What happens when we die? An existential exploration.

Wisdom comes in all forms. Personal wisdom: often hard-earned, but sometimes discovered in a flash of inspiration. Community wisdom: seen most often in our justice system. And religious or spiritual wisdom: which we can find in teachings, sacred texts, the still, small voice within, and our personal hunches and strong responses to inner and outer experiences.

Our ideas about what happens at the time of death are more than likely religious/spiritual or personal wisdom. And when we try to speak of these convictions, if we're not quoting someone else, we can have a hard time putting our ideas into words. Which is, of course, why humans have come up with so many ways to talk about death – since death is a concern of nearly every human if they live much past childhood.

Before you read any further, take a minute and check in with yourself:
– What is your sense of what happens after death?
– Is this an idea that came from someone else? (For instance, a parent, religious teaching, movie, book, song.) If so, does it ring true for you?
– Is it from one place or multiple sources?
– If you can't recall hearing it from someone else, could it be that you pieced it together from your own experiences? (Being present when someone died; dreams; intuitions, etc.) Can you remember the influences in your life that might have swirled together to form this idea for you?

I can remember a specific conversation with my dad on a family camping trip when I was in early adolescence that really got me thinking about the nature of the universe. And I can recall an old Shirley Temple movie I'd watched long before, that – when I thought about it in adulthood – influenced my thinking on the nature and possibilities of afterlife. And, much later, a Jackson Browne song. Strange, huh?!

Thinking about this can be challenging to some people. Many of us shrink away from thinking about death. If you're read this far, though, congratulations, brave soul! You may have learned that thinking or talking about something can actually reduce our concerns about it.

So, let's move on...

More questions for you to consider:
– As we go through life, our ideas might change. When you think of your beliefs about what happens at the time of death and afterward, are you open to new ideas that might change your mind? Or are your beliefs set in stone?
– Are you comfortable with the idea that different people have different ideas about this? Have you ever found comfort in someone else's ideas, even if they're different from your take on it?
– Have you ever tried to find the similarities between your beliefs and someone else's? Have you ever thought about the idea that someone else's ideas – especially about something there's no verifiable evidence about – could simply be a difference in the words and images used to think about it?

Whew! Heavy post this week, Marcella!
Yeah, I get that way sometimes :-)

Okay, if you're still with me, I'm going to ask you to set aside your own beliefs for a bit. I promise they'll still be there when you get back. ;-D

You may or may not know that some of the work I do with people is around their concerns about a pet's impending death and/or their grief when an animal companion has died or left their life another way. (If you need to set aside the idea that these concerns and this grief is silly, please do. I'll wait.)

That aspect of my work brought to my computer screen a very interesting essay on what happens after death – from the outlook of a dog. Well, perhaps from the view of a woman who knows dogs extremely well. Her dog "told her" not only what happens when we die, but how it works when we're born. You don't have to take it seriously, but it might get you thinking.

Before you click the link, put yourself in an open frame of mind. Be ready to consider what wisdom it may hold for you, even if it uses different words and metaphors than you might be used to. As you read it, notice your responses: in your mind, your body, your heart.

Okay, here's the link to the essay: Molecular Redistribution (opens in a new window). I hope you enjoy it!


Photo credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, RELICS

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