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Text and Photos 2015 by J. Pint

On Death by Caleb Gattegno
Caleb Gattegno's essay “On Death” is 78 pages long and can be purchased from Educational Solutions Worldwide as a booklet or read, free of charge, on the internet. It was originally published in 1978 and reprinted recently.

 Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death: Mexico's age-old fascination with death is depicted in this cartoon by an unnamed artist, on display at the J. Guadalupe Posada Museum in Aguascalientes, Mexico.







Looking forward to the next stage in life

By John Pint

Caleb Gattegno, courtesy of Educational Solutions WorldwideThirty-six years ago, one of the deepest thinkers I know of wrote a short essay on death. I tried to read it all those years ago but the ideas were too difficult for me to grasp...or maybe I just wasn't ready.

Time went by, as it has a habit of doing and recently I pulled out my faded copy of On Death, an essay by Dr. Caleb Gattegno (1911-1988), author of 120 books largely on the topics of education and human development. This time I could read it—actually, I couldn't stop reading it.

Gattegno suggests that we might learn something about life and death by looking at the cycle of being awake and being asleep which we experience daily. “Why do we sleep?” he asked himself for years, but only moved towards an answer when he changed the question to “Why do we wake up?” He saw sleep as a chance for our inner self to shut off sensory input and sort things out, to make sense at night of what we have learned during the day.

Let's jump to another topic: What is living? He says living is exchanging time for experience. And how about the purpose of life? Why are we here? Gattegno suggests we are on this earth to grow in awareness and that awareness is what we take with us when we leave. Yes, when we die we don't take along our riches or fame or even our memories, but we do retain our awareness and willpower. Popular thinking is that we are our memories and our memories are us, but memories reside in the brain and we leave the brain and the rest of our body behind when we die.

According to Gattegno, we begin life at the instant the sperm enters the egg. At this instant, he says, a “quantum of energy” descends into the now fertilized egg. The quantum has intelligence and awareness and will. The quantum immediately begins its work of orchestrating our growth, beginning with the first divisions of our cells. The quantum is a very small amount of energy, says Gattegno, but it is very clever and knows how to manage other energies, for example energy which comes to it through our mother's bloodstream. This quantum, which could also be called the mind or our true self, precedes the brain, sees to the brain's development and teaches it (Another of Caleb Gattegno's books is, in fact, titled “The Mind Teaches the Brain”).

This is how our life begins, but how does it end? When we are old and feeble or when some major system breaks down, that same little quantum of energy, hopefully having grown somewhat in awareness, detaches itself from our bag of bones and—says Gattegno—seeks out a new mother in whom an egg is about to be fertilized. And a new cycle begins. If the self learned something worthwhile (in terms of awareness) from the previous life, it will behave a bit differently in the next one. It will make wiser choices about how to spend its time and energy—it will evolve.

This take on life and death strikes me as far more appealing than those I was told to believe as a child. Gattegno sees death not as the end of life but rather as the initiator of a new stage in life. He sees dying as part of living, not the snuffing out of a candle, but rather the disengaging of our self from one body so it can come back and start a new life where I might pay attention to things I failed to notice in previous lives.

Let me close with Gattegno's own words:

“Let death come, not as a liberation from the pressures of this life on earth but as the liberation of what is 'the essential one' so that it may come back with the means to start afresh so as to realize itself more adequately than it did the time before and, in meeting the unknown find the meaning of a complex life involved in complex and unforeseeable events. The meaning of living thus becomes: meeting what comes.”

“Like Socrates holding the hemlock and sure of releasing his quantum, I'll say at the moment of my death, 'I am looking forward to what I'll be with in my next life.'

Hence, let death come!”

You can find “On Death, an essay,” by Caleb Gattegno (78 pages, ISBN 978-0-87825-246-6, Educational Solutions Worldwide, Second Edition, 2011. Price: $9.95 US dollars) at Educational Solutions Worldwide under Books. Scroll to the bottom of the description of On Death to read the entire book online, free of charge.

La Catrina by Posada


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