Crib Death

(The following concerns Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (‘Crib Death’). A student of the New Way, who is a social worker in a programme that provides assistance to parents of victims of this bizarre death, has prepared an introduction with some data on the phenomenon. This is followed by two letters from Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet on the subject.)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (’Crib Death’) is the sudden and unexpected death of an apparently healthy infant, usually during a sleeping period, whose death remains unexplained after a case study and a thorough autopsy.

SIDS is the leading cause of death in the post-neonatal period, i.e. from 1 month to 1 year of life (in the USA), occurring more often in the cold months, with a slight predominance in males (as in many diseases). It occurs across all socio-economic lines and is more common among the poor of no matter what ethnicity. The highest incidence in the USA is among the Native Americans in Reservations, followed by Blacks and Hispanics. The lowest incidence is among Orientals.

When looking at those infants at greater risk, statistics reveal that they are more often born prematurely, are of low birth weight, their mothers are under 20 years of age, who smoke, who are drug addicted, who have had intra-uterine infections, elevated blood pressure. At the same time, there are many infants who die of SIDS whose mothers have not one of these features.

Because SIDS occurs without cry, without warning, there is no opportunity to prepare for it. A parent can turn away to prepare a bottle and return to find the infant lifeless. Resuscitation efforts are to no avail usually, and if an infant is revived it is ‘brain dead’ and succumbs in a matter of days. Parents’ grief is compounded by guilt and blame from others who create doubts through criticism of parental care or insinuations about the parent’s actions. Families are forced to deal with police, medical examiners and hospital personnel who must investigate such deaths and are not gentle.

Autopsies are done in order to rule out other causes of death.

Some statistics: 85% of deaths in infancy are due to SIDS. The other 15% are due to other causes. Rate: about 2 per 1000 live births. 7000 per year in the USA.


24 November 1986

…The point is the illness [Sleeping Sickness] came and went mysteriously. In a similar fashion there is this “Crib Death”. But to me the matter is even clearer in the latter. This is evidently a “decision” taken by the soul to withdraw. In a way this corresponds to the greater consciousness coming into being regarding death (and birth). It indicates a far greater awareness in the processes. That is, the infant is aware of what he has stepped into and “decides” to leave before he/she has forged “ties” – or a certain network of time-energy, which makes the enacting of such a decision possible. Between 1 and 6 months, provided this awareness exists, it is easier to leave the body, to “slip out” like one steps out of a dress. Usually it is done through the top of the skull, which is also facilitated by the fact that it is still “open”. But in any case, that opening is just indicative of the condition of being in early infancy, which is yet to be firmly “cemented” on earth, in Earth life.

These infants then desire to leave, perhaps because of the trying conditions and atmosphere of the Earth. They can do this easily if there are no connections made as yet with others, no conscious experiences lived in time and which begin to draw a network around the soul and rivet it to a collective karmic web. Hence the reason why these deaths occur at such a young age. It will also explain why there are no traces, no illnesses.

I have come across such situations in older people, two cases of such “deaths” that I knew of in Pondicherry, after the Mother left. But there is an age by which the enactment of these decisions becomes more difficult. Then a form of “suicide” is reverted to. I have discussed this with regard to the Auroville children in The Gnostic Circle (See Chapter 15) and their connection to the collective movement and karma.

I was wondering whether these deaths were occurring elsewhere in the world. If it is only in the USA that is doubly interesting, in its connection with Cancer…’

19 February 1987

I have gone over the material you sent on SIDS. From studying this it all seems to confirm my original feeling. There are certain significant details. Foremost is the fact that hardly any of these deaths occur in the first month. They begin then and increase until a peak at between two and four, and then peter out after six. Dapena significantly writes, “There is a clue in there if we only understood what it’s all about.”

Well, to me this is in order because if, as I more firmly than ever believe, we are dealing with voluntary withdrawals, then certain aspects of the process of birth have to be taken into consideration. I realise that what I write will have no effect on people who do not understand birth and death in terms of more or less conscious transitions from one plane to another. But whether this is accepted or not by the medical world, believe me, it is the only answer to this mystery.

You see, in the process of incarnation, various “layers” of consciousness must be gathered around a central axis, a nucleus, a seed, – or a soul, if you will. There is a critical transition when one diminishes the consciousness, a sort of tightening and confinement. Just like I described in the discussion on Sleeping Sickness. (See TVN, 2/1, April 1987) The individual soul repeatedly experiences this same process, each time a new birth comes about. Compared to the condition in a physical body confined to a delineated space, sojourn “on the other side” is akin to the Transcendent’s “freedom”. I think for this reason the human being is so obsessed with freedom.

When the moment comes to enter this physical plane of the 9 – or the densest part of creation – it is like a whirlpool: the consciousness is regrouping. That is, the mental and vital sheaths are being collected around the axis/soul, and a “materialisation” is engendered by the speed that the consciousness attains due to this tightening and confinement. It is during this phase that the vital and mental sheaths come into being. Remember that these sheaths disintegrate after death – sometimes quickly, sometimes more slowly, depending on the development, the focus of the previous life. A strongly vital person will retain his/her vital sheath for a longer period. Or else, something of that sheath may be passed on to a living person; or it remains in the atmosphere as a “ghost” and makes periodic appearances. But if there is no “axis” the apparition is hollow, a vacant shell, as it were. Any power it may appear to have is simply a projection from a living being – fear, for example.

So, when the time comes to reincarnate the soul requires these subtle sheaths – in particular the vital, which is indispensable for life on this planet. One can survive with a weak or even an absent mental sheath, but not the vital. The bizarre stories of zombies, for example, are cases in which a magician with certain knowledge calls a vital sheath of some dead person (perhaps recently deceased), or a sheath crystallised in the vital plane, into a dead body and animates the corpse in this way. The technique is known in India and is one of the lower powers a Tantrik can acquire.

Just imagine the process visually, like a whirlpool; and then you will come to understand that from a certain wideness there is an increasing tightening, to a point. This is what “drops into” the waiting physical vessel. There are separate dimensions here: above and below. The physical vessel is prepared below and awaits the soul, around which these sheaths are gathered. In a sense, they attach themselves to this axis. They are propelled and usually compelled to enter the waiting vessel. (Sri Aurobindo describes this so beautifully at the end of Book 11 in Savitri, when the Goddess takes birth again.)

But the transition is critical because the passage “puts one to sleep”. That is, the consciousness “falls asleep” in the transition. It is during this passage that the awareness of what constitutes the Beyond is lost. And this is the answer to why those SIDS babies do not leave immediately. It takes a while to adjust to the transition, to “awaken” to the new condition and to adjust to the confinement. A shock is experienced.

When one comes out of one’s body by a conscious process in the waking state, during the first experiences it is rather depressing because one becomes acutely aware of the heaviness of the physical. After all, in the subtle sheaths one can move through dense objects. There is no limitation in this sense, just as one can pass into other dimensions. All of that is lost when in the physical. And so, in the early stages effort has to be made to overcome a certain sense of unhappiness with our condition which appears to be so limited compared to the other. But this limitation has its own rewards.

These SIDS babies take a while before they realise where they are; and what their options are in this new condition. But, you see, the “decision” was taken on the other side, before the plunge through the waters of oblivion. It takes a while to recall that decision also.

This is why there are so few deaths in the first month but they begin immediately when this adjustment sets in and these babies then get down to work to find release. I would imagine that the longer it takes them the harder it would be for them to leave – the more complicated the process.

I can see why these two phenomena came to my awareness at the same time: Sleeping Sickness and SIDS. It is because in a sense they are related. That is, by understanding the plunge of the Transcendent through Sleeping Sickness (and Sri Aurobindo’s tapasya), you can understand better the process of incarnation of the individual soul, which will give you the answers to the how and why of many aspects of these SIDS.

The data are interesting. One aspect seems to point to the will. A weak will to live is why they encounter certain traces of a physical weakness – i.e. somewhat underweight, etc. I believe that these data are simply the result of over-scrupulous autopsies. That is, in the effort to find clues to these deaths, clearly these babies are put through tests that would not be done under normal conditions. Or, say babies who live, reach adolescence and beyond. If ALL babies were put through these exacting tests, I wonder how many who survive healthily and grow to a ripe age would also show the same signs of weakness, etc., as the SIDS baby. But I suppose this is taken into account in the data. Perhaps for this very reason they hesitate to blame the deaths on any of their findings and prefer to believe that the cause lies in a combination of malfunctions, however slight.

If however, a soul incarnates having already taken the decision to leave as soon as possible, you understand that this “decision” must affect the baby’s vitality to some degree. And it would not necessarily be marked. There would most likely be just traces, some disquieting hint of an undermining willessness. This undermining would seem to me to be thoroughly consistent with what medical examinations have unveiled regarding certain hints of weakness or underweight in these babies.

Then there is the other, perhaps more important aspect to the matter. This is the environment into which the plunge is made.

A baby and a child are extremely sensitive to the “psychic atmosphere” of their surroundings. Depressed atmospheres are readily felt by the baby and the child. This sensitivity lasts for each one different lengths of time. In some it continues for several, even more, years. For others a dullness sets in quickly – precisely as a protection, as a means to stay rooted in the body. This knowledge has far-reaching consequences because, you realise, it influences our ideas about child-care in subtle but significant ways. Because what is this psychic atmosphere? And, where lies the real answer to a psychically harmonious atmosphere?

You see, we have many ideas about these things. Sincere and serious attempts are made to understand and to create congenial conditions for the healthy, happy and fulfilling growth of a child. But often these ideas are far off the mark. An ignorance in certain key spheres produces these contrary effects – without any realisation that such is the case.

This could be a long discussion, so let’s leave it at that and return to our subject. A baby responds to an atmosphere which 99% of adults are oblivious to. But, this much is clear to all of us: the deprived classes of society carry an aura of deprivation around them. True. But the “atmosphere” I am referring to cuts across economic lines. As an example, take the deprived population of India. I am certain you have never seen anything like the poverty one finds in India. I can tell you, having travelled all over the world, that there is little comparable to the degree of abject poverty one finds here. And yet, that psychic depression is absent here. It is hard to believe at first, but after living for a while in India one realises this is so. And I often wonder if this is the reason this poverty drags on. Something continues to “smile” in these people. And that “smile” is perceptible, tangible. It creates an “atmosphere”.

In contrast, I have never found deprivation as depressing as what I witnessed in New York City in l981. My rational mind could clearly see that what I was witnessing was nothing compared to the starkest poverty of India. But I saw real human misery [in NYC]. The most miserable in fact. Squalor of the psyche more than the body. And this is far worse. To this the baby responds rather than the mere physical conditions. Obviously if we combine the two, as is often the case, we have the most abject conditions a soul can be born into.

And so, the data you sent, strangely enough, brought to mind a particular sorrowful experience I had a few years back. Going through one of the weekly news magazines, I came upon an article about the condition of American Indians on the Reservations. There were some statistics given, i.e. the high rate of alcoholism, and such things. But more moving of all was a photo of one of the women, apparently drunk on beer, throwing beer bottles around. You know, I have never forgotten the face of that woman. The pain of the soul…so evident. Compared to the Indian (of India) deprived class, her economic condition appeared reasonably adequate. In fact, she appeared overfed. In contrast, here we see, we live next to people who have not even one meal a day. But her psychic pain, her racial awareness of a lost state of beatitude, was so evident on her face, in her being. I realised then that the American Indian is by far the most unfortunate ethnic group in America. Their fall would be proportionate to the level of their former condition, which in many ways was so high, so close to the Earth and healthy living. This reminds me of the Indians I saw in Peru, in Bolivia – that same psychic sadness. Or in Mexico. More-so in countries that have known such formidable civilisations.

A soul, incarnating in the body of an American Indian, would immediately respond to that sorrow, that particular type of psychic depression more than any other. It is fortified, in a sense, by the collective condition, which adds power to it.

And so, I was not surprised to read in the data that you sent how much higher the incidence of SIDS is among American Indians, almost double that of other lower socio-economic groups. I am convinced that it is because of the racial, collective psyche that fortifies the depression and makes the atmosphere more tangible in this respect for the infant. But, once again, this could be a long discussion….

To conclude, I just want to mention that I think they are exaggerating in their effort to locate cases of SIDS throughout history, through a scrutiny of scriptures, etc. Certainly some of the cases in the past which were thought to be death by smothering (“overlaying”) were probably SIDS – but probably the majority were not. And the important point, in our case, is the increase, the collective phenomenon; and in particular the fact that these deaths are so much more numerous in the USA. 200 per year in New York City alone! And how to prevent something over which we seem to have no control?

It is clear that we have to improve conditions of life on this planet, so that we cease to “frighten” souls away. We have to create a congenial psychic atmosphere. The question is, what is that, and how do we attain it?

About the strange synchronisation in the “crib deaths” with the mother’s birthday, etc. I think this is most probably due to a certain horoscopic combination [between the two] which permits or sets such events in motion – a harmony of time, quoi. Not all infants have such horoscopic combinations with their parents. But the ones that do may respond to these synchronistic impulses.

And I wonder if the fact that these deaths occur more to teenage mothers isn’t because they themselves are less stable, less rooted; and so the process is somehow easier when there is less maturity, the network is not so consolidated.

You know, yogis learn to die voluntarily, to leave in the same way [as SIDS]. Infants know how instinctively, but later forget. The process of living roots us here. Then we have to use dramatic means to leave – by suicide. Or else, an act of will to fall ill and go by this means…’.


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