An Enigma

July 17, 2015

So I was seeing a new neurologist and I was being checked in with the receptionist, and was rolled up to a blank wall (an interesting metaphor in itself). Looking at this empty space, I contemplated the 800-pound gorilla in the room: mortality. This is a concept considered by philosophers and theologians for centuries. It’s really no different for the rest of us, because we all think about our demise at some point or another.

Since a good part of the world’s population believes in Heaven and Hell, life after death is an important part of their dogma. These beliefs sometimes inspire people to behave in ways that are socially acceptable, and more often than not, this is a good thing. I think of AA and the effect it has on people to avoid abuse of any sort. Sometimes, religion works the same way.

But how often do these beliefs just comfort us, when we are faced with difficult situations? A loved one passing is an example. Do you know how much money is spent on coffins, tombstones, and cremation? Sometimes just to compensate for a lack of concern during that person’s life, a good amount of money is spent. It’s a high-dollar business.

All of this, as morose as it seems, had me thinking about some of the theories of life after death. I was reminded of the concept of reincarnation. I have reasons to lean in this direction, and one of my brothers who took this concept seriously, told me about some Buddhists he read about who believe not only that we are reincarnated, but they also believe that we reincarnate because our Higher Selves or Souls are hooked on the experience of the sensations of extremes. Abject terror or serene comfort, intense anger or sublime happiness, excruciating pain or blissful pleasure. It’s an interesting theory.

This is a theory that most of us can relate to. The extremes most of us experience aren’t as pronounced as those in the Middle East, or if people might have a disease like cancer. For instance, I know what it’s like to feel like I could walk on air, but I also know what its like to have fallen on the bathroom floor, trying to dial 911 on a cordless phone, so the two EMTs can hoist me back up onto the toilet. An interesting experience. I appreciate both realities. It’s like there’s Darleen 2.0 and Darleen 1.0.

I’m reminded of a short story written by John Irving called “The Hole in the Floor”. In the story, one can look down into the hole and see all of the experiences of happiness or beauty the person might experience. At the same time, that person can look down the hole and see all of the horrible and painful situations occurring during that life or incarnation. Now, that soul has to decide whether or not to risk facing the negative, if it means being able to have the positive.

On the other hand, Carl Sagan (of Cosmos fame) would say “Science always wins out.” He believed that there wasn’t any consciousness after death. He said he took “great comfort” in believing this. In this case, being an atheist is as much of a faith as otherwise.

So what’s the difference? I think that the concept of life after death will be contemplated by philosophers and theologians for time to come. The question since time immemorial, remains:

Who knows?