Not too long ago I read an article in the New York Times. It was a story about the museums of death found in many places around the world. I was surprised by the title for I thought all museums were about death aka Natural History museums with all its carefully displayed dead animals, Art museums where most of the painters have been dead for such a long time, The National Funeral museum in Houston, Tex., antique auctions museums where you can find really old furniture from the houses of dead people, well you get the idea.
And what’s the fascination with cemeteries and skulls and horror stories?
I think that we dwell in awe and fear at the world’s greatest mystery, death. It’s that part of life that terrifies most of us because it portends something we can know nothing about, non-life, specifically our own. What is non-life? We know it’s the opposite of what we have now, but what is the opposite of life really? And why do we even ask the question? Fear? Fear of the unknown, fear of what is dark to us? Our unconscious mind is dark to us but as long as we are alive we have potential access even though we’d rather not, but death? Now there’s a darkness and unknown we can’t even begin to fathom. It’s a bottomless abyss that goes on forever.
For some it’s not death that is feared but the process of getting there because it can be so frighteningly painful and mostly uncomfortable or so it looks. We humans will enter into almost anything if we truly believe there’s a pot of gold at the end of it– something better than what we have though we’re never satisfied with what we have. But not to know? Too scary.
The promise of no pain and eternal peacefulness seems a pretty good draw for letting go of life so as to enter some kind of heaven, but the “Great Decider” determines whether we wind up there or in the burning cauldron’s of hell, or so we’ve been told, though I’m pretty sure those stories come from the same type of folk that wrote the stories for the Brothers Grimm and for the same reason, to keep the children in line, whether they be little children or adult children. This reflects the belief that left to their own devices people won’t do the right thing. That is of course a pretty cynical view of humanity usually portrayed by the “fearful ones” who don’t know who they really are and by extension who we are. In the United States we call them Republicans or the Alt-right.
Some folks have solace in the belief that they, body and all, pass into another realm. But the ego part of us is of the flesh, that 3lb squishy thing inside our head that some of us occasionally think with and that decays and shrivels and turns to dust– we like with everything else in life can’t take it with us. So what is it that goes on to wherever we imagine consciousness continues on to?
“The soul! The soul goes on” cry still others. But what is that? Have you ever seen it? How often have you been aware of it? Do you actually identify with it? How many of us truly know of that invisible, ephemeral ghost in the machine that we imagine to be us, after all aren’t we the thinking, feeling, frightened, pain wracked, opinionated, memory-filled, squealing thing with a name and social security number?
So what is the soul? Is it a living thing? Well if it is living within the body wouldn’t it be subject to the same decaying effects after death? Ahh, so it’s not alive, it’s, what, a spirit? What’s that? And why does it need us as a host to visit the world? And if it loses its host where is it, what does it experience then? Is it conscious? Was it our consciousness all along only we became duped by the not so long lasting ego that convinced us that we were actually the ego?
Recent research has shown that even after a person has been pronounced brain dead, usually a no-turning-back step beyond clinical death when the heart stops, that “consciousness” may in some cases continue beyond the functioning body1. This is known as an OBE or Out of Body Experience. What that consciousness is however, that appears to be separate from the brain has scientists stumped.
This soul thing probably has no fear of death because death isn’t part of its life but the ego is a jealous thing and envies and fears the soul because of its non-death. It dreams of being like its opposite and creates a myth of everlasting life. There is everlasting life, but probably not like the life we currently experience, but the ego doesn’t want to hear that, so let’s just keep that between us.
Still others see the soul as a transmitter of the spirit into the receiver of the brain that then allows it to be manifest in the world making us sort of like a TV with arms and legs.
“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”
The Psalm of Life
by– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I go into greater depth with the exploration of death in the Chapter from the “Dragon’s Treasure” titled Death, Yours, Mine, Ours (pg. 168).
1 Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real, independent.co.uk/news/science/life, 7 Oct. 2014.