Animals of God
23 August - 21 September, 2019
Opening Friday 23 August, 6 - 8pm
Peter Stichbury, ‘Animals of God’, 2019.
Bodily death, rather than occurring as a single annihilating event, is an extended process that takes several hours to be fully complete. Modern, innovative resuscitation techniques can interrupt and reverse the death process tens of minutes, and even longer, into that shutting down process, meaning many more people can be brought back from death than ever before.
Leading researcher into the scientific study of death, and the human mind-brain relationship, Associate Professor Sam Parnia of NYU Langone School of Medicine, recorded that in a significant group of resuscitated patients, consciousness survives bodily death, with the patient reporting an out of body experience in which corroborated veridical perceptions occur well beyond the cessation of the heartbeat, respiration and cortical activity.
A small number of these patients report their consciousness, after a certain point, withdrew from the scene of death and seemed to enter another dimension. Notable in their reports is the homogeneity across gender, age-group, time, culture, and philosophical convictions: they recall a bright omniscient light, benevolent guiding figures, an eternal sense of time, a deep feeling of peace and of being loved.
This anecdotal evidence has sparked the emerging science of consciousness after death, which seeks to probe, via rigorous scientific research, a phenomenon which has traditionally been relegated to the more mystical disciplines of philosophy, theology and fiction.
Stichbury acknowledges the mystery inherent in the reported experience of an individual’s intact, personal consciousness visiting another dimension. He explores notions of a potential afterlife, imagining life as a corporeal university for our souls, while also considering brain-based explanations positing that the dying brain chemically produces uniform hallucinations.
‘Animals of God’ represents a further meditation on the theme of mystery initiated in his previous explorations into consciousness and the possibility of life elsewhere in our universe. Stichbury observes the human drive to conquer and dissect the unknown, and the role played by today’s heretics, who step away from accepted truths in an attempt to harvest new ones.
Four individual case studies follow of after death experiences:
‘Joseph Geraci, 1977’
One week after undergoing a straightforward hemorrhoidectomy, Joseph Geraci began hemorrhaging and bled to death. When his heart stopped he had lost over 11 pints of blood - less than 1 pint of blood remained inside his body. He was clinically dead for around 4 to 5 minutes. During that time he remained conscious. He reports the severe pain lifted, and everything became very quiet. He found himself without any physical dimension, in a beautiful bright light.
He says the five senses necessary to perceive this world are not necessary where he was. “You are all knowing. Verbally it cannot be expressed, it’s something that becomes you, and you become it. You could say that I was peace, I was love, I was the brightness, it was part of me.”
He describes it as a state of eternity, where rather than experiences being lined up sequentially, everything occurs at once. It is somewhere he has always been, and will always be. Physical life is a very brief instant. He compares the quality of lovingness to the innocence, integrity and guilelessness of a child.
He came back into his body and again felt pain and fear. He was profoundly angry that the doctors had brought him back. “After experiencing perfection, something so beautiful, I wanted to hold on to it.” The following six months were the most difficult of his life.
Every time he tried to describe the experience to his wife, he would become very upset and tearful. He found it difficult to reacclimate into everyday life, for example television felt false and insignificant. He had to turn off any type of violence, because he could no longer find a reason which validated it. It took a long time to integrate the experience and readjust, to understand that there is significance in this life.
Since his after death experience Geraci believes the only reason he is here is simply to love. He finds it upsetting if he becomes angry or is rude to anyone because it seems like a violation of his purpose. He has detached from worldly measures of success including climbing the corporate ladder and the vanity of preoccupation with image. He sees existence as a continuum, with bodily death occurring at any point along that continuum. Post-death he believes his consciousness goes on.
‘Andy Petrou 1955’
A few days before graduation, Andy Petrou was attending a lakeside senior school picnic. He decided to swim, alone, to a raft far out on the lake. While swimming he suffered severe cramps in the deep water and sank to the bottom, where he became stuck in the mud. He struggled to free himself and get to the surface. During his struggle, a calm voice invited him to stop his struggle for one moment. He did, and immediately was pulled out of his body.
Below, he could see himself stuck in the mud on the bottom of the lake. Instead of the freezing temperature of the lake, he felt warm and filled with a sense of love and peace he says he can’t accurately articulate.
He looked up into a tunnel of bright, yet soft light. He describes finding himself inside a large sphere filled with miniature moving pictures of his life. He began reliving his life, experiencing every emotion that was taking place in the moving pictures. He doesn’t know how long this process went on. “When you’re in the eternal now, time doesn’t make any sense…it’s happening all at once.”
Then he found himself in front of a warm, glowing, forgiving light. “The light had no judgment, there was no condemnation, there was no blaming, no shame, there was nothing but love and acceptance. The light was viewing me, everything that I ever thought, did, or will do, it knew everything.”
The light was an immense form, like nothing he had ever seen before, and behind it were billions and billions of other lights. It welcomed him and told him it loved him, that they loved him, and not to be afraid. “It absorbed me into the light, so I was part of the light. And once I was in the light, I knew everything the light knew. I knew all about the universe.”
Petrou talks about the sense of humour the light has. He says they laughed about how seriously he had taken the small things in his life, and the absurdity of some of his choices.
The light told him he had to go back. He protested, but then he felt himself re-enter his body, when he was again filled with pain and anxiety. He was on the beach and his friends were pushing water out of his lungs. He was crying, because he was no longer in the light. During the entire episode, he says he was fully aware and never lost consciousness.
‘Vita Ventra, 1978’
Vita Ventra was in a car accident in which she was thrown from the car and suffered a fractured clavicle, lacerations all over her body and damage to her jaw. She reports that as the pain worsened, her breathing became shallower. At a certain point she became aware that she was no longer in pain, and that she had separated from her body. As she hovered over her body from a height, she saw a man put a blanket over it.
She says she felt like an invisible gas, with no gender, mass, shape, odour, or colour. She felt herself rising higher, but noticed her hearing was very acute. She could hear people talking on the ground as though she was standing beside them. She says she experienced an intensely beautiful light, and saw that death is just a beginning.
“If you really love somebody, you’ve got to be happy for where they’re going. It’s as though you’re being held in a cradle of love. It’s an adventure and you’re not alone.”
She decided she had to come back into her body. When she woke up, she again experienced the severe pain of her injuries. She didn’t speak of her experience to anyone for many years.
‘Lani Leary, 1982’
Lani Leary went into anaphylactic shock when her dentist administered nitrous oxide during a routine dental appointment. While the dentist was working to revive her, she found herself staring down at her own body from the ceiling. “As I looked at my 29 year old body I felt like it was a piece of clothing. I had a fondness for it, I knew it, I had used it well, but it was time to go… I wasn’t connected to it.”
She says she entered a beautiful opalescent blue tunnel, during which time she was without pain, fear or anxiety. Her mother, who had been dead 15 years, was there with her arms outstretched to Lani. “She was beautiful and whole and vibrant and healthy, and she did not die that way.”
She describes a bright yet gentle light at the other end. “The light was in front of me, and then the light was around me, and then I was in the light and then I knew I was the light. As a drop of water in the ocean is not separate, the light and I were made of the same substance.” She felt she was home - loved beyond all measure, and forgiven.
Then she was told she had to go back, that she still had work to do. She felt herself churned backwards into her body. She had no sense of passing time, but the dentist reported her body showed no vital signs for around 10 minutes.
Her life profoundly changed as a result of her after death experience. At first she felt disoriented and found it difficult to acclimatize back into life. “This is like sludging through mud compared to the ease and the love that’s there.”
Leary began working in hospice care and is now a dedicated advocate for helping people die well. She has supported over 500 terminally ill people in the lead-up to their deaths. She advises to listen to the dying, because their stories are helping them process their lives. She says to touch, massage and be physically present for the dying, because they often feel ugly and as though they have lost their value. Lastly she says to give the dying permission to go, to let them know they are not abandoning the people they love, that those left behind will be ok.
She says helping those we love die well also helps those left behind. She cites her own grief at her mother’s death, which was exaggerated many years by her regret for not being able to say goodbye, for not telling her mother she loved her, and for not being present for her death.