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 until you have any sort of solid definition. Everyone has a different notion of this, so all we can do is try to view things clear-headedly.

If we're trying to identify the thing that's 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!

So beyond the impermanent world, your impermanent body, and the impermanent contents of your mind, the one solid thing 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 before any of your current atoms existed in your body. 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 the change plays out. The things of the world - external and internal - exist within this awareness. It all plays out on the screen of your awareness, and the screen is utterly neutral. All things come and go - start and stop - but awareness is perpetually aware (what else would it possibly be??). Always that exact same hum beneath all the drama and noise.

Some people might argue that this presence did not exist before your birth. 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 moves and changes, while awareness is the perpetually unmoving part.

The awareness undergirding it all can just as readily identify with any other set of memories, opinions, impressions, names, stories, and worlds. If that sounds strange to you, consider that it does exactly that all the time, when presented with dreams, novels, and movies (not to mention imagination, worry, and hope). In fact, its nature is to yearn for loads of fresh characters to identify with! As everything churns and changes, awareness simply pays attention, sublimely unaffected by the plot points of the show playing out for its viewing pleasure (has the presence staring out of your eyes ever changed in the least, going back as far as you can recall?).

Awareness precedes all. Your body, which is just another impermanent thing, was born into it, and will die into it. But it will never so much as flicker.


Your 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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