I cannot speak for anyone but myself, so please take this with that in mind. The fact of death brings me face to face with metaphysics. Not just the theories and beliefs, but the actual fact that we are here today and gone tomorrow. Gone where?
I have surveyed everything I’ve been able to find. I’ve read the mystics, scientists, near-death accounts, reputed cases of reincarnation, heaven & hell etc. etc. As fascinating as all this has been, it took me long time to ask myself the obvious questions: what am I trying to know and why do want to know it? I’ve been wanting to know where I came from and where I am going. Mostly the latter. Why? Because the unknown is scary.
I’ve realized that a basic fact of my existence is that I don’t know where I came from, nor what will happen at the end. I seem to have been popped into existence and will be removed at some point. Neither of these fundamental events are in my control (other than suicide – and that does not solve the problem of where I go). I’ve come from mystery and will be going to mystery. Faced with this fundamental ignorance, I can construct all kinds of scenarios, choose one and make it my belief system and declare the mystery solved. But I know that in fact, I do not know what happens after I die. Maybe nothing happens. Maybe I simply “am not”. In which case, there is nothing to fear, literally.
So for me, this abyss which will engulf me at the end has been so unsettling that I have pushed it aside. It is the natural fear of the unknown at work since it represents complete lack of control. Death happens when it happens. This points to the value of living as beautiful a life as possible. That I am here now is the only reality I know so it seems wise to make the best of it. It is one of the reasons I have focused on serenity as a central feature of living well. Living with inner turmoil and suffering is not very appealing, especially in the face of my ignorance of what may await me after my time.
I have found it immensely valuable to admit my ignorance of what may or may not be beyond this life. It makes my time here and living it peacefully so much more important. I know that many people have beliefs about the afterlife about which they feel certain. In some ways, I envy them. It must be comforting to think that one knows what is coming. But I do not know and this admission has helped me place great value on learning serenity.
I leave you with a poem from Kahlil Gibran. It helps create beauty out of the mystery.
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like the seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)