It’s instructive to look at what a culture believes and completely deconstruct it. I find that we are lied to by the dominant culture on a regular basis; social media, media in general, all the images and words that we process in infinite doses teach us a version of reality which, I suspect, is skewed at best and completely false at worst.
One of the biggest assumptions that we carry around with us concerns the afterlife. You are taught to fall into two camps: the ‘scientist,’ who believes there is no rational basis for a belief in the continuation of consciousness, or the ‘believer’ who is either following a religious doctrine based on faith and ancient scripture or the ‘New Ager’ who has dragged the consciousness raising, flower power philosophies of the 1960s and 1970s into the present day. In the latter cases, you are considered by academics, intellectuals and amateur, ghost hunting ‘scientists’ nominally following a method, to be gullible or simply ignorant.
Is the choice really a scriptural ‘Heaven’, total obliteration or some fuzzy ‘white light’ scenario where you are kindly judged by a benevolent God who gently leads you into a non-denominational paradise where your loved ones await you? Do any of these versions make sense of the life you are living? For me, these are not real alternatives but fantasies generated by tradition or desire. I see things quite differently. For one, I tend to think that Heaven and Hell were always meant to be allegorical, describing a state of mind rather than a state of being ‘somewhere else.’ We create Hell on Earth on a regular basis. In fact, it is relatively easy to find Hell if you listen to the news or frequent social media sites. As you navigate the photos of starving children, abused and beaten dogs and melting ice populated with dying polar bears, it seems that God took off a long time ago.
Unless Hell is right here, right now. Why are some of us in Hell when others are so close to Heaven? I don’t know. Maybe God is watching to see what we do. Do we ignore evil in all of its forms? Do we make an attempt, no matter how seemingly futile, to provide comfort and aid?
If Hell is here, surely Heaven is, too. We know that when we hold our child or sleep surrounded by our devoted pets or when we simply contemplate the stunning beauty of nature. Both Hell and Heaven are states of mind that lead to states of being. We can visit both places whenever we want. Sometimes, you can visit Hell simply with one, destructive, pernicious thought. The opposite applies, too.
The Afterlife is not After. It is right here, right now, all of the time. Death, that big, scary concept that keeps us all running in a million directions attempting to evade or outwit it, is a minimal experience that has deluded us all. I remember death. I revisit past deaths in dreams. I have a repeating dream where I realize that I am about to die, and I experience all the terror of the death, usually the one where a giant wave sweeps me out to sea and drowns me. The fascinating aspect of those dreams is that after I die, I realize that I didn’t die. There is this huge sense of relief of having endured the physical death only to come out of it as alive, or more so, that I was before. The second life is completely devoid of fear. I realize that death is an experience, but not a final reality. When I realize this in these repeated dreams, I also feel that I wasted most of my life fearing something that didn’t change anything about me at all.
Piecing together dreams and memories of before I was born, it seems that we ‘wake up’ to a very similar reality with exactly the same identity and personality blueprint. The circumstances are different. But I am the same. Or, as Ortega y Gasset put it, “Yo soy yo y mis circunstancias” (I am myself and my circumstances). I find this to be the most succinct and perfect way of understanding identity. You have always been, and always will be, you; only your backdrop changes. The fact that I can’t explain how this works–whether this is reincarnation, transmigration of souls, or something else–does not invalidate it. There are some things you know on the deepest level of your soul, at the level of your basic humanity, in the blueprint that God (or Spirit) created and that you spend lifetimes attempting to figure out.
There is this deeper reality that invalidates death. I think we all know that it’s there, like a memory that we intuit but can’t capture, an experience we had but can’t put into words. It’s that feeling when you walk down a street you have never seen in this life, yet you can predict every landmark around the bend. It’s when you know something before it happens. It is also when time seems to be the strangest illusion of all, always appearing to move forward, even as you float in a matrix of eternity.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD/PHW