Death Makes Life Possible: Bridging Consciousness, Science and Spirit

“Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is the continuum of birth and death.”
– Deepak Chopra, MD

Editor’s Note: This documentary film seems more relevant than ever, as we are collectively facing a global pandemic, climate crisis and cultural breakdowns. What was the worldview of death as part of life before we decided to believe we were separate from nature and its life forces? Enjoy this interview from Kindred’s archives (first published in 2013). You can now watch the film on a variety of platforms, including here and purchase the book here.

Death Makes Life Possible


Could the holistic understanding that Death Makes Life Possible make us and the planet happier and healthier? Marilyn Mandala Schlitz and Deepak Chopra explore this truth in a new documentary.  Read the interview, watch the trailer and listen to the free download.

In 1603, emboldened by Renaissance insights after centuries of violent oppression, Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered his mortality and, in open defiance of the clearly defined territory of medieval Christian doctrine, declared death to be an as yet, “undiscovered country.”

Four hundred years later, the deal-brokered split of human consciousness between church and science into internal and external worlds has spawned industrial systems so out of balance and unsustainable, human civilization and planetary ecology built around these systems now face increasing and dramatic degradation.

“Had he lived today, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark would confirm with deeper conviction than ever: To be or not to be is indeed the question,” writes Ervin Laszlo, PhD, in Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality Can Change Us and Our World. “It is not the skull of an individual human being that Hamlet would ponder, but this living blue-green planet, the home of humanity… The question [now] is: evolution or extinction?”

What modern convictions prevent this needed healing of our consciousness into a wholeness that could perceive life as interconnected and interdependent?  Forty years of consciousness research at the Institute of Noetic Science, IONS, has sought to answer this question and IONS’ latest insights are presented in the new documentary, Death Makes Life Possible: Bridging Consciousness, Science and Spirit.

Produced by Marilyn Schlitz, PhD, and Deepak Chopra, MD, the Death Makes Life Possible continues the Renaissance tradition of defying religious and cultural taboos by presenting an intersection of frontier science, rich wisdom traditions and diverse personal experiences around what quickly becomes, in the documentary, a well-traveled and seemless country: Death.

“There is a spiritual renaissance in the West; as we confront our mortality we are midwifing the difficult birth of a multidimensional transformation – physical, spiritual, psychological, social, and ecological,” says Schlitz.  “It is at the meeting place of science and spiritual wisdom traditions that we are discovering a new paradigm of reality and what it means to be fully human.  We are discovering that simply contemplating death can make us happier, healthier, and better citizens.”

In Death Makes Life Possible, Schlitz, a cultural anthropologist and research scientist, connects viewers to universal questions and also to their own perspectives on the ultimate meaning of life, death, and what lies beyond.  The film moves between personal stories of near-death and out-of-body experiences that inspire a belief in the continuum of consciousness, expert interviews with mental health professional on the practical task of living without fear of death, and more than two dozen thinkers, researchers and scientists, including Rupert Sheldrake, Bruce Greyson, Stuart Hameroff, and Rick Hanson, who share their search evidence of the soul.

The documentary is particularly timely, not only because of the imperative of the global sustainability discussion it could inspire, but because of the very real daily crises faced by the world’s aging population:

  • According to the book, An Aging World, the number of people worldwide 65 and older is estimated to hit 1.3 billion by the year 2040.
  • Beginning in January 2011, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers reached the age of 65 every single day (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging).
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, report released in October 2012, U.S. deaths surpassed 2.5 million for the first time in 2011.

As IONS’ website states, “This film makes the case that we have much to gain by facing our fear of death and asking what death might have to offer our lives. Death Makes Life Possible is a must see for anyone who’s going to die.”  With such a broad audience to reach (everyone), Lisa Reagan sat down with Dr. Schlitz for an interview about the film and her discoveries about death.

Lisa: What inspired the making of, and then the title of the movie?

Marilyn:  As you point out with the Hamlet quote, this is not a new conversation that we are having around death and what comes later.  What is the possible model that each of us holds that gives us some sense of the possible, the mystery, the undiscovered country – a beautiful metaphor.  The title, Death Makes Life Possible, came from Deepak Chopra, MD, the co-producer of the film and a book project that supports the movie.  The movie explores the mystery of death.  How do different cultures hold it?  How do different religions and spiritual worldviews hold this idea of death?  Why do we die? And what comes next, if anything?

We spend some time in the film examining the shared, perennial qualities of diverse, and often conflicting, faith traditions and worldviews before moving into the science.  What does science have to say about the evolutionary nature of death? Death does make life possible.  We need death in order to maintain that great cycle of life.

Lisa: What has science shown about life, or the continuum of consciousness, beyond death?

Marilyn: We talked to scientists about the possibility that something survives bodily death: a soul, an identity, some kind of journey.  Yesterday at the Earthrise Retreat Center at the Institute of Noetic Sciences I had the privilege of meeting with Incan Indians from Peru who live up in the Highlands. (This interview took place in October 2013.)  They believe themselves to be the direct inheritors of a lineage line that was largely eradicated when the Conquistadors came.  So again, going back to our historical references, different continent, but equally interesting.  So for about 500 years, they went and hid in the mountains and it is only within the last few years that they have started to come out and to engage modernity with messages from their cultural understanding.

I talked with them about death and then that evening went to an art exhibit where my town in California is celebrating the tradition of the Day of the Dead, which is a practice that takes over for a month.  The Day of the Dead honors the dead as a parallel life.  It was interesting to me that these Indians, who are carrying a heritage 500 years away from direct communication with their descendants, has the seeds of the same model, the same cosmology or worldview as the Day of the Dead ceremonies.

So there is this very rich continuity between the living and the people who pass over and there is the belief that there is communication. There is no separation.  We find this in a lot of different traditions, that there is an active relationship between our departed loved ones and the way in which we carry on our lives.

Lisa: How does one study the soul?

Marilyn: We talk to our scientists at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, like Dean Radin, who have conducted studies on the psycho-physiology of mediums who claim to communicate with the departed and what is happening in their brains and bodies when they are having these experiences.  We present this information