
And tenderly, life’s little dream,
But naught extenuates or dims,
Setting the thing that is supreme.”
The big question is, “If choice is required initially in order to integrate these four bodies to create a living human being, is it not then logical to conclude that the eventual dissolution and disintegration, death, would also require choice?”
In the next poem I want to reference is called Birches by Robert Frost wherein he talks about those lovely and elegant birch tress “bent across the rows of darker straighter trees”. Perhaps you’ve seen them being so white against such darkness. Frost likes to think that it is not ice storms that bend these trees, but rather that a farm boy is responsible.
“…I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer…”
He knows, as you and I know, that the tree is bent over by ice, but before he dismisses the role of the boy, Frost references reincarnation – as he did in the Trial by Existence. He says, “I’d like to get away from earth for awhile, but then come back and begin over, may no fate willfully misunderstand me, and half-grant what I wish and snatch me away not to return, the earth’s the right place for love.”
Ah… Love. We are getting closer to understanding Why we Die”. It has to do with love. In some teachings, they say that the angels envy us humans because they can observe, but they can’t actually act. Love is a deed. They can not love. Here on earth, we generally have some 80 odd years to try and love and hopefully we can get at least an hour or two of real, selfless love out of those decades. “Earth’s the right place for love.” Perhaps we choose to die when we’ve given all the love we can?
Today, in this forum we are many of us medical doctors, so death is not an abstraction for us. We all had our first patient die on our watch, under our care. I remember mine as this:
I think you’d have laughed too.
Humans tend to laugh
And at the wrong times.
And doctors are so human
But, never while it’s happening
For that would be demonic.
After the rigor has set in
And looking back on the
And, while tasting the bitterness of finality,
And hearing again the dull permanence,
the thud of an entire life (such an infinity of experience)Ended;
Then, as the humor seeps out
At the bar
– far from the sterility of the surgical suite
Or onto the freeway
– as we careen home after a 40 hour shift
Or the next day
– while jogging to shake away the pain,
Then, as it squishes underfoot and chokes our breath,
And as we laugh,
We wish our sides would split. (5)
So death is no stranger to us. But what personally do each of us know about death? I would suggest that we all can call upon personal experience if we can behold the macrocosm and the microcosm again. Imagine that that sleep, as the poets tell us, is the little sister of death. Let’s think about sleep. It’s represents more than a third of our lives and yet our top scientists know only the tip of this iceberg. I remember when I was first teaching kindergarten, many years ago before medical school, little Billy woke up from his nap and said to me while rubbing is cloudy eyes, “Billy’s back.” Quietly I asked him: “Where were you? You can tell me. Tell me where you were, Billy. I won’t tell anyone.”
This is where I wanted to bring you. To an understanding of the nature of sleep and specifically what happens to all four human bodies, interwoven as they are when alive and awake in contrast to what happens when sleep takes over. What happens when you and fall asleep is that the physical body and the etheric body remain abed? At this point, your matter remains enlivened and integrated in a state similar to what we see in the plant realm, but the soul and the spirit disentangle themselves and depart. Imagine that. Well, actually, appealing to your logic, you don’t have to imagine it. All doctors have seen this in the hospital ward. This is your comatose patient or, if chronic, we call this poor soul – forgive the crude albeit instructive term – “a vegetable”. (Words do inform us when we lose our way). Where do the soul and spirit go when one falls asleep? No one can say for sure, but Steiner reports that these two aspects of the human body go commune and refresh or re-inspire themselves at their source in the spiritual world. Perhaps the soul and spirit get some coaching or encouragement in order to be more human upon reintegrating with etheric and physical body upon awakening the next morning.
“When a person sleeps, the astral body and Ego are outside the physical and etheric bodies…when people sleep. They dive down into the spiritual world and there lose consciousness. They pass out of the body with their soul and lose consciousness. On waking they rise up again and regain consciousness, and this re ascent is the entrance into the body.” (6)
We don’t know where the soul and spirit go during a deep sleep, but logically, this is quite a reasonable explanation. Consider this: deep sleep is anabolic whereas thoughts (spirit) and feeling (soul) are catabolic unless on moves trough live in a calm manner such as Thich Nhat Hahn’s walking meditation. We also know that the longest living life form in our known universe is a plant – the realm of life on the macroscopic level which is primarily anabolic, being as it is devoid of soul and spirit.
That is a lot for the rational mind to accept so, again, allow me to solicit poetry for the purpose of clarification and seduction.
This is a wonderful poem by America’s Poet Laureate Billy Collins called The Night House. This one I will give to you almost in its entirety, being as it is, such a grand an example of the dissociation of the human bodies during sleep:
“…. every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.
But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
and leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.
And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.
And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree….” (7)
Billy’s is a poetic image of our body being composed of different parts. I’m going to make the point that, at a certain point, those parts have dissolved, don’t reintegrate and that’s death.
Without sleep, you would have the constant catabolic distress of the soul, nagging, nagging, nagging at the body. Because these bodies separate and the ego, the critic, and the soul (the worrier) leave the physical body which can now be restored by the plant body. Typically, during the day we burn our candle at both ends, but at night, if we sleep well, we rewax the candle. Does that make sense as an image?
But we are tasked with understanding Why We Die and that is why I want you to understand that sleep on the microcosmic level can instruct us about death on the macrocosmic level. We all have experiences during sleep which gives us hints about death… if we remain receptive. When you awaken in the morning, it’s nice to catch your first thought. Be attentive. Catch your first thought. It might be a message that your soul and spirit brought back from the spiritual world.
It’s tremendously important to help our patients sleep well, to help them restore. When someone says I sleep like a baby, that’s wonderful. When you have a good sleep, you awaken feeling like you just dropped off to sleep, no dreams. Tragically, there is a world-wide epidemic if sleep disruption and all sleep agents, with the exception of chloral hydrate and GHB, disrupt sleep architecture, that’s the phrase, so they actually inhibit sleep.
Paradoxical? Let’s be logical. Sleep is a well-defined electrophysiological state including necessary phases (stagers 1, 2, 3, 4, REM), comprising approximately 90-minute cycles which repeat during the night. In contrast, consequent to taking most sleep medication the patient becomes horizontal, unconscious and amnestic but does not meet the electrophysiological criteria for having slept.
There are many instances when people on SSRI drugs experience disrupted sleep. These poor souls being sleep deprived are in a fugue state, and they get up, they’re sleepwalking, they commit crimes, including murder, and they are found to be not guilty. We have now, in America, lots of zombie movies, whatever they call them, zombie movies. Reflect again on the macrocosm and microcosm. A nation of sleep disrupted people enjoy watching zombies. We are a nation uncomfortable with death. Sleep and death, we have problems with them.
The goal for many of us is to die young as late as possible peacefully in our sleep. I personally, I want to die peacefully in my sleep as did my grandfather. I don’t want to die screaming in terror, like the passengers in the car he was driving. (Forgive the humorous interlude. My grandfather did not die that way, but it’s a fun joke.) We all want to die in our sleep but why is dying in our sleep such a universal preference?
Let’s imagine someone who dies peacefully in his or her sleep. That’s an accomplishment really. But what is happening? Well, based upon the theory put forth above of temporary disintegration of the four bodies for regenerative and perhaps cosmic purposes, perhaps those of us who die peacefully in our sleep, simply chose not to reintegrate. Perhaps the departed spirit and the soul decide not to reintegrate before the morning alarm goes off. “We’re not coming back.” they say. That is enough. No more love to give. Time to move on.” Maybe Why we Die is a choice. Maybe there’s free will at the time of death
As Willie Nelson sings in his song The Gambler, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run”. Maybe people are making a choice, so I want to explore that. Why do we die? Maybe we choose to at a certain point.
But, imagining that is the case, how would you pull that off? We know that the yogis can drop their blood pressure and temperature, but can people think themselves to death? How do you do that?
We use thinking. Dr. Walter Pierpaoli has often talked about a top down approach, how the pineal can take care of things if we take care of the pineal gland. I think the same thing in terms of trickle down effect, that our thoughts create our healthy physiology.
Let’s look at what thinking can to do with death. We can be scared to death, we know this, right? There’s physiological examples of this. It’s not uncommon that people can be scared to death. Adrenaline and so forth can disrupt the sinoatrial node in the heart resulting in death from fear and terror and sadness. As my friend, Dr. Walter Pierpaoli says: “It’s the fear of death which is lethal really”.
What exactly happens in the heart when it’s flooded with too much adrenaline? Adrenaline from the nervous system lands on receptors of cardiac myocytes (heart-muscle cells), and this causes calcium channels in the membranes of those cells to open. Calcium ions rush into the heart cells and this causes the heart muscle to contract. If it’s a massive overwhelming storm of adrenaline, calcium keeps pouring into the cells and the muscle just can’t relax.
There is this specially adapted system of muscle and nerve tissue in the heart—the sinoatrial (SA) node, the atrioventricular node, and the Purkinje fibers—which sets the rhythm of the heart. If this system is overwhelmed with adrenaline, the heart can go into abnormal rhythms that are not compatible with life. If one of those is triggered, you will drop dead. (8)
Dr. Abram Hoffer , M.D. Ph.D. was a wonderful, genius mentor of mine in the field of orthomolecular medicine and psychiatry and he taught me about adrenaline which, when it becomes oxidized, transforms to adrenachrome. Adrenachrome is a natural hallucinogenic substance. Hence, too much stress will drive you crazy. Or it will kill you. We know now that many athletes have a sudden death while exerting themselves due to excess or toxic adrenaline.
Can thought kill? Why not consider death and the extraordinary experiences of conjoined people formerly termed “Siamese twins”? Imagine how you’d like having a Siamese twin and everyday wonder who’s going to die first, you or me? This drama played out in the most famous of all Siamese Twins. These two men lived is back in the 1800s, and they lived together (all 8 of their bodies, if you recall from above) for 63 years.
One brother, Chang, died during the night and Ang woke up to find his brother dead. Imagine that. A nephew arrived in the room and Ang, the surviving Siamese twin said, “Your Uncle Chang just died and now I shall die,” and, the story goes, he immediately dropped dead.
Autopsy revealed that Chang died of a blood clot in the brain. Ang’s death was attributed to shock. This to me is an amazing thing. How can a human being say, “I will die now and die?” Maybe it didn’t happen instantaneously. Maybe it took an hour. This is just a story being recounted a hundred years later.
People do die of shock. This is a story of a 60-year-old woman who was given terrible news about her husband’s health. As she and her hubby left the doctor’s office, a tightness suddenly gripped her chest and she was unable to breathe. Lucky for her, she was standing right outside the office of cardiologist Dr. Holly Anderson when it happened.
“After I had whisked her off to the emergency room and hooked her up to an EKG, I was surprised to see her whole heart had stopped moving, yet she had perfect blood supply to the heart,” recalled Anderson, who is also the director of education and outreach at the Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. “She was so emotionally overwhelmed about her husband’s condition it literally stopped her heart.” (9)
There’s also, as I mentioned, a psychoneuroimmunologic death, an iatrogenic death where the doctor says, “You have 6 months to live.” I consider that to be a modern version of a hex or a curse. Moreover, spoken by a medical doctor, I consider it criminal behavior: assault with a deadly weapon. We also kill ourselves bit by bit with little suicide-inducing thoughts. “This job is killing me.” or “I’ll never beat this cancer. There’s no hope”. or worse still for an intact immune system: “I wish I were dead.” To a psychoneuroimmunologist, that is a lethal mixed message to one’s immune system.
Indeed, thought can prove to be lethal. The will to live requires thoughts which create hope. The difference between the wish to die versus the wish to live is a unique factor in the risk for suicide. We know that all to well and frequently belatedly in psychiatry.
The idea in which someone who is on the threshold of death may consciously or unconsciously try to stay alive through the belief that they have a reason or something to live for, along with giving up on the will to live. There are significant correlations between the will to live and existential, psychological, social, and physical sources of distress. The concept of the will to live can be seen as directly impacted by hope Many, who overcome near-death experiences with no explanation, have described concepts such as the will to live as a direct component of their survival. The difference between the wish to die versus the wish to live is also a unique risk factor for suicide. (10)
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare describes that “it burst his mighty heart“ when Julius Caesar saw that his dear friend Brutus had joined the conspirators and was stabbing him. Sadness kills.
“This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
ingratitude quite vanquished him;
Then burst his mighty heart.”
Many of our integrative medical colleagues who had their licenses unjustly taken away by luddite medical board commissioners died soon after. It can be a terrible blow and break their heart of service.
And anger kills. If we think about the microcosm and the macrocosm, anger and inflammation. We know that in aging, normal aging, is really a biomarker of inflammation. The persistence of this inflammatory stimuli over time ages us and kills. Speaking as an onco-immunologist, whereas acute inflammation can be immune-enhancing, chronic inflammation can be immune-suppressive
And rage. There’s a wonderful poem about rage by Dylan Thomas 1914 – 1953 Do Not Go Gentle in that Good Night. It’s a very powerful poem because, you see, his father was at peace and ready to die but the son, poet Dylan Thomas was not ready for his father to die. He implored his father to rage:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light….
…And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Guilt kills also. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes about guilt in his riveting tome Cancer Ward and this passage is also worth reading today in its entirety. The protagonist dying of cancer on the ward implores his fellow patients:
“We shouldn’t behave like rabbits and put our complete trust in doctors. For instance, I’m reading this book, and he holds up a large book and he says, in this book it says that there are instances of self-induced healing. You see how it’s worded, not recovery through treatment, but actual healing, you see. There was a stir throughout the cancer ward. It was as though self-induced healing had fluttered out of the great book like a rainbow-colored butterfly for everyone to see and they all held up their foreheads and cheeks for it’s healing touch as this butterfly flew past. Self-induced, he says, that means that suddenly, for some unexplained reason, the tumor starts off in the opposite direction, and they were all silent, listening to that fairy tale, that a tumor, one’s own tumor, the destructive tumor that had mangled ones whole life in this cancer ward, should suddenly drain up and dry and die.They were all silent and it was only the gloomy Podduyev who made his bed creak and, with the hopeless and obstinate expression on his face, croaked out, I suppose for that you need to have a clear conscience.”
“Why We Die?” For some of us, the answer is guilt.
In order to know Why We Die and whether indeed, as I suggest, personal choice is involved, we have to consider who doesn’t die. For this examination, have intriguing populations to study:
- Near-death experiences.
- Exceptional Cancer Patients (eCAP)
Near death experiences are intriguing. There exists a wealth of information about near death experiences and some of it involves passable scientific analysis. What about people who had a near death experience (and didn’t die)? How, to a person, do these people explain why they did not die? They say that they were give a choice and they chose to come back. They were in some confrontation, they met some spiritual being, and were given the choice. This one woman floated out of her body and this is her story according to Atwater in her book “Beyond the Light:
“Suddenly I was aware of being in the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen. I felt whole and loved. My sense of well-being was complete. I heard celestial music clearly and saw vivid colored flowers, like nothing seen on earth, gorgeous greenery and trees.
“As I looked around, I saw at a distance, on a hill, Jesus Christ. All he said to me was that it was up to me whether to come back to earth or not. I chose to come back to finish my work. That is when I was born again. (11)
Dr. Bernie Siegel, M.D., a dear friend, mentor and wonderful cancer doctor in America, created eCAP – an association of “exceptional cancer patients” reasoning: “If 9 out of 10 people die of this cancer, I want to talk to the 10th person. What’s different about that person.” These eCAP members lived purpose-filled lives and seemingly refused to die. Quite simply, they chose to stay alive.
Who else doesn’t die? Centenarians don’t die. Why do centenarians not die? The interviews with these centenarians come down to some certain variables. First of all, they are typically not afraid of death. As Walter Pierpaoli, M.D. shared: “Fear of death
is the main impediment to a free vision of life.” Secondly, they typically have enjoyable engaging hobbies. As a rule they are quite interested in life. They’re having fun. They are typically enthusiastic, and have a sense of humor. They are enthusiastic and fully engaged “It is not yet time to die” they report.
Who else doesn’t die? Beekeepers. Before I studied medicine, I was a beekeeper. I love the honeybee. She is a supreme example of light filled enthusiasm for service. Some men have “the other woman”, I have “the other half million women”. But what else is life enhancing about beekeeping? We have the lowest incidence of cancer of all occupations worldwide. (12)
We also found that the telomere of the male beekeepers was significantly longer than that of males who are no beekeepers. (13
That’s an interesting scientific finding, the telomere length. In 1965, the Annals of New York Cancer Research Institute, they found that bee pollen was helpful against cancer. (14)
I have used bee venom for many years to treat cancer, topical for melanomas, systemic for lymphomas and leukemias because the bee venom has both the most powerful anti-inflammatory modulation peptides as well as powerful immuneenhancing agents.
The man who taught me beekeeping is Charlie Mraz who lived a very long life full of enthusiasm and service and meaning. I am eternally grateful to him for teaching me this craft. Beekeeping is really one of the grandest of hobbies – full of passion and danger, we get dessert, sweet honey! If it is true that hobbies keep us alive, then beekeeping is a lifesaver
Another reason some people don’t die is because they’re crazy. Did you know that schizophrenic patients have the lowest incidence of cancer of any disease group (15)Being a little crazy can be helpful. Studies confirm that despite the higher rates of smoking and terrible lifestyle choices, schizophrenics have less cancer. What do you think of that? (16)
Here’s an interesting assertion by Blavatsky, the theosophist: “No man dies insane or unconscious as some physiologists assert. Even a madman, or one in a fit of delirium tremens will have his instant of perfect lucidity at the moment of death, though unable to say so to those present. The man may often appear dead. Yet from the last pulsation, from and between the last throbbing of his heart and the moment when the last spark of animal heat leaves the body – the brain thinksand the Egolives over in those few brief seconds his whole life over again. (17)
Consider that assertion! No person dies insane or unconscious. If you’re a chronic schizophrenic, the statement is, upon death, you have a moment of clarity, you see your life before your eyes. Whether that’s true or not, what an intriguing thought, that no insane people die crazy.
In psychoneuroimmunology, we pay attention to that trickle-down effect, when people say “I want to die.” or “I’m ready to die.” or ” I give up, I’m done.” You hear this from people. We hear this from patients. We don’t necessarily have to talk them out of that if they’re at peace, we just have to acknowledge and support them.
Since we’re convening in a church state here in Fano, let’s consider what does the Bible say about Why we Die. First from is an old version of the Bible, ““Immediatly the angell of the LORDE smote him, because he gaue not God the honoure: And he was eaten vp of wormes, and gaue vp the goost.” (18)
Gave up the ghost.
We also see that in the King James version, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;”
Why did Jesus die? We are told that he chose to die. He gave up the ghost… “yielded up the ghost“.
Suicide is the most obvious example of giving up the ghost, but what a concept that people, at that moment of transition from life to death, instead of being a victim, are somehow in control, empowered, and they choose to give up the ghost.
This same extraordinary Dr. Walter Pierpaoli, said something recently in the lecture, “Death is the programmed auto-immune suicide when we lose the capacity to maintain bidirectional thought.” What I gathered from this statement is that the more you’re in relationship, the less you die.
If you’re talking at people and not with them, or if you’re not really engaged, there’s less adhesion. Those four bodies aren’t going to stick together so much. We know that people who have suicided, but then come back and survive, typically, if they’ve had a near death experience, ty never seriously consider suicide again.
Near-death survivors from suicide attempts can and often do return with the same sense of mission that any other experiencer of the phenomenon reports. And that mission is usually to tell other potential victims that suicide is not the answer. “Since then, suicide has never crossed my mind as a way out. It’s a copout to me and not the way to heaven. I wish you luck in your research and hope my experience will help stop someone from taking his own life. It is a terrible waste.” (19)
In conclusion, Who doesn’t die? I submit to your now heart-warmed thinking that these people do not die: Those who are crazy, who are in love with meaningful relationships, they’re having fun with great hobbies, they’re enthusiastic, they have meaning and purpose, and they have a heart for service. I further submit that Why we Die is because we choose to. This is an empowering conclusion since it eliminates much fear and uncertainty and reminds us that as we chose to be born into this obscuration upon the earth, we may exit when we have loved to our human capacity.
With that I wish to say “Grazie a caro Waltero for his generosity of vision and hospitality in creating a safe playpen where seemingly crazy medical colleagues with a heart for servicecan have funand lovelife’s great challenges while seeking truth enthusiastically.
3) Huntsman, What Quarry? by Edna St. Vincent Millay
12) http://apitherapy.blogspot.com/2012/01/beekeepers-have-low-incidence-of-cancer.html andMcDonald, J Occup Med.1979 Dec;21(12):811-3.
13) ) The relationship between telomere length and beekeeping among Malaysians. NasirAge (Dordr). 2015 Jun;37(3):9797.
14) The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 9(2), Oct., 1948, published a report by William Robinson, M.D., et al.
18) Miles Coverdale’s Version, 1535, Acts 12:23:
19) Atwater Beyond the Light http://iands.org/ndes/nde-stories/17-nde-accounts-from-beyond-the-light.htm