Thursday, November 30, 2017

Afterlife

A friend asked me whether I believe in an afterlife. I responded that you can't talk about believing in something without some solid idea of what that thing is (i.e. who, precisely, would be doing the afterliving, with the body dead and buried?). You've got to return to fundamentals, slice away invalid assumptions, and at least try to view things clearheadedly.

To identify the thing that might be everlasting, we need to disregard everything impermanent. For example, the device I'm typing on. The desk I'm sitting at, and the room and house around me. The light above my head, the air in the room, and every single thing outside, from the mailbox to the Orion Nebula. Everything one can see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and measure is in constant change (a river becomes a new river in every passing moment), and will, at some point, end. Not one drop of it is forever.

Same, obviously, for the hands that type this, and the body they're connected to. Impermanent!

What does that leave? Well....you! But where's the permanence? Your thoughts come and go, and your memories, opinions, and knowledge have all accumulated gradually, and are subject to change or loss. There was a time when you didn't know how to drive, or to eat with chopsticks. Yet you were still you, no? Was there ever a point when you weren't you? I don't think so!

Beyond the impermanent world, your impermanent body, and the impermanent contents of your mind, the one constant that endures and never changes is your sense of you-ness. In other words: Awareness.

An intelligent receptivity has been humming along - even in your dreams - for as long as you've been you (and you've never not been you). It was there even when your body consisted of an entirely different batch of atoms. It was there before you ever held an opinion, before you knew that you had a name. It precedes all. It's the presence that has always peered bemusedly out of your eyes.

That's the unchanging part - the pole star around which all change plays out. The things of the world - external and internal - exist within this awareness. All things come and go - start and stop - but awareness is perpetually aware (what else would it possibly be?). Always that same hum beneath all the drama and noise.

Some might argue that this presence did not exist before the birth of your body. But the past is a funny thing. Have you ever experienced it? I haven't! I've never spent even a moment in the past or the future. Only the present. Since neither you nor I have direct experience of either, it's best to consider past and future as abstract (but useful) concepts. Stories! Did you understand that there was a past or future before you could speak, i.e. before your head filled with concepts? No, you knew only awareness. Time came later, along with the rest of the stories.

Anyway, given that all things - including your body - are within awareness, your body was born into awareness, not vice versa. Once again: everything changes and dies, while awareness is the perpetually unmoving part.

Awareness can just as readily identify with another set of memories, opinions, impressions, names, stories, and worlds. If that sounds odd, consider that it does exactly that all the time, whenever you "lose yourself" in dreams, novels, and movies (not to mention imagination, worry, and memory). In fact, the nature of awareness is to yearn for loads of fresh characters to identify with! Lots of stories and narratives - our use of the term "escapist" is a big clue! This world, in fact, is a playground offering exactly what we crave: a dense and ever-replenishing set of storylines to dive into and make our own.

Awareness - an always-on witness to the action - playfully identifies with the passing drama. If you doubt this is what you do, pop in a DVD and watch your identification effortlessly flip to some other character in some other reality. Then turn off the movie (or put down the novel, or cease your fantasy, or awaken from the dream) and watch yourself flip back to this role. Easy peasy!

Awareness precedes all. Your body - just another impermanent thing - was born into it, and will die into it. But the awareness that is you has never flickered. It's the omnipresent fount of Now, and Now is the only real thing.


Awareness can narrow or expand to focus on this or that - an ant or the vastness of the nighttime sky. Habits are established as we find ourselves favoring certain frames of perspective. Heaven is one such frame, and hell is another. If you haven't noticed that either is available to you in any given moment - by merely choosing to reframe your awareness - then you haven't been paying attention (literally!).

Note: The links are, as always, important.

2 comments:

Display Name said...

Thank you Jim. One hell of a read. Gonna look at the links after I hit Smoke Daddys. His special today is banana pudding. But Jesses has smoked meatloaf today.

Jim Leff said...

Another day in paradise!

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