Easter Sunday I think is a good time to reflect on what it takes to be open to the possibility that there could be more life, in some form, after the experience we call ‘death’.
Wait! Does it take some requirement to be open about this? How about proof?
Well, my experience tells me that openness to a certain kind of reality is neither the product of ‘proof’ nor ‘faith’, particularly not blind faith. It is, I believe, more a function of a certain mix of feelings or attitudes that define not just our perspective on life after death, but very much our perspective on life before death, too.
But let me start with looking in the mirror. Openness to some form of ‘life after death’ for me has been the result of a gradual development – or release – over time of some of these feelings in me … :
1) A core emotional need
Obviously that need came first, although, it was very ill-defined when I was younger. I don’t really know where it comes from – this yearning for ‘more to life’.
It came before I was ill enough to really pray daily for some kind of help.
Perhaps it is just that undefinable part of who I am and who I was born as. But I felt I had to mention it, because it is there – this variable that is just difficult to grasp. It wasn’t permanently fixed from the beginning, though. I had very agnostic parents, so they did not influence me. I influenced myself.
I remember reading books on dinosaurs when I was a 1st grader and then getting very angry when our religion teacher told us the story about the animals in Paradise and on the virgin Earth that Adam came to. There were no dinos, so obviously she was lying!
Later, in my teens, the feeling grew, though, that there was something more and I felt more comfortable with just accepting the Bible as a story that pointed somewhere, not necessarily a photograph of reality.
So this core need can come up, apparently, and maybe it can disappear again and change. But as we grow older we can do certain things to be open for it, or close it down. Like …
2) Having stakes against openness
We can develop clear interests, monetarily or social, in upholding a contrary position to openness. Obviously! We can, for example, be a doctor prescribing medicine to fix the brain only. Or we can join a vocal atheist Facebook-group, getting many likes for our rants against ‘superstition’. And we can of course, join a cult as Björk would say – or just associate with any fundamentalist version of religious faith. None of those things will strengthen openness. Quite the contrary.
3) A flexible mind in general
– i.e. not being prone to thinking in absolutes, a.k.a. ‘black or white’ … For example, being able to judge human beings and their behavior with a degree of ‘either/or’, being able to see both sides of an argument. That sort of thing.
Being able to accept that life may contain seeming paradoxes, be they the behavior of elementary units as both waves and particles according to quantum physics, or that somebody can have valid reasons for living with a partner who is abusive.
Why is that important? Well, we are talking about openness to ‘life after death’ – to a variety of scenarios, but backed up with some kind of plausible evidence, whatever that is for us. We are not talking about searching for a certain type of story, like Jesus’ resurrection or that the brain is all there is, whatever emotional need the subscription to either story fills in us. (Like: ‘Look, I’m one of the true believers!’ or ‘Like, I’m one of the non-believers!’)
Flexibility in mind has been a long time in coming for me, esp. because I hate the uncertainty that goes with it.
4) Willingness to detach more
In the times I have felt addicted to spending money, owning stuff, getting the ‘dream job’, hoarding clothes, shopping in general, having sex, or any other physical experience that held a certain pull for me – regardless to say, those were not my most spiritual periods.
A preoccupation with stuff in the material world takes away focus from the subtle senses which may allow oneself to experience what could be beyond this world. Or if not that, then at least it takes away openness. How can you be open towards other experiences when you are busy with a select few? I couldn’t.
But the important issue here is the actual possibility of developing some kind of sense of these other dimensions, beyond the physical. Mystics have said for millennia this was possible, if you, for example, was willing to train for it – say, to meditate.
For if there are more dimensions (worlds) than the physical, which can be sensed and interacted with then we should have the possibility of developing some kind of senses to do so.
But if we don’t spend time testing this theory, we won’t get any results on which to base our confidence in the existence of such dimensions.
In short: It is a question of habits – and where your attention goes as a consequence of those habits.
If you spend time meditating each day and generally try to live a life without too much addiction to money, fame or possessions, then you will be more open to receive information from special, but usually dormant, senses that will tell you about dimensions beyond the physical.
5) Less interest in competing
Consider this: What if you are primarily focused on work, career, competing, and ‘getting ahead’?
For you the world is a battlefield – people against people. It is a zero-sum game. If someone beats you to the best job or position or the most money, then there is not enough for you to own to feel you have ‘enough’. So you struggle to get just that – ‘enough’.
On the other hand, I have read about near-death experiences and mystical experiences (say, during meditation) which people have had that shows a very different world. In this world there is always ‘enough’.
People (souls? beings?) in this state of existence reportedly consist of a form of ‘purer energy’ rather than the energy that makes up the material matter of our bodies (and everything else in the known world). So there doesn’t seem to be a need to eat, drink, etc. to function in these dimensions, at least not in a way as we have to here on Earth.
In such dimensions, as posited above – if they really exist – there would not be the same drive towards competition as there could be in the physical dimension.
That goes whether or not you compete for basic needs such as water in the desert – or – emotional needs which feel very urgent even if they are not necessary to live (such as getting a certain career position).
In short: There is enough. No need to compete. Or so it seems … from the fragments of information we think we have.
And suppose they were true, or even remotely true – this type of existence? Are you then still interested in exploring these hypothetical alternative modes of living?
Or would contemplation of such an existence – as far as you can – be too … boring?
6) Willingness to invest time and effort for uncertain gain
We can just open the door and walk out into the physical world and interact with it.
And it is simply very, very difficult to be convinced that something may exist which we seemingly cannot see or interact with, and rightly so.
Despite some impressive attempts – such as Michael Newton’s books (based on interviews with people hypnotized to remember ‘the other side’) – or Martinus’ cosmology (based on intuition from a mystical experience) – or various religions … it’s not as if you can just pull out a Google Map to reality and be sure it fits. So we have to invest time and effort in testing and exploring.
In other words, we have to make effort to get something, which seems at best vague or ill-defined as a reward. And that is not something we humans excel in. Especially if there are many, well, competing rewards out there – such as earning enough money to pay the rent or feed the children.
I have invested, but mostly in my youth, and at this point in life I find that it is getting increasingly difficult to choose to prioritize this kind of research more – like reading more books on the topic or going someplace to meditate (see previous point). I am simply pulled more to daily experiences, both pleasurable and those that are necessary ills, like earning for the rent.
7) Will to resist social punishment
When we think we have some experience, say, that prayer has helped us – or a sense of contact with a deceased loved one – then we are in for a challenge:
For if we are not already firm in belief and/or in a supportive social environment, we are subjected to skepticism and ridicule, usually, for sharing such experiences.
If we have, for example, a sense of prayers being answered then our local priest will perhaps say the prayer was not the right type of prayer after all, and therefore the answer was our imagination playing tricks. The prayer was not done ‘by the book’.
Or consider a friend who is a proud atheist – if we dared confide in her – would berate us for letting our fantasy run away with us, for being childish and superstitious, or at best just frown and shake her head.
There is no significant social reward for walking the spiritual path, at least no reward which is immediate. And at least not in my culture.
I feel I have experienced great personal rewards in pursuing a so called spiritual path – in persisting to explore the possibilities that there is More to Life. But these rewards come down the line.
I have, for example, felt very strongly that I was helped by ‘a power’ beyond to heal from a serious illness once after I consistently asked for it.
Whether or not that was true this particular feeling is still with me, when I need healing and when I pray, but I have done so for over 20 years and mostly in secret.
In short: Again I have made an effort, like mentioned above. And against very hard social resistance at times. And yet, I also feel stagnated here. I feel I should be a member of some kind of community that supports me more in my spiritual search. But this, too, I have not prioritized. Because of, well, life.
And a bit of fear. Of being too open about my search. I don’t really have anyone in my family and few close friends, for whom this world, this particular search for ‘more’, is a natural thing.
What social punishment are you willing to subject yourself to live and maintain your own version of spirituality?
Spiritual exploration or whatever you want to call it can often be a lonely path. So it takes a lot of will to keep walking it … and not everyone has that.
Those are my thoughts on Easter Sunday and the stones that have to be moved from my life to experience more what that story talked about. Instead of just reading, speculating and arguing about it.