"The last thing Steve Jobs said before he died was, 'Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!' Thomas Jefferson’s final words were, 'It’s very beautiful over there,' and they are not alone in that people all over the world speak final words that are beautiful, mysterious, and sometimes more than a little confusing every day," says Smartt. The common theme from all of these statements seem to imply that death is indeed not the end but just a transition from one reality to another.
Collaborating with renowned author Raymond Moody, MD, who coined the term near-death experience in his book Life After Life the mid 70's, Smartt established the Final Words Project to gather detailed information about the language of those nearing death.
Inspired by her own experience with her terminally ill father in his last days, Smartt says: "Words at the Threshold is an investigation into the remarkable things people say at the end of life. Over a period of four years, I collected accounts and transcripts from health-care providers, friends, and family members of the dying who generously shared what they had witnessed. Through the Final Words Project, its website, Facebook, and email, I gathered data from across the United States and Canada while also conducting interviews in person and by phone. I gathered over fifteen hundred English utterances, which ranged from single words to complete sentences, from those who were a few hours to a few weeks from dying." These accounts form the body of this compelling book.
Words at the Threshold is truly a book for everyone as we will all face death at some point in our life as well as the possibility that we will be with a loved one as they near the end of their life. Having an understanding of the language used as one nears death fosters greater understanding, connection and the ability to be more comforting for our loved ones and those close to them.
Smartt invites those facing the death of a loved one to write down the words they hear, without editing, fear or judgement, as "jewels" often emerge that allow greater connection to our loved ones and even greater connection to Source. Just as a foreign language can sound like "nonsense" to those who don't know the language, those nearing death sometimes speak a language that seems nonsensical to us. Dr. Moody uses the term "nonsense", not in a derogatory way, but in a way that means it does not make literal sense to those who hear it. The "nonsense" Moody refers to is a language imbued with metaphors, symbolism and experiences beyond the everyday left brain language we are accustomed to.
Chapter Six, titled "Nonsense or a new Sense? Making Meaning out of Unintelligible Language at the End of Life" hones in on the range of nonsensical language often encountered with those nearing death. From linguistic and situational nonsense to nonsense that transcends our everyday experience, these types of language make more sense when viewed from a broader perspective. Moody believes that nonsensical language is used as an intermediary language between the two worlds of acquired language and a universal telepathic language that seems to exist in the afterlife as described by near-death experiencers.
Smartt relays that "zen masters use nonsense as a means of spiritual enlightenment" in the form of koans. Koans are questions "designed to move students away from understanding life only in a logical way and to connect them to something that is ineffable, not of the ordinary world as we know it. Koans invite us to enter into another way of thinking, and they seem to baffle our minds while bringing us to a greater understanding."
All of those who explore consciousness through the many methods available, such as meditation, prayer, dream work, astral travel, binaural beats and other altered states of consciousness, will recognize a familiarity between learning the language of those nearing death and their own experiences in the non-physical dreamlike states of awareness. Just as Carl Jung was required to learn a new language to understand the symbolism and meaning of his dreams and mandalas, we too will see the familiarity of this language of metaphors, symbols, and perception that differs from how we normally perceive with our five senses. Not only is Words at the Threshold a must read for hospice workers, those nearing death or those with loved ones nearing death, but also for those who seek to understand and perceive the many realms of existence beyond the physical.
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