I think it’s about time that we brought death out of the coffin (so to speak). We need to pull back the shroud and take a good hard look at why it bothers us so much that most of us won’t even discuss it. When someone does occasionally bring up the topic, they do so in hushed voices, as if by speaking normally they may actually awaken some grim reaper from its stygian depths that will spirit them away into that frightening world of the unknown, that world into which all who are dead disappear.
What are we really so frightened of, anyway? After all, death is, in dictionary terms, the state of non-being. However, logic, common sense, science, and religion all tell us that there is no such state. They all say that although the physical form ceases to function, another part of us lives on; therefore, you can never not be.
That part of us that continues to exist is referred to by religion as the soul, the core, essence, the spirit, and the chi, and science calls it the psyche, the aura, a vibrational frequency, and a type of energy. Whatever name you give it, something of us remains once the body ceases to be. So, death is really just an altered state of being, a state in which matter ceases to function, but awareness continues.
So, while the physical presence of the person ceases to be, the true person lives on, just in a state of being that most of us refuse to recognize. (Yes, I said refuse. After all, we can choose to see beyond the boundaries of our physical world, but most of us do not because it would “ruin” the “dramas”, the “plays” we call life.) Therefore, while the person we knew and interacted with is no longer available to us, while we can no longer pick up a phone and call or text them, receive emails from them, or see their smiling face, they still exist.
But where do they exist? In what form do they exist? Why can’t we see them, hear them, interact with them?
Every culture, religion, family or tribe, has their own way of answering those questions—and sometimes even more than one answer. The Mayans believed that the underworld had nine layers and their version of heaven had 13 layers.
The Ancient Egyptians conceived of an afterlife as quite similar to normal physical existence — but with a difference. The model for this new existence was the journey of the Sun. At night the Sun descended into the Duat (the underworld). Eventually the Sun meets the body of the mummified Osiris, and Osiris and the Sun, re-energized by each other, rise to a new life for another day. For the deceased, their body and their tomb were their personal Osiris and a personal Duat. For this reason they were often addressed as “Osiris”. For this process to work, some sort of bodily preservation was required, to allow the Ba to return during the night, and to rise to a new life in the morning. However, the complete Akhu was also thought to appear as stars.
Today, the beliefs are as myriad as the stars above. Most Christians believe in some form of heaven (complete with angels, cherubs, heavenly choirs, and a long-bearded, robed man waiting at the entrance to a large golden gate) or hell (being either torridly hot or frigidly cold and containing pitch-forked laden, goat-eyed, horned and tailed half-men to provoke them).
While many who believe in Wicca, Buddhism, and other religions believe that at death the dying consciousness of the body moves to a new biological structure (usually another human body, but some believe that the consciousness can be reborn as animal) and continues their cycle of lives with little interruption. For them, an afterlife only occurs once all the levels of living have been completed.
For others, there is no afterlife at all. Life simply ends when the body dies, and that’s it. Still others believe that the afterlife is simply one-step removed from our own world, sharing the same space as our world, but not viewable (except by a few “chosen” who see and speak to spirits).
And just maybe that’s why we’re so frightened. There are so many possibilities, so many beliefs, that we don’t know what to think. We start second-guessing ourselves and wondering what’s real. Are our loved ones in heaven (or hell), or is that just a platitude that others tell us to comfort us during our bereavement? Do people really come back? Or are they just hanging around, just out of sight, waiting for us physicals to notice them (can you imagine just how crowded that would make their reality?).
So, then we start thinking that maybe we’re just fooling ourselves; maybe there really isn’t any kind of afterlife, after all. Well, considering we each create our own world, we could be “fooling” ourselves, but how would we know?
But just because we can’t get our minds around the type of world that could actually exist outside of our own, doesn’t mean that some type of afterlife doesn’t exist.
So why not talk about it. Let’s bring it out into the open. It’s not morbid, sick, frightening, or depressing. In fact, death is just another type of life waiting to be created and explored by each of us. So, rather than being frightened by the idea of death, try thinking of death as a vacation from life. (Of course, like all vacations, death also ends when you decide to take on a new life, in a new body, with a new family, and a whole new set of dramas to participate in.)