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SHINING LIGHT ON DEATH 14th July 2018 – Dr Peter Fenwick, Ann Yeomans and Sister Jayanti

SHINING LIGHT ON DEATH 14th July 2018 – Dr Peter Fenwick, Ann Yeomans and Sister Jayanti

Over 200 people attended the one-day seminar Shining Light on Death at Global Co-operation House (London) on 14th July.  There were also 30-40 people who joined the seminar online.  Guest speakers were Dr Peter Fenwick, a London neuropsychiatrist, Ann Yeomans, a Soul Midwife who works in Sussex, and Sister Jayanti, European Head of the Brahma Kumaris. Threaded throughout the day were songs by Lucinda Drayton and poetry read by Dr Craig Brown, Dr Rachna Chowla and Suja Chandran. Dr Sarah Eagger, Chair of the Janki Foundation, extended a warm welcome to the speakers and guests.

Leaflet of the event:  Please click here 

The seminar was planned to create greater understanding of the spiritual aspects of dying, death and bereavement and to make it less of a taboo subject.

Dr Eagger explained that  ‘…death is clearly something we all have in common.  It is absolutely part of the cycle of life and yet we are quite afraid and have anxiety about dying.  Most of us don’t know when and how we are going to die.  So what role does death play in our lives and how do we feel about it?   Maybe it is going to be painful.  We also observe the grief of those left behind.  It is clear how we have taken death out of our lives and we are a death denying society.  We wish to take the sting out of this and today we are going to look at how we can make it more acceptable and a part of life.’ 

What are we afraid of?

Dr Fenwick posed the question, ‘what happens when you die?  ‘As a clinician he was fully aware of how, as a culture, we are primarily concerned with pain control and physical comfort.  Yet we know so little about the dying process, and so it seems to be the same for those who care for us at the end.  It is as if, understandably, we are so attached to life we can’t (or won’t) face the prospect of death. Few people wish to die and the rest of us for the most part are subject to feelings of fear, sadness, loss, anger and rejection; immeasurably so when  hooked up to the technology of the 21st century hospital death bed, tended by healthcare professionals who have little training in end-of-life care.

As a specialist in human consciousness, however, Dr Fenwick himself saw death as a ‘great adventure’, a process signposted with many fascinating phenomena including (for those who die consciously) visions, feelings of unity, wholeness and healing, love and compassion and, towards the very end, the peaceful experience of a new reality.  He emphasised the importance of holding an attitude of curiosity with the willingness to explore and develop feelings of acceptance and an understanding that everything must be given up.  These experiences, often described as a spiritual awakening, can and do exist independent of religious attitudes.

Dr Fenwick reminded everyone to plan for the kind of environment they would like to have at the end of their life whether at home, in a hospice or in a special hospital unit that offers a supportive environment.

He concluded that ‘we are never born and will never die… love, light, consciousness streams through us and this is what creation is.  So what are we afraid of?’


To watch Dr Fenwick’s presentation (Part 1) on ‘What happens when you die?’  Please click here


Earth, Water, Fire, Air

Ann Yeomans who as a Soul Midwife spoke about taking on the role of a compassionate and caring friend with the skill of ‘being present’ with someone who is dying and with their family.  (Refer to Ann’s handouts)

Whereas as Dr Fenwick outlined three phases of dying—pre-transition, transition and post-transition, Ann Yeomans informed us of the dying person’s gradual withdrawal in terms of elemental energy.  The first stage, represented by the energy of Earth, depicts physical withdrawal (e.g. loss of appetite, strength, changes in the senses and in appetite).  The second stage of withdrawal, Water, is characterised by the emergence of old traumas and the need to come to terms with letting go of the illusion of power and control over one’s life and having to give up everything. Fire, the next stage, could be heralded by irritability and is particularly difficult for family members to witness.  It is also the time when the dying may sense visitations of people from the past coming to meet and accompany them.  The last element to withdraw is Air, characterised by drifting into unconsciousness – a time for all stimuli to be removed from the room and a corresponding need for family to let go.  Ann Yeomans ended by highlighting the importance of ‘whole-body’ listening with posture, eyes and heart, therapeutic touch and presence.



To watch Ann Yeoman’s presentation on ‘Role of a friend’ (Part 2)  Please click here

Ann Yeomans gave out 3 handouts on:  Notes & Meditation Template; Role of Soul Midwife & Four Stages of Dying; Therapeutic presence & keeping vigil 

Handouts given by Ann Yeomans: Please click here 


Smaller groups

After lunch participants went into 8 parallel workshops with two facilitators in each group of 15-20 to discuss ‘Exploring a compassionate presence with dying people and addressed the following three questions:

  • What qualities of presence would you like in someone who is with you when you are dying?
  • What would you like them to say or do that would be comforting?
  • How could you use what we’ve done today to help you be with a person who is dying?

Handout by Bridget Haley given at the workshops: Shining Light on Death: Being with the Dying  Please click here  


Experiencing contentment and gratitude

The afternoon ended with a response by Sister Jayanti to the questions put to her by Dr Sarah Eagger about soul consciousness and about preparing for death by the way we live.  Sister Jayanti spoke about the awareness of the difference between material consciousness (awareness of the physical self) and spiritual consciousness.  So much more is now known about the latter through the scientific work being done by researchers such as Dr Peter Fenwick on the phenomenon of Near Death Experience (NDE), where consciousness appears to reside outside the body as well as in the brain.  She drew a parallel with experiences we can have in Raja Yoga meditation where we experience our inner being as having a separate identity from the brain and the body.  The more she meditates, Sister Jayanti said, the more she is able to transcend time and space, go beyond the physical dimension, and connect and identify with ‘soul’…the being that she truly is.

She then quoted Dadi Janki, the spiritual head of the Brahma Kumaris, who said ‘consider every moment to be your last moment and prepare for that.’  She has never postponed anything. ‘Do it now, for who has seen what tomorrow can bring….not even later today…now!’  Our actions, our ‘karma’, Sister Jayanti went on to say, become the giving of love, wisdom and compassion, and these all impact on our final moments.  We don’t want to be caught up with karmic accounts we have with people.  We want to go into the experience of a better place, and become merged in God’s love.  At this moment could I be ready to leave or are there things that are still pulling me?  Attachments will pull me. Attachment brings suffering.  Ego brings suffering and we all have layers of ego.

Can I detach from skin, colour, family, education etc.?  If so then I can be just pure consciousness and soul conscious.  The more I practise this the more I am able to deal with my ego and unfulfilled desires.  Can I simplify and be content with what I have, or do I chase after what I don’t have?  Can I experience contentment and gratitude?  Can I forgive?

Why wait until later, why not experience this freedom now?  This will also support a smooth transition.  Transition is a very spiritual expression, as it signifies there is not an end, there is continuity.  The phase when I leave one costume and move into a different one is a transition.  I let go of what I need to let go of and, being prepared through meditation, I can experience peace and joy in this movement.  When I understand and practise the stage of pure consciousness as a soul there is no more fear.  Fear just dissolves.  I know that I existed before I took this physical form.

The day closed with a reflective commentary by Sister Jayanti, and ended with Lucinda inviting everyone to join her as she sang a cappella, the final song ‘You’ve got a friend’ by James Taylor.



To watch Sister Jayanti’s talk on ‘Facing our Fear of Death – Spiritual aspects of Dying'(Part 3)  Please click here


Threaded throughout the day were songs by Lucinda Drayton and poetry read by Dr Craig Brown,              Dr Rachna Chowla and Suja Chandran.

Books & Papers recommended by Dr Peter Fenwick:

‘Dying : A Transition (End of Life Care: A Series) by Monica Renz’

‘Nearing the end of life: A Guide for Relatives and Friends of the Dying’ by  Sue Brayne and Dr Peter Fenwick


Fenwick P, Brayne S. End-of-life experiences: reaching out for compassion, communication, and connection: meaning of deathbed visions and coincidences. Am J Hosp Hosp Palliat Care. 2011;28(1):7-15.

Renz M, Reichmuth O, Bueche D, Traichel B, Schuett Mao M, Cerny T, Strasser F. Fear, Pain, Denial, and Spiritual Experiences in Dying Processes. Am J Hosp Hosp Palliat Care. 2018;35(3): 478-491.


Songs by Lucinda:

1  ‘I will rise’  Youtube video Also available on CD – Road Least Travelled by Lucinda Drayton 

‘Thank You’  from CD Bliss

3 ‘You’ve got a friend’ by James Taylor


Excerpts of feedback from participants: 

This was one of the most enlightening and informative study days that I have attended in my career.  I left at the end of the day having learnt so much and now have a very different outlook on certain aspects of my care giving and interaction with patients and families.

– Greta Barnard, Senior Staff Nurse, Haven House Children’s Hospice 

Many nurses have historically shared divine experiences with their patients at the point of death but the subject is rarely discussed, for fear of ridicule. Special days like this one will help to open the dialogue, which is greatly needed.

– Anne Richardson, Registered Nurse (since 1973), NHS

The thing I was left with overall was how beautifully the Janki Foundation cared for us with your lovely staff, great organisation and the delicious meal at lunchtime.  To me that mirrored the way we should be caring for our dying and their families and so it felt very right in that way.  We must model what we want to teach people in my view and you did that so wonderfully​​.

– Katrina Taee, End of Life Doula 

An enjoyable day coming to terms with the inevitable; there is no escape.

I enjoyed the talks and presentations and the time we had to share our thoughts in small groups.  I came away with greater understanding and know I will have to put my own house in order… ready.

– Revd John Merrill, Multi-faith minister and Funeral Celebrant

The event allowed me to understand experiences and happenings surrounding death, a common path we will all take and that we may have witnessed ourselves, sharing hope, trust and an understanding of our common humanity.  A chance to embrace the deeper connection we have on a spiritual level with ourselves, those whom we love, the wider world and relax in the knowing that all is ‘safe and well’.

– Dr Astrid Bendomir, Occupational Physician, Assured Occupational Health, Aberdeen

I welcome events such as this which boldly yet sensitively considers the otherwise closed and avoided topic of death.  Opportunity to talk, share and learn about it and perhaps how to prepare for it.  Ironically, it is the only issue all of us face and no one can avoid.  It was refreshing to have the matter out in the open and to be given the opportunity to bring curiosity to it’s shores.

– Suzan Hackett, Counsellor & Group Facilitator, Penny Brohn, UK

What I remembered is that there is a sacred place within us where everyone could find love and comfort.  We can also have access to a clear light inside which can spread around and attract others.  At the time of death the Ego is crumbling and there is the feeling of letting go.

– Dr Herve Foulot, Surgeon in Gynaecology, Cochin Hospital, Paris, France 

The day made me think about Death, and learnt that if I develop curiosity and acceptance, the process of dying becomes easier and peaceful. The day has given me strength to talk about Death with my parents and I actually spoke at a length with my mother, and was pleased with our discussion, that she is preparing to give up to be ready for death.  As a Doctor, ‘I learnt things which I can use, for e.g. Soul Midwifery, use of Green colour, music, pebbles, being in person’s reality etc… to make my patients death process beautiful.

– Dr Mina Bobdey, Psychiatrist


  1. Gillian Boyd on January 12, 2020 at 7:30 am

    I wish to thank the team for a very informative and comforting series.and especially for making it available to people like myself who could not come to the sessions.
    I have had several NDE’s and OOB’s so it has been fascinating to hear about other peoples’ experiences.
    I hope that nurses working in hospices are aware of this research.?

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