25 Apr End-of-Life University: A Conversation With Dr. Karen Wyatt (Part 5)
This blog series is a transcript of a recent interview I did as a speaker for Dr. Karen Wyatt’s End-of-Life University. In our conversation we shared our own personal stories about death, transformation and the end of life. We also talked about our work in this realm, including my backstory on the documentary film Death Makes Life Possible, which will be world premiering at the Illuminate Film Festival in late May and also screened at the Afterlife Conference in early June. The beautiful web site for the movie will be launched very soon as well!
Karen Wyatt: Is there anything else, Marilyn, that you would like to talk about or that we didn’t cover?
Marilyn Schlitz: I’m sure there are many things that we didn’t get to today. I think one of the dimensions that we were talking about as we both shared our personal stories and what kind of brought us into this is that if we kind of review our life and we think about what are the catalysts for transformation and what are the points in our life where we were called, whether we understood it at that moment or not we kind of through the transformation research created a change model. We found that a catalyst for transformation really is these kind of noetic first person experiences.
There was something that occurred directly within our lifespan and over the course of our lifespan that has led to epiphany or led to insight, led to a sense of that questioning of something larger than ourself. So inviting people to really look at: what are those catalysts? What were the trigger points? Were there times when we got lost in that, the fascination with the opening and then got distracted by that? So that’s kind of the pitfall on the transformational journal. Or were we able to push forward and begin to ask questions about: what was that like? If people have had near-death or out of body experiences, what are the implications of that? So then learning and gaining information.
I think that’s one of the places where the Institute of Noetic Sciences and other organizations have been so helpful is providing an opportunity for learning more and asking the questions. Ultimately in transformation we have found that by and far the teachers and the masters of transformational process have talked about the importance of a practice. So what is a practice? It can look very different. I mean we interviewed a Catholic priest and a Wiccan priestess and their worldviews are very different, and yet there were qualities of a practice, a transformational practice that they shared in common.
So we found out of those practices that there are things like setting intention, that I bring intention to my life to grow, to develop, to become a more balanced person. And yet we know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So intention alone isn’t enough, although it’s fundamental. Then there’s that idea of attention. Different practices, meditation practices, prayerful practices, walking in nature, gardening can all help us to cultivate our attention. Are we putting our awareness on the glass half empty or the glass half full? And that comes with a kind of discipline to become more aware of where we get tripped up. And also the whole area of cognitive science now, looking at inattentional blindness, the way in which our culture and our worldview and our assumptions create these filters that inhibit our capacity to see beyond what we expect to see.
So using transformative practices is a way of opening ourselves to seeing more possibilities. Then the idea of repetition, building new muscles, as it were, that will help us to find these transformative principles as our default option, recognizing that in our brains we have these neural pathways that get laid down. It had been thought that once you lay down those pathways that there is no changing. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and yet we now know through neural plasticity that we can change our brains and we can change the grooves that are our habitual default.
Then guidance, finding able teachers, finding movies or books that inspire us, but also really begin to cultivate the inner guidance and that noetic quality, so deep listening for what is true for ourselves and what gives us that sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, and then really listening, paying attention and acting on those. So that process then becomes a call that moves people, in our experience and in our model, from the me, a self-absorbed look at myself and my own progress, into the we, how is it that I am offering gifts for the collective, and at the same time not neglecting the me, so going back to making sure that we’re healing and taking care of ourselves.
Then ultimately I think that notion of living deeply, like coming into a recognition of our mortality, of the inevitability of our death, and that there is a way in which that imbues our life with greater wholeness, I think ultimately leads us into something that is probably a fractal. People come into this journey at different points along the way, but ultimately when we’re thinking about whole systems change then I think this change model is effective not only at the individual level, but as we look at changes in healthcare today or our interest in the death industry, which is a huge enterprise today, you think about business or education. All of them are calling for and are hungry for a transformation. So how do we begin to use these tools, these simple little methods within ourselves in order to rally our energies together, so that we can begin to really facilitate that kind of full systems change that I think can lead to a better prospect for humanity?
So that’s how I want to end it. I think that really understanding that death is part of a larger conversation, that our understanding and our awareness of the little deaths, the little ego deaths that come as we begin to broaden and become larger. I’m a gardener and I know just yesterday I was having to prune. That process of pruning, you’re taking away some of the life. At the same time you’re allowing the growth of the plant. So in order for the chard to really develop I needed to stop the multiplicity of growth in that one little area in order to shine the light on the individual plant. So I think that the metaphor of the garden and our cultivation of our fullest capacities is a beautiful one to hold in this conversation.
Karen Wyatt: Yes, absolutely. Marilyn, you are just amazing. You are so articulate and you are such a wise leader and teacher and catalyst for change. I want to thank you so much for all of your work, all of the years of research that you’ve done so meticulously and carefully and thoughtfully, and now for the movie that you’re making and the writing that you’re doing, and all of your wonderful gifts that you’re bringing to the world. Thank you for that. Thank you so much for being willing to talk to me today.
Marilyn Schlitz: You are more than welcome and I look forward to the next collaboration point.
Karen Wyatt: The same here. I’m very excited for that to happen. This brings to an end our discussion today on transforming the end of life. Thanks once again to Marilyn Schlitz for being with me. Be sure to check out her movie, Death Makes Life Possible, and her website, MarilynSchlitz.com. Thank you and good-bye.