After reading countless books on the survival of consciousness, quantum mechanics and the Fifth Dimension, transpersonal psychology, collected stories from health care workers and surgeons, biographies of forensic pathologists, case histories collected by lay people, doctors who have branched into metaphysics and soul survival, and psychologists who study reincarnation, I am left with a strange confusion and less certainty than I thought I would have at this point in my life.
I started this quest because I wanted to know that there was something else to life than simply living out one’s life span and then disappearing. Honestly, life wouldn’t mean terribly much to me if it ended with nothing. Time is running out for us all, but once we are firmly entrenched in “middle age” (oh, how I hate that term), we acquire a unique perspective on mortality–we now understand intimately that time is not eternal, that we don’t have forever to accomplish our goals or chase our dreams. When I think about Kirsten at 15, I realize that it was 1980–and it doesn’t seem very long ago. 1980 was 29 years ago. If that feels like yesterday, then the next 29 years will fly by and I won’t feel all that different or evolved. I will be 73 years old. The math seems ridiculous, impossible. I always thought that I had all the time in the world, that my death would be unimaginably far off, that I would always feel like I was 15 with an eternity ahead of me. Now, of course, time has become frighteningly finite; there is a sense of urgency now about life’s projects.
The problem is, life’s projects make little sense to me and carry far less meaning if they all culminate in nothingness. The shock of late is the realization that much of what I wanted to do cannot be accomplished in my life span. I watch my parents and others I love and understand that they have not evolved to some new level of enlightenment that makes death somehow acceptable and desired; far from it. We are all still teenagers in aging bodies, as confused now about the point of it all as we were 20, 30, 50 years ago. My elementary mistake as a teenager and young adult was thinking–and truly believing–that everyone undergoes a process of transformation and evolution as they age, preparing them for every stage as it comes; by the time we are actively dying, we would–should–be at such an enlightened state we are ready for death and filled with joy at the prospect of The Transition. This is not true for me or the vast majority of the people I know. Not only are we not evolving into saints or seers, we are often devolving, bec0ming more fearful of death the closer it gets. How is it possible that we are not only the same people we were decades ago, but also reflecting the worst tendencies, beliefs and insecurities of our youth? Not only is it possible, I see it happen all the time, in myself and in others. A note of caution, though: this is a huge generalization and might not apply at all to the person reading this.
That brings me to the multitude of books out there purporting to either prove or suggest that something (what?) survives the death of the body. These texts usually divide into three general tendencies: either they ask you to believe a series of very complelling stories, (these range from highly credible authors working in various health care professions to authors who work as mediums or psychics) or they elaborate complex theories of reality to support the existence of consciousness without a body (the authors that base these conjectures on quantum physics as their theoretical support), OR they take a compelling body of evidence that has been collected through the scientific method of observation and testing and dare to advance a theory on the survival of consiousness (think Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, working on children’s past life memories). Of all the above categories, the most compelling is the latter. Work of this type has been carried out in the field of parapsychology for over 150 years, yet few people can name any of the founding members of the Society for Psychical Research or know that these men were respected researchers in their disciplines: doctors, scientists and psychologists, to name a few.
I have a compelling reason to WANT TO BELIEVE. Like Fox Mulder, I am biased towards favorable evidence while at the same time realizing that I can’t cast my critical faculties to the ether in search of the Truth. However, even given my particular hopes and biases, I can’t say that I am convinced beyond doubt by any of the books I have read. There are books who promised me that I would come away CONVERTED to the reality of survival, but I am not. I wish I were; I wish more than anything that all the evidence out there had finally and completely handed me the answers I need. What I come away with is not entirely satisfying; after To Die For, I was overwhelmed with theory and underwhelmed with clear connections to survival of the soul. With The End of Materialism by Charles T. Tart, the author’s often-expressed doubts about his own thesis pulled me down into pessimism; with all the books that tell amazing stories about Near Death Experiences and contacts with relatives and loved ones, I am fascinated, but not sure where to go next with my thought process or understanding of the ultimate significance of these stories: are they proof or simply suggestions of something that is ill defined? These accounts are not backed by scientific research or investigation in the vast majority of the cases. I feel as if I were being asked to take these stories as articles of faith. I can’t bring myself to do that. With Raymood Moody’s books on Near Death Experiences (Life After Life is now a classic on the subject), I end up wondering–as he does–what these experiences MEAN. They don’t tell me anything about a separate, objective reality for the soul, nor can he define soul (no one can); therefore, I have more questions than answers at the end of the journey.
The books that stick with me, that affect me at the deepest level and shake up my lingering materialism, are the ones by Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker. The studies of children’s past life memories that Stevenson conducted since the early sixties are as close to convincing proof of soul survival as one is likely to find anywhere. The book Old Souls, based upon a journalist’s travels with Stevenson, is paradigm-breaking reading. It will leave you in awe of the possibilities . . . but those possibilities are disturbing and unclear. The reality of reincarnation is so close to definitively proven by Stenvenson and Tucker that it shatters what we might have assumed about life after death.
Although I plan to write much more on Stevenson and Tucker in future posts, I will say here that nothing compares to the meticulous work that Stevenson carried out for decades. The conclusion? It appears that souls recycle into new bodies on a regular basis. When they do, they arrive intact with their previous personality solidly entrenched in the current body. This is not a happy, wonderful rebirth, but often a painful reliving and retelling of past trauma and abuse. The memories of these “old souls” gradually disappear as the child enters the middle years of childhood, usually around 6 or 7. What this means is that consciousness finds a new home–how often is unknown–but then departs it at a certain point. Is this something like possession? What happens to this separate consciousness when its memories fade? Or, is the child actually an amalgam of two souls who gradually meld into one? Is survival of death only temporary, and reserved for those who suffered a traumatic death? How is the decision made regarding which child to “occupy”? are these children TRULY “old souls,” or new ones attempting to throw off an invader from another lifetime?
This is what keeps me awake at night. My daughter had, apparently, memories from another lifetime which she repeated to certain family members under the right circumstances, but would not elaborate on due to their painful nature. Now, she has no memory of any of this (I will discuss this in a later post as well). The person she apparently was and the person she is now have fully integrated–but what does that mean for the previous personality? If I die and am reborn, what of “me” is left in the new soul? Do I persist, or do I transform my spirit into a new identity? Is there any way to say that this person is still “me”?
Ah, I could go on; but I will stop here and leave you with these introductory statements. I thank you for you patience in reading this if you have come this far. I hope you’ll join me as I continue to push the envelope for what is possible, what is real, what is ephemera, and what is somewhere in between, floating in Spiritualism’s infamous ether.