Tonight I’m teaching a class whose theme is Immortality. We’re going to be talking about life after death, what it might be like to live without a human body and what we teach about all that. Mostly it ends up being a discussion of the students’ experience with near death experiences, ghosts and other interesting occurrences. The thing is, our teaching is pretty simple. We don’t claim to know. We each individually have our pet theories, but the official teaching is that we can’t really know.
Here’s my official teaching. It’s more interesting to me to know if there can be a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life BEFORE death. My focus is on right now. Am I doing everything I can to live large before I leave or am I just waiting for whatever comes next?
When I was in Practitioner training, we had to do an exercise in which we wrote our own eulogies and planned our memorial services. Mine was a big party with balloons and music and fun. I said I had died at the age of 83. I believe it was a happy death, and not a particularly difficult one. I had time to say goodbye to folks, make sure my affairs were in order and then just leave gracefully. This exercise is supposed to be about living more fully in this life because we are reminded we won’t be here forever.
I’ve been pretty up front about managing my depressive disorder. The effect this exercise had on me was to make me calculate how much longer I had to be here and when I could leave. It was more like counting down a prison sentence (a life sentence, if I want to be facetious). I’m not afraid of death; like many of us, I tend to have more anxiety around life. Realizing that I believe life to be eternal was, at one point, a very painful truth.
So now I’m taking the next step. At this juncture in my life, I still firmly believe that life is eternal and we get to keep the memory of whoever we were on earth. That’s no longer bad news. I also believe that we get to learn more about whom we have been in other lives and who we are between lives, which sounds pretty cool to me. The homework (as it were) is to make sure I don’t waste the time I have here. Am I coming out from behind my Netflix queue in order to engage with real people? Am I being of service to the folks I meet in the grocery store and at work, or do I just post something on my Facebook letting people know how I feel about the latest scandal? Or kittens, for that matter? (I’m pro-kittens, for the record).
This culture makes it so easy to live from a step back. We make it easy to live by proxy through our electronics. It takes effort to remain present in the here and now, and I believe it’s entirely worth it. As fascinating as I find near death experiences (nope, never had one) I don’t want to have a near life experience while I’m here. If for no other reason, I want actual people to show up for my memorial service and have something to say other than what my favorite TV show was.