This time of year is really difficult for me. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and have to use a ‘happy light’, but it’s not just that–these short days and the odd winter light make me think of death, not birth; so while Christians celebrate the arrival of Jesus (which, in fact, happened in September according to historical records), I am contemplating the endings of things.
I accept my particular mindset and the inevitability of my mood this time of year, but sometimes, I really need help. That happened yesterday. I was tired of my general tendency to believe that anything really good that happens to me or to my little family will be followed swiftly by some kind of cosmic punishment. It looks like we just bought a house for the first time since we lost our home in 2013, via a you-have-no-choice short sale. I have been so overwhelmed by this that I managed to convince myself that since something good just happened, I will either get cancer, or a truck will flatten me crossing the street from Starbucks, or we’ll have some catastrophic event that will drain all of our money and put us in the street, or some other variation on that general theme.
I parked near the soon-to-be new house and walked a few minutes until I reached a trail behind Mulholland (this is one, big reason we bought the house–the location allows me to walk into the hills). I scurried into the scrubby, fragrant underbrush and soon was well hidden among the tumbleweeds, oak trees and prickly bushes whose name I never look up. The goldfinches were cheeping and extracting seeds from dry weeds, a scrub jay cried out nearby, and assorted hummingbirds zoomed by me in their incessant search for juicy flowers. Then I talked to God.
I have conversations with God on a fairly regular basis; but a caveat: please, dear Reader, don’t see me as a Bible-thumping fundamentalist–I am very liberal in my spiritual views and although I do identify as Christian, I do not evangelize. This time, I was really emotional, crying out in the wilderness, and completely, spiritually naked. I said that I was tired of not allowing myself to be happy. I asked for permission to let that go, along with the main reason that I put myself through such torment: fear and insecurity. The events of the last three years–crises with my kid, the loss of our home, issues at work, illnesses in the family, financial challenges, and more–had conspired to turn me into a terrified, depressed, fatalistic pessimist who had lost all faith in the world around her, and worse, in herself.
I also cried out about Death, which I think is deep down the root of all my fears. If I have such limited time to learn, to figure so many things out, then I am not going to succeed, and if it all ends in death, then why bother to evolve at all? This was a crisis of faith in its purest form: if you’re going to end my existence, God, then why I am here at all? What’s the point? I made Him a promise: I am going to let go of my anxiety and my fear to the best of my ability, but please, help me to understand these things I have asked You. What happened after that was life changing, and I am going to be processing it for quite awhile.
As I walked home, I ‘heard’ a voice that asked me: do you remember who you were at 15? Think about your emotions then, the way you thought things through, your core personality, that girl in Spain who was absorbing her surroundings at light speed, that girl who first found God watching an image of the Virgin Mary surrounded in candles, flowers and gold. Is that girl gone? “No,” I said aloud, “she is me.” That person who is and has always been me is NOT SUBJECT TO TIME. Time passing has not changed Kirsten’s fundamental characteristics, personality, preoccupations, emotional identity or spiritual essence. All that has changed is her biology: she doesn’t look exactly the same. That’s the only difference.
That which is not subject to time is, therefore, not subject to death. Death cannot happen without the passage of time; the passage of time ‘kills’ organisms via entropy. Entropy cannot occur without the concept of moving forward in time. Consciousness is not a time or entropy affected concept or phenomena. The source of consciousness is outside of the physical organism that expresses it, just as radio waves exist outside of the radio itself, or television transmissions are not “in” the television set itself. What allows for the show to play is not the show itself. “Kirsten” is expressed at the moment in a physical body that changes and will pass away; but “Kirsten” is consciousness, emotion, spirit and soul–none of which are dependent on her body to continue to exist.
We have become so obsessed with the question of HOW this happens–how a conscious personality moves from one state to another, or one body to another, that we have missed the important point: WE DON’T DIE. By “we,” I mean our essential, defining characteristics, our ‘anima’, our consciousness, our essence, and our eternal selves, that which recognizes itself as a particular expression of the universe. Think for a moment: go back to a point in time and ask yourself WHO you were; is that person gone? Has he or she been obliterated by the passage of time? The core individual who recognizes him or herself as the same over time is not part of your body. Do you mourn the stray hair that washes down the drain? Do you cry over your loss of self when you cut your nails? Of course not, you say; but what about my brain? There are people with less than half a brain who function normally. But that’s not the point; your brain is filtering and expressing consciousness and is quite necessary in that process. It is not, however, producing it.
You have always been you and will always be you, whether you die once or a thousand times, whether you are born once or a thousand times. Your birth and your death do not make you who you are. They are physical transitions necessary for the version of you that is here now.
One would expect that this epiphany would bring instant relief, but it has not. If fact, the consequences are huge and daunting. If I can’t die, then I can’t ever stop existing, even is my existence is painful or emotionally difficult. There is no stopping the process or opting out when I’m sick of being in the world, or ‘being’ in general. This kicked off a kind of existential panic like I’ve never felt in my life. The cry in the wilderness was for the end of pain, which, if the answer had been different, would end at the very least with my death. The answer received, however, was of a very different nature. Since there is no end in sight, I have to handle the pain, the challenges, and the fears and the insecurities without the comfort of knowing that it will all vanish when I die.
So there is no choice. You have to progress, you have to work through all the dramas and traumas until you find peace. That could take more than this life, and probably will take a few more–God knows how many. Although is seems appealing to have another and another shot at life, there is also something deeply frightening about eternal life. You simply cannot choose to stop it and you cannot escape it. Last night, I was reading something dismal about global warming that said 80% of us will be dead by 2100 due to climate change. I told Ty that I was glad I would be dead by then and wouldn’t have to experience it. Then I remembered the lesson from earlier today: there is no way to escape life. You might very well be there to experience it. You might be one of the people that helps the planet recover, or you might have some other role in the global catastrophe. You don’t, however, get to skip out on a problem you helped to create.
I am so overwhelmed by knowing this. I wrote about this concept over the years, but it was always a plausible theory and not a lived reality. I connected in such a strong way with the universal intelligence that I was granted an answer to the most fundamental question. Living with that answer is the next, huge challenge. I will be ‘unpacking’ this insight for quite awhile, always hoping that anyone who reads this will share their own experience of asking a difficult question and receiving a transformative answer. If this particular question has also been answered for you, I hope that you will tell me about it in the comments section below.
With much love and respect,
Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD