I have a hard time with the concept of an afterlife. I am downright terrified about dying, so I feel like that fear makes me want — or rather NEED — to have some kind of belief regarding life after death. I don’t know where specifically my fear comes from. I think every human being on earth has a natural desire to want to live, for the most part, and maybe it has more to do with that. I want to live, want to be here on earth with my family and loved ones, and dying would take me away from that. It’s hard to believe that there’s something in the afterlife that could be better than where I am right now. But the fact that you can’t really talk to anyone about dying is terrifying. Every other horrible tragedy in life — illness, injury, catastrophe — has survivors. People who lived through the experience and can tell you what it’s like, even if you couldn’t possible comprehend their description. There’s some comfort in knowing that no matter what else happens to me, there’s someone who can relate. Who’s been there. And while there’s people who have died for a brief moment, I don’t know if that really counts. If they really got a chance to see what it’s truly like. So it’s scary knowing that one day I will walk into the true unknown — and that I really have no control over when that day comes.

I was raised in a very Catholic setting. I went to Catholic school for my entire kindergarten through senior year time, and went to church for a good portion of that (required at a Catholic school — we didn’t go as a family). The typical Catholic belief is that you die and either go to Heaven or Hell. I think, if that’s the case, that even though I haven’t spent much time, if any, being religious, that I would end up in Heaven. But what IS Heaven? Is it the same for everyone, or does it change for each individual person? Will my loved ones who have died be there? Will it be filled with my favorite things? A never-ending bowl of guacamole, kittens running free, and a mountain of cupcakes? Somehow, even with those promises, it’s not very comforting to me. Plus the idea of anything happening for INFINITY? Scares the shit out of me. Everything we as human beings know has an end. This day, the TV show I’m watching, our lives, this sentence. My mind can’t wrap itself around the concept of anything being “forever”.

My most common belief regarding the afterlife is that we are reincarnated. It just makes so much sense. A decent chunk of our karma comes from our experiences in past lives, not necessarily this current life. We are either punished or rewarded for the deeds that we’ve done. We have memories we can’t explain that sometimes manifest in the form of deja vu, or dreams, or feeling like a place or person that we’ve never encountered before (that we can consciously recall, anyway) is familiar. I for one am constantly curious about why things are the way they are. Why do some people just have a natural ability or talent? Some are amazing at math while others can play the piano with the best. Some people are “old souls”. Some children have memories that can’t possibly be explained by anything other than being young enough (and open enough) to remember a past life. And for me? It’s very comforting to think that my soul will move on after this life, either to a new person, animal, or entity. Keeping my karma intact does more my moral fiber than any threat by a god ever could.

One thought on “Afterlife

  1. This is very cool stuff to think about. I have three thoughts on this, one small, one large and one, well, ubiquitous.

    The small thought is direct experience. Once when I was dehydrated and sick with a cold I stood up a bit too fast and passed out cold. I came to on the floor a couple of seconds later and for what was probably a split-second after that, I didn’t know who I was or where I was or what had happened. I knew nothing of myself or the world or anything. It was surprisingly calm and peaceful. Then within a second or so, everything filtered back into my consciousness and there I was just as I had been. I realized that day that this calm, quiet blankness is probably what it is like to stop existing as me, and what it will like be after dying and it became much less scary.

    That being said, being alive is a miraculous thing not to be taken for granted. The large thought is that we are not apart from everything, but of everything. I always ignored all hippie-dippy talk about “stardust” until I heard some scientists I respect talking about it in a pretty prosaic way, and that made me really appreciate it. As Neil Degrasse Tyson says in this video, “we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, the universe is in us.” Our each existence is a functioning component of the universe, unique and contiguous and miraculous, and our component parts will continue as part of this larger continuity as they always have after our current consciousness is no longer present.

    And the ubiquitous thought is that humans have always horribly, horribly underestimated the amount of consciousness that exists in the universe and that consciousness is relatively commonplace and expected at certain levels of complexity. Anyone who has lived with a pet knows that animals have consciousness and understandings of the world that are not merely restricted stimulus-response. They have complex relationships and interactions with us and they learn and know things in much the same way we learn and know things. Animals make choices, as do human animals. Human choices are tied to consciousness, animal choices undoubtedly are also. (This video is an interesting academic talk along these lines Personally, I imagine that this maps down, in steadily reducing scope, through reptiles and birds down through arthropods and maybe further and that consciousness came up from life’s earliest origins in reverse of that pattern. I think it is an observable fact of our universe that life leads to consciousness. That’s very cool.

    All this together, makes me kind of happy to be here, happy of the fact that the larger universe and life and consciousness are interconnected, normal ways of being. It all gives me hope that patterns of recurrence and continuity will ensure that we each will always have a lot to learn at each step of the way.


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