Thursday, August 19, 2010

Life After Death: Your Thoughts?

There's not a human on earth who doesn't have his or her opinion about what happens after death. Those who say we can't know what happens still have theories about it, believe me. It's too important a question not to consider now and then.

And of course, the truth is that we can't know what will happen after we die. We're only puny humans and we can't see very far.

Recently, I had the good fortune to work with a renowned Quebecois medium. She spoke only French but when she allowed the dead spirits of my parents to flow through her, I could understand her words as if she was speaking English or I was hearing my parents' voices myself. They spoke in characteristic ways, and referred to things that the medium could not possibly know, things that were critically important to me. It shook up my understanding of the afterlife.

Many traditional animist societies included ancestors, those who had recently or long ago died and whose spirits remained local to the community and interested in its welfare. In some cultures, the ancestors were revered or worshipped. In others, the ancestors would intervene to help relatives or harm enemies. Contemporary animists I have met, however, are concerned with our relationship to living nonhumans, and don't think too much about our relationship to gods or the human dead.

Although I am a follower of gods and other greater-than-human beings, I had never considered that the soul, that expression of spirit that is me, could survive death. I imagined that the spirit would dissipate, as the flesh dissipated, and would be scattered among new material forms. In other words, I did not believe in a soul or spiritual personhood that existed beyond a particular material form. Jack, on the other hand, has long believed in reincarnation, and I know other people I respect, my belle-mère not least of these, who believe in the survival and reincarnation of the soul.

What do you think? I sure would like to know because I'm not sure what to think about life after death. Please leave your ideas as a comment here. I appreciate your input.


Anonymous said...

I TOTALLY believe in life after death. Starting from when my mother used to tell the story about when my father was in the Navy in WWII and she lived at his house with his mom and dad and sisters. One of his sisters had kidney disease and she was dying in the house. My mom slept upstairs in the attic but could hear the "death rattle". She was soooo scared. After she died, she was laid out in the house like they did back then. She couldn't sleep she was so frightened. Then one night, she was laying in the bed and an "angel" as she called it floated into her room. She said she had a white flowing gown on and she laid down beside her and told her not to be afraid. After that, she wasn't afraid anymore. She said it was my father's sister, Lilly. That was her name. I believe her. She isn't one of these people who believe in all kinds of outrageous things. I have always believed that there is a place that we go to after this life. I think heaven is what is heaven to us. What would make us happy with our God there since all of us interpret God in a different way.

Anonymous said...

As always I enjoy reading your blog - it provokes me to think, and learn, and grow in capacity to understand, the very things you were talking about...just like when we got together at a diner to talk. I have a faint smile on my face as I think of you and process your ideas.

I am at a loss as to what I think about death. My father is 91 and my mother 89 and I may soon may be blessed with some insight when I have to face their passing. My mother believes she'll see her mother and father and siblings in heaven, that they will be rejoined and her sadness at their early passing and her feelings of loss will be replaced with pure joy. My father thinks very differently, both products of a catholic upbringing. I am quiet on the subject.

EmilyJean said...

I'm glad that you had this experience to open your mind to the possibility of life after death. You know that I've always believed in eternal life, and reincarnation as part of the overall plan. I believe that the universe was created by Love and that each one of us has a soul that is a unique and important spark of that Love. God/Love/Life are all eternal . . . ever-growing and evolving, like the spiral that so beautifully symbolizes spiritual growth and evolution.
There are many, many wonderful stories told by people who have seen or heard from dead loved ones, and those who have had near-death experiences. I believe that people are given these experiences so they will share them, to give hope, faith, and understanding to the rest of us. I believe that the reason Jesus died was not to "save us from our sins" but to return in his spiritual body and save us from our fear of death.

Anonymous said...

I am struck that the medium could do what you said, specific enough to know you were not being psyched out. It made me wnat to go to her too and talk to my deceased partner and sons' other mom. I so often wonder "where" seh really is. I think of the soul out in the universe as well, and can sometimes see/feel the places/situations where her presnece may be.... but the idea of her soul somehow being consituted enough to actually channel through someone is kind of exciting. My grandma was always totally clear there is a heaven and was totally clear that she would see my grandfather when she got there and they would sing camp meeting songs together. I always envied her that certainty. Raising two kids with the death of their mom and trying in any way to explain something I also don't get was always painful. Partly we don't want to feel loss, acknowledge someone is gone... but maybe they really aren't/ I am not abel to walk between worlds, though i wish I could. so I have to suspend cynacism (which I can readily do) when I htink about a medium. But I believe you so i am intrigued.

LLB said...

I have been a medium for many many years... though I do not call it mediumship but embodyment now. I learned how to do it quite by accident with a freind who was wishing to attempt various techniques, of doing channeling. I was not sure what to beleive about it at the time, but it made me nervous and I didnt really want much to do with it, but as always he talked me into trying it. We learned two practical techniques, allowing the entities to enter and work with our bodies, which he taught me and a method of seeing calarivoyantly which I was taught by an old teacher to see spirits of the dead, which up untilt hat point had never really worked well for me. What ended up happening changed my life forever, and gave me an understanding that the world is infused with spirit and can be interacted with and interacts with us. I sat and watched spirits of the dead walk into my freinds body like putting on a costume and move his facial muscles, speak with his vocal cords, move his hands and arms, a face superimposed on his face. We took turns "seeing" and embodying different beings. Some where none to freindly, some lost and in pain. I started to see how the dead can influence or even harm the living, and that much of what is understood by mediums is true, or at the very least a phenomena that can be preceived and explored. I explored that work for many years, helping people wiht their dead loved ones, then was contacted by more and more other than human persons, from dieties and fairy folk to dieities and I began to have at that point a shift from mediumship to shamanry, from possession to embodyment. I started to see that we are all one, that space and time does not matter in the slightest as beings of energy, what most call spirit or soul, and I could be anything I had developed a strong relationship with, i began to acknowlegde that I am more of a cooperative of many beings then a singular person. My body is for being shared with many beings who wisht o help, from ealges and wolves, to deities and the dead.

Life after death? Well after all these years I am still uncertain what either of these terms means singularly, I think its important to perpetuate the mystery at all costs....

Me, of Course said...

Believing in the afterlife is a step further into the allowance of the "irrational." Talking to trees seems somehow more believable. You can sense them with your sixth sense. They are obviously alive, and have their own intelligence, as in reproduction, evolution, healing, use of humans as tool for improving themselves (think Michael Pollan). It is easy to believe that humans have simply lost touch with the animal and plants and rocks around us (think Derrick Jensen). But when it comes to truly letting go of our scientific conditioning, it's hard not to wonder where all the souls go, if the souls of the plants go somewhere at death as well, why in the world we would maintain this consciousness/soul that is essentially just flying neural electric currents. What in the hell would we do for eternity? How are everlasting souls created? Are earthlings the only ones who go to heaven? Are our heavens mixes with other creatures' heavens? If not, then why do we think we'd get to see our family? Is heaven a solo trip where we live out our fantasy essentially alone?

Yet people come to belief in an afterlife all the time! And they show anecdotal proof. And why should we not be able to discard Western scientific logic and begin to believe only what we sense? Why would we believe an electron microscope more than our unaided (unhindered?) eyesight? Well, many do. And many others, like myself, are uncertain if they shall ever be able to shake off science. Maybe when we experience it for ourselves. Maybe when we are older and wiser....

Jack said...

There have been too many experiences of unseen beings (ghosts, nature spirits, angels, departed friends) as well as a strong sense of myself as spirit to not believe in a life after this life. This life is yet another afterlife - and when we die we are born into another world with another body with another set of advantages and limitations. Quantum field experiments show that particles get 'entangled' and, no matter how distant they are from each other, they maintain a relationship and are effected by what happens to the other particle. If particles can maintain coherence and memory, it is reasonable and logical that the sum of who we are is never lost. There is no death - only change.

Aunt Patty said...

Don't the scientists say that matter is never destroyed, it just changes form, into energy, and back to matter. I suspect "we" follow the same laws. Whatever we actually are--physical bodies plus something else?--the probability is that existence continues in a changed state, possibly one we can recognize, possibly one we can't yet recognize, although many of us long to be able to. Don't you think it's safe to say that we don't yet really undertand or know all that we are in the state we call life? So it's pretty hard to be clear about what the next state would be or how it would be. It is hard to jump from the seeming realness of our state of physical being to a state with so little sense of realness--not much data about it. Our traditional stories and pictures help us cope with this vast unknowing, and I think in many ways they may serve as working theories to test. We just may not have developed effective sensors yet or appropriate test equipment to detect whatever there is to detect. Before there was equipment to detect X-rays, for all intents and purposes, X-rays did not exist for humans. Now, we easily detect and use them. Let's keep thinking about it and looking for ways to detect whatever there is.

puny human said...

Thanks so much for all your comments. I am still torn between what I was taught as a kid (a materialist-rationalism) and my personal experience, which reaches beyond the material to the realm of all possibility.

My friend Warm Summerrain speaks for a more scientific point of view. He wrote:

"I think we’re it. I think as a planet, we’re isolated. I think we as a human race are alone on this biosphere space ship planet earth travelling haplessly through the solar system as a natural phenomenon unrelated to external entities, gods, or other supreme beings. I would not describe us as puny humans. I believe mankind is an animal that evolved naturally on this planet, has become aware, understood his situation and is moving forward at an intellectually astounding rate. I know we differ on this next point and I will relate it to you with every respect for your (or anyone else’s) beliefs. One of the natural primative urges in the human brain is to create a god to help in the understanding of things which at the time are not understandable. Whether it be the sun, the moon, some human/animal hybrid fantasy, some hopeful construction of an afterlife or some human who happened to be very exceptional. I no longer accept that as a believable philosophy for myself. I do accept the philosophy that there is a spiritual connection between people and I agree that there is a spiritual part of humans, however the specifics of that will have to wait for another time."

It's interesting to me that we all have such various understandings of life after death. Mystery it is, and mystery it will remain, until such time as we experience it first hand.
Best wishes to all,

Anonymous said...

I work as a chaplain for hospice and often have discussions with my patients and their famiies about life, death, and life-after-death. I am both a believer and a sceptic about most spiritual matters. The concept of life beyond our physical body feels right to me, but reincarnation and kharma as we understand it feels too simplistic. I have been present at many deaths and no two are the same. However, I am always deeply moved by the sacred nature of the transition. And, I know many people who have had dreams, visions, and other communication with those who have died.

puny human said...

Thanks for your comment anonymous chaplain. I also think, as Walt Whitman wrote, that "death is different from what anyone supposes . . . and luckier!" When my oldest daughter was around 4, she began having frightening seizures at night. They eventually stopped occurring, but during the worst of it, I was sitting with her in the blackness of night and she asked, with tears in her voice, "What if I die? What will happen to me?"

My own parents, their recent visit notwithstanding, saw no reason to comfort their daughters with pretty stories of the afterlife, and I had spent many childhood nights shivering in my lonely fear of death. I felt at a loss to answer. Then, in a sudden epiphany, I understand enough to be able to comfort her:

Honey, I said, I don't know much about death, but this I know for certain: Just as I was here to hold you and take care of you when you were born into this life, there will be a mommy to hold and take care of you when you die into the next.

I hope I will be able to remember this when it is my turn to die, and that I will be able to die with grace and confidence.

Thanks for your work at hospice.

Adam said...

I've started a thread on this over on the society of animists forum because it something that has cropped up on several occasions in different places and forums... pop over and chip in :-)

Samuel McMillen said...

Your comments are very enlightening to me since they represent a totally different point of view from mine. My world view begins with an ontological, self-existent tri-une God who has spoken. I grew up in the CAR among animists, so I understand your point of view, but my concept of life after death is informed by the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Very interesting site nevertheless.