Questioner: I recently lost a friend of mine due to an aggressive form of cancer. Towards the end, she was in excruciating pain. The amount of narcotics needed to manage the pain and keep her comfortable was to the point of rendering her pretty much unresponsive. My question is, at the time of death, if we are to try and leave our bodies in full awareness, how does this work when one is rendered unresponsive or obtunded from pain medicines? Are we supposed to not take pain medicine in a situation like this so we can leave in awareness?
Sadhguru: When someone is in extreme pain, not taking medicine could be very cruel, and anyway, maintaining awareness while being in such pain may also become difficult. But I’m sure there’s an in-between way where pain can be considerably reduced without the person being knocked out. Above all, even if someone is unresponsive to the outside world, they may still be very much conscious within themselves. The medicine may be numbing the body, and the numbness of the body may not allow the person to respond to external situations, but it may actually create an ideal situation within oneself to be conscious. Beyond a certain point of course, depending on the doses of narcotics and other drugs, the person becomes completely unconscious.
I think most doctors would calibrate it to numb the system only to the extent that the pain is taken away. There are also other ways that some doctors in some countries explore, like snapping off nerves to see that the respective part of the body does not experience pain, or using laser to zap the nervous system in such a way that it cannot conduct the impulses of pain. Modern technology and medicine is exploring many ways to relieve one of pain – which is good. No one can advocate pain to anyone else for whatever reason.
If someone is in the unfortunate situation where it is pain versus awareness, I would say bring down the pain first, because awareness is not something that you do. Awareness can happen in many different ways because awareness is life. It has its own way of finding itself. It is not necessary to try to be aware. If one has at least to some extent lived a conscious life, if one has been initiated, if one has been infused with another dimension of energy, one could naturally become aware at the moment of death. Awareness is not an act that we perform – it is a state, a dimension of our existence. So, it is not necessary to be concerned if someone has been numbed so that they do not go through excruciating pain. They may be unresponsive, but that does not mean they are incapable of being aware. If medicine is used only to numb the body, it could actually become very easy to be aware.
The ebook “Life and Death in One Breath” has more about the process of living and dying. It can be purchased at Isha Downloads.