Death is Life Without Form

Chris: What is it like when we die?

Tony: I had another similar experience, again in a seed group, while working in Spain. This time the experience led me to see that what we call death is in fact life unclothed. What I mean is that when we look at each other, or at the world of nature, we see life expressed in form. But usually we do not look to see what is behind that form. We do not see the universal principle that enters into the myriad forms of life.

So what I experienced in Spain was that as the forms drop away, what we are left with is life without its clothing. We meet the essence of what gives us life, what gives the people around us existence, what exists in animals and plants, what animates and informs the children and people we love. Then we know we have met death in every moment of life, because life and death are one and the same. We have seen death in every face we look upon.

I tried to put my experience into words in the following way:

Of a sudden I see the face of Death. I hear its voice. I know it – For we have met Often and always. Death has the features of A child I made cry; The profile of My loved woman; Your countenance. Have I known you? Then I have known Death. Have I betrayed any? Then I have betrayed Death. And its face is beauty. For it is all things – Naked, Undressed of flesh, Leafless, Exposed, Unclad Life – Without the garment That our selfhood is. See What Happens When We Die?

And the waters in me rose To tears. Bathing me in regret That I had So often Forgotten My love For the Naked Beauty.

The message of this experience is very similar to what I learned from the first experience in Greece. It is that because the essence of life lies behind all its forms, what we give or receive from each other we give and receive from life itself. Therefore life itself remembers, and our life exists in the essence that lies behind all things.

Another experience explains something that is again very similar in its message, but looks at it from another angle. This time it was during an exploration of a dream that I met death face-to-face.

I dreamt I was in my bed and was woken by something falling onto the foot of the bed — or that I could feel moving at the foot of the bed. The dream was very real because all my surroundings were exactly the same as in waking life. I was very frightened of whatever it was crawling up towards me over the top of the bed. I caught hold of it in my right hand, gripping very tightly, and saying, “I will destroy you. I will destroy you!”

When I explored the dream I came across a very strong fear of death. This was so strong I could hardly breathe and felt I was having an asthma attack. But in fact it was fear that was paralysing me. I had noticed the signs of ageing in my body and this had prompted my feelings about death. But here it was creeping up on me, and if it touched me I felt it would pervade my whole body and kill me. But I wanted to confront death. In the imagery of the dream here it was, and I wanted to walk up to face it and know the truth of it. So I let feelings of fear consume me without trying to suppress them or run away from them. It felt as if I were walking way up close to this threatening creature to look it in the eye. And when I did that suddenly all fear and tension had gone. I could breathe easily again.

That was surprising and I couldn’t understand how I could move so fast from one feeling to another. So I backtracked to see if I could play the whole thing through again in slow motion to understand how to meet death with calmness.



What I saw as I did this was that it was all to do with identification. My fear had arisen because I identified my real self with my body. And my body I identified with the corpses of rabbits I had seen in the field, eaten away by maggots, and that was my image of death. Because I identified with the rotting corpse my feelings responded with fear and paralysis as I came face-to-face with death. But there was a part of me that felt so alive despite what was happening to my body. In that way I was identified with life, with the spirit, the essence that gave life to my body. As soon as I identified with that the fear disappeared.

An Egyptian burial – British Museum




So once again we have here a reference to the constant, the permanent, the unchanging that lies within or behind the changing and impermanent. That is really the kernel of anything I have to say about death.

We only miss seeing this when we hold on to concrete ideas about what our life is or means. We only miss it when we believe we know what life and death are really about. Such rigid certainty about what is in the end our own ignorance shuts us off from any further knowing. It is only as we drop our concrete ideas of things; only as we learn the art of unknowing, that we open to the mystery of things and perhaps can gain a glimpse beyond the boundaries of our everyday concepts.

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