Some people don’t like it when I say I don’t know what happens after death. Every time I post something on Facebook about being okay with not knowing what happens next, I get a flood of emails expressing everything from sympathy to outrage. How can I be a “spiritual” person and not espouse a belief about what happens after death?
The “how” of this is really pretty simple: I really don’t know what happens next. I concede that all of the posited scenarios are possible: perhaps I will become a being-without-a-body in some other world or dimension; maybe what happens next is very much shaped and determined by what I do here now; it is possible that some essential and non-material aspect of myself will be (and has been) reborn in other lives. In fact, in my early shamanic training I did some “past life regressions.” What interested me most wasn’t whether what I experienced was evidence of past lives, (perhaps I was drawing on my own or the collective unconscious) but why those particular stories came and what insights they offered about living my life now.
I have great respect for others’ beliefs, and I can see how having a belief about what happens after death could, for some, make bearing the challenges of this life easier. If I had experienced the excruciating pain of losing a child or a beloved spouse to death, a belief in an afterlife where a future reunion was possible might be the only way to continue and bear the sorrow of such a loss.
But right now, this is what I’ve got:
I experience a Presence within and around me that is both what I essentially am and yet larger than myself. And my experience of this Presence is always one of Love. Because of this, because that Presence I was taught as a child to call God (and now sometimes call the Great Mystery, the Sacred Wholeness, the Divine, or Awareness) holds me with tenderness and mercy, I am not afraid of what happens next. Whatever it is, I have faith that it’ll be okay.
When I’ve viewed the body of a loved one after they’ve died, it has seemed to me that something- something essential to who they were- was “gone.” We could call it soul or spirit. It is certainly energy. And because we know that energy is not “lost” but simply changes form I assume that whatever is “gone” is now somewhere else, in some other form (although terms like “somewhere” and “form” may be completely irrelevant for what actually happens.)
To be human is, by definition, to be an embodied soul. What and where then is disembodied soul when the body is no more? Perhaps, when we die, some or all of the animating energy that makes us who and what we are as humans, merges with a vast, undifferentiated field of energy when the embodied aspect of being dies and disintegrates, returning to the earth. Or perhaps energy/soul/spirit flows into the forms- the trees and earth and people- in the immediate vicinity and beyond. Some form of these two scenarios make as much sense to me as heaven or multiple lives.
Here’s the problem: we tend to be understandably attached to the idea that some identifiable experience of an individuated self survives death. And maybe it does. But we can posit other possibilities that involve no such retention of personal identity. The energy that I identify as “me” will “go” somewhere- but whether or not it will retain any experience or awareness that feels like “me”. . . well, I don’t know. But. . . . I suspect if it doesn’t. . . . it will truly be okay.
On the other hand, all I have been and done, given and received has energetically made some impression or contribution to the field of energy that exists. So, perhaps, in that sense something of a particular life does remain and echo infinitely into the field of consciousness. This would be consistent with my own wonderful experience of communicating with what seemed to me to be my deceased grandfather.
Of course, if you consider the size of the universe and our relatively miniscule and brief existence as individual humans. . . . well, it puts that potential effect into perspective. Still, we do know that it is at least mathematically possible that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the globe can set up a wind pattern that results in a hurricane on the other side of the world- so perhaps we should not underestimate the impact one life may have on the total field of being into eternity.
My best guess is that anything we come up with from our current limited and necessarily at least somewhat attached perspective is. . . . well, just our best guess. I don’t know. And I am okay with not knowing. I am also okay with other folks believing deeply in a particular scenario, although I wince a little when those beliefs are offered as “knowledge” presumed to be shared by all “spiritual” people.
I’m okay with differing beliefs if those beliefs do not foster a lack of compassion for or actual hostility toward those who do not share them. Because that’s where the spiritual rubber hits the road for me: How does what you believe- about what happens after death or anything else- help you live a more compassionate life that contributes to the alleviation of suffering- for yourself, for others and in the world?
For me, choosing to stay with not knowing helps me be more compassionate with the losses we experience in our human lives.
So I’m okay with not knowing.
~ Oriah (c) 2012