The Illusion of Death
From the moment we are born into this physical world the dying process begins. We live in a world of unlimited possibilities, where anything is possible, except when it comes to the inevitability and finality of death. Some spend their lives obsessing over their fate and constantly engage in futile attempts to stem the tide. The notion that we cease to exist and will only be remembered for possibly two generations is both unfathomable and debilitating. It can affect our behaviors, habits, addictions and mental well- being.
The issue is that the world in which we live has been a master of delusion. We have been instilled with the notion of permanence and solidity, which is odd considering that we are inhabitants on a rotating orb that is traveling at 1,000 miles per hour in space. Too many of us concentrate on the rock beneath our feet and the assumption that it will always be there. I think that we would all lead fuller lives if we could come to the realization that there is nothing permanent in our physical lives. Every day there are hundreds of assumptions that we make as we continuously take things for granted. We expect an orderly progression of events in our lives and anticipate that they will take place in a linear fashion. And yet, material possessions come and go, our loved ones are suddenly no more, and our lives often change in an instant.
Many believe (as do I) that the only constant, the only thing that has permanence, is our consciousness (mind or soul if you prefer). The concept sounds absurd to those who believe only in what can be perceived by their physical senses. After all, a rock is permanent, and the mind is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain. But if it’s not, we need to flip the switch on how we think. What if our physical world is not concrete but illusive? What if, seemingly by faulty logic, our present lives are only part of a continuum of life where nothing is as it seems? Perhaps when our mind moves to another realm, we can only then discover the constant in our lives. Chaos turns to order as we realize that it is consciousness that is the ground of all being. Living our present lives with the knowledge that all things are temporary enables us to treasure what is put before us. Then, and only then, can we love more deeply and truly appreciate that which may disappear tomorrow.
So, might changing the way we think about death provide more meaning and purpose to our lives? Quite possibly, and this is something to which I can attest.
In the early morning hours of September 1, 2002, my wife Phran sat up in bed, trembling and ashen white. When I asked her what she was feeling she replied, “something horrible is going to happen today.” I tried to press her for more details, but she simply said, “I don’t know the exactly what, but it will be utterly devastating.”
Even though I was a hardened left brained thinker who was skeptical of abilities that could not be explained by known physical laws, I decided to take her information seriously. Logic told me to do so, as there were several times during our many years together that she had premonitions, and they all played out exactly as described. They were all good things, but if she was right then, she could be right now.
I kept tabs on our three children throughout the day. My son was packing the car in preparation for our drive back to his college the next day. My middle daughter was already a week into her college career, and I called her twice to make sure she was OK. I dropped my youngest daughter off at her summer job in town as she was working one last day before returning to high school. As the day progressed and all seemed well, I let Phran’s “knowing” fade from my awareness, and I let my guard down. Four of us gathered for dinner and then left for home in two of our cars. My son and daughter left in one car, Phran and I followed in another. On the way home we came upon an accident, and our worst fears were realized. My daughter did not survive her injuries, and my son was air-lifted to a hospital with serious brain injuries.
Most of me died along with my daughter. I saw no way of surviving the loss and wished only to crawl into a fetal position, fade away, and join her. As far as I was concerned, a life devoid on meaning and purpose is no life at all. I viewed enjoyment or laughter as an affront to my grief, wanted no part of such things, and just wished that the world would go away.
Several things happened that eventually led me to being able to flip the switch from despair to purpose. I became consumed with finding out how it was that Phran knew what was going to happen. I needed to know if she had a precognitive moment where she was able to perceive the future, or, as absurd as it sounded, was someone either living or dead sending her a warning. Being a left brained logical thinker, I took nothing for granted, but embarked upon a journey of discovery. I met with credentialed scientists and medical doctors who studied the nature of consciousness, read hundreds upon hundreds of books, and encouraged others to share their anecdotal experiences with me. It took many years, but I eventually relented under the sheer weight of the evidence and came to the realization that we are all far more than our physical bodies.
I was able to turn vague hope into belief, and eventually to knowing. I took a path that many would term a form of personal cognitive behavior therapy. Once I changed the way I thought about death, living became easier. I no longer make long term plans. I don’t try to analyze every situation and make judgments. I simply experience and take absolutely nothing for granted.
Phran has now passed on the next world after suffering greatly from pancreatic cancer. A couple of weeks before she passed our hospice nurse was leaving and asked us if we had any questions. I was out of medical questions, so I replied “Yes, what is the meaning of life?” The nurse was startled at the question, not knowing if I was being serious, and answered “Well, that’s a very difficult question.” Phran, as sick as she was, immediately retorted “It is not a difficult question at all. It is simple. To leave this world a better place.” Perhaps it is as simple as that. She dedicated her life to making that happen, and I now have no choice but to follow in her footsteps in any way I can. My hope is that we can all do the same.