Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On what we make of life

I have become incredibly introspective as of late.

While I consider myself pagan, I am not a druid, nor am I Wiccan or really any other solid "version" of pagan out there. I believe there are multiple forces in place in our universe that helped begin creation and that occasionally can guide us or offer assistance in our lives, usually without our asking, although they can be asked to interfere as well. Despite all that, I do not have a solid belief system when it comes to the afterlife, and as of late, thoughts of death have become commonplace.

I am 26 years old.

And someday, I am going to die.

I don't know what it means to leave this existence. The scientific side of me is still desperately trying to come to terms with my latent spirituality, that which demands there must be something more beyond death itself, another plane or another version of existence in which our souls continue. Call it Heaven, the Summerlands, Purgatory, what have you - I have to believe there is something more. In my head, the human brain - already an admittedly ugly but complex organ whose inner functions are understood to a degree but whose development and inward function still makes little sense to the scientific community beyond a chorus of, "Hurr hurr, neurons firing!" - is somehow special. The brain itself in any creature is special. There is a spirituality inherent in all things that are capable of existence, of growing and thriving. There is a certain meaning behind each bug (even though I'm the type to squish them - sorry) and every blade of grass. Every bit of quantum mechanics and string theory and our knowledge of black holes and neurons and the beginnings of life itself, in my mind, all come back to the idea that, surely, all this cannot be for naught. There must be something more.

I doubt it's healthy that my fear of death is so ingrained that if I allow myself to think about it too hard, I can actually encourage and set off an anxiety attack. It terrifies me to the edge of my understanding and the worst part, I think, is that it isn't something I can try to understand with the inherent acknowledgement that despite my attempts to understand it, I may never physically encounter it face-to-face, so while I can attempt to understand it fully, I don't NEED to. This is not a thunderstorm, or a bee hive, or childbirth. This is not a way of parenting or a need fulfilled in a relationship with another person. This, as much as creation itself, is solid - there is death. I will die. So will you, and my mother and husband and children and in laws and neighbors. There is no escaping this fact, and the only variables are when, how, and where. There is no question as to whether or not it will occur in the first place.

I also worry that it's unhealthy that at nearly 30 years old I have not yet formed some vague understanding of what, if any, life after death I believe in. When my mother's beloved purebred black lab had to be put down in October, she was thrown headfirst into the mourning process - and as part of that, she taught my children that the dog is now in Heaven, with God. The Christian god, I should note. While I'm open to teaching my kids about every religion, and committed to answering as many questions as possible with as much open-ended information as possible, it worries me that there is already an established set of beliefs that is being pushed at them. Maybe I don't want my kids to believe in Heaven, and maybe I don't want them to think that the god assumed to reside there is the only one in charge. Maybe I don't want them to think that if they are inherently good and innocent in their lives they will be rewarded in the future, but a single indiscretion can be enough to send them reeling into eternal torment. There are so, so many things about Christianity itself that I don't want my children to learn.

At the same time, I am - and yes, I hesitate to admit this, but here it is - inwardly a little relieved. No, I don't really want my children to believe that but the concept of death itself is already so abstract to me, a grown woman, that the idea of trying to explain its functions and process to my children is overwhelming. My three year old does not understand it at all and will often mention the dog but remind himself shortly afterwards that she is gone. My five year old will crassly answer his younger brother with terse reminders that she is dead - a painful but at the same time reassuring reminder that he is beginning to understand truly what this process is all about. All the same, I can't imagine trying to ingrain into their beautiful little minds that the soul of a dead person is simply gone, no more upon this plane nor anywhere we can reach it, and that it has simply ceased to exist. It has left me in a moral and mental bind, one that has been inadvertently answered by the purposeful but relatively innocuous teaching passed along by the dog's death - that there is an afterlife somewhere, and it's where souls go.

And maybe, really, that's the route I should be taking. Not trying to explain to them that there are necessarily any singular places where souls or minds or thoughts travel to upon death, but that we are only sure of deaths's finality and little else - and perhaps, then, to try to ask them what they think happens after someone dies to their mind, thoughts, and to their spirit. Encourage them to think outside the walls of any singular religion or spirituality and let them find their own way through, to determine their own paths through life.

My husband once explained it, more or less, this way: Humans have proven that by simply thinking of something in a group, enough people are capable of more or less making something exist - be it a single thought, ideal, or a bigger concept that requires the expenditure of energy, time, and emotional and mental power. The mind itself is capable of so much that surely if one person believes something, then somehow it becomes true for them - meaning, if just one person believes in an afterlife of a certain kind, in a certain location, then it becomes the truth, even if only for them, and it will be the eventual location of their spiritual essence. If enough people believe in something, then it becomes even more real, even if only for them - and by that reasoning, Christians are perfectly capable of being "sent" to Heaven or Hell, based on their inward impression of themselves, and there is a distinct possibility that they will not be the only "believing" soul there, if their concept matches that of others who share the same system of beliefs.

It's a puzzling concept that I've had some difficulty with as of late, so I thought, why not share it - and see what your thoughts are.

What do you think happens after death, if anything? And how have you explained it to your children, or other kids in your life?

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