Concluding thoughts

The idea that we are extended in space beyond our conventional boundaries has been little explored in Western thought, and it will probably be one line of enquiry to develop in future research. In many ways, it allows us to glimpse a new world-view by offering us a better understanding not only of what we are, but also of what we can be. As Michael Murphy has pointed out in The Future of the Body (1992), the body is endowed with extraordinary capacities, the manifestation of which makes us aware of our general ignorance about the reaches of human nature. Scientific discoveries have contributed to a deeper knowledge of the self and the universe around us, bestowing upon us knowledge and understanding that was unavailable in earlier times. The challenge of the future will be to gather together evidence of our extraordinary ability to connect with the universe, so that it can be seen and known as a whole. Fundamental to this new perspective is an Asian view of embodiment according to which the body cannot be considered apart from place (basho), which represents the 'ground of our being'. Evidence for this has emerged in the present research from the accounts of those who had profound transcendental experiences as a result of close encounters with death or through the effects of dissociative drugs such as ketamine. Some reported a powerful sense of harmony and unity with the universe, and even a sense of taking part in the 'fabrication' of the universe. Some had the impression of dying and entering other realms of reality where they met God or other beings.

In many ways, the value of these experiences goes far beyond the question of scientific proof of an afterlife and brings us directly to our immediate experience of the here-and-now and the sense of meaning and purpose that we may experience in this life. It also goes beyond reductionism and the attempt to locate the soul or consciousness in some part of the brain. Even more profoundly, the experiences can suggest to us that what we label 'I' is only a small part of a deeper intelligence that is immanent within all creation. They invite us to recognize and seek out this intelligence or power that seems to reach within and extend beyond the physical body, which, as William Blake reminds us, is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

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