We're All Totally Screwed
One of my favorite Zen teachers describes development as being like a twisting screw- you go around and around in cycles, losing your spot over and over again in frustration. But each cycle slowly takes you deeper and deeper.
It was always nice to believe that we survive physical death. It provided a feeling of meaning, purpose and wholeness. With the certainty comes a stagnant form of belief. You hit a plateau in your development and ultimately become disgusted in the scene you have found yourself. For me it was the healing arts community and being a Chiropractor. I was immersed in a group of profound narcissists trying to save the world through the glory and beneficent radiance of their own enlightened wonderfulness. I was one of them.
At some point you become disgusted and want to get as far away as possible from what you are embarrassed to have been a part of. So I did. It was quite a relief to identify with something other than the bliss bunnies who think that the slightest form of critical thought is a direct insult to all that is good in the world. It was refreshing to join Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Blackmore. It was a relief to shed the skin of false knowing and don the fresh coat of open minded curiosity.
We cannot know the nature of the interaction of the brain and consciousness. This leaves the spiritualists open to make the most unverified and empirically baseless claims, and the materialists open to sweep the entire problem conveniently under the rug.
We have something today we did not have ten years ago on the old NDE message board (from which the vast majority of my webfans derive from). We have YouTube. We can watch the NDErs and OBErs give their own accounts. We can watch Michael Shermer talk about how stimulating the angular gyrus or using a camera and a mirror mimics the feeling of being out of body. Then we can watch Robert Monroe describe his first OBE where he found himself suddenly floating next to a fountain, only to realize seconds later that it wasn’t a fountain, but the chandelier above his bed he was observing upside down.
Now, any reasonably honest person can see that there is a distinct and obvious difference between the experiment with mirrors and cameras causing a distorted sense of body boundaries, and the experience Monroe describes of having no idea why he is next to a fountain, only to realize later that he is looking at a chandelier upside down. Let me go out on a limb and say that these two experiences are not the same phenomenon.
In watching the accounts of the NDEs and comparing them with Blackmore’s physiological hypotheses and other pseudo-explanations, it is even more striking how laughably inadequate the hypotheses are to explain the narrative of these experiences. And when one listens to OBErs describe the exact same experiences without even being near death, it becomes even more unlikely that the physiological explanations of anoxia are plausible.
My point in all this is, that there’s really no possible way we could survive physical death.
It defies all we are capable of knowing about the brain. But it just might somehow be true. Both warring factions may be wrong, describing their own parts of the elephant. So it may do us all some good to understand the territory just in case we find ourselves floating around aimlessly after getting hit by a meteoroid in the parking lot.
I have always found the overlap between NDEs and OBEs fascinating. In OBE literature, you have people like Monroe describing this vast area full of “belief system territories” (some of them resembling various heavens like crystal cities and multicolored clouds, some almost exactly like earth, some indescribably transcendent). People gravitate naturally to the place they feel most at home. He describes the newly deceased mistaking him for an angel or Jesus or a god. And then in the NDE, you have people describing these same areas in very similar ways, and interpreting the first being they see as Jesus or an angel. Some NDErs describe in detail touring many of the belief system territories and describing it almost word for word like Monroe did. I believe many of these people are afraid of speaking on camera or at IANDS meetings without watering it down- just imagine how many people they would confuse or offend who were certain that being of light was “Jesus”. The consistency of this map of the territory across experiencer accounts is striking to me. Statistically very improbable. This realm is considered extremely vast. Apparently there are feuding factions and politics and all the expected behavior of people who self-identify with being human. You can grow beyond a belief system territory, or you can not even know you are in one, or that there are other places to go. Much of it, believe it or not, depends on what you learn *here*. Belief systems can be liberating for some but are ultimately extremely limiting in the end.
The entire panorama of belief system territories (I just love the negative connotation Monroe puts on it to egg people on, such a beautifully condescending middle finger those in the religions) are just way-stations for people who will eventually make another trip. The whole thing is part of the system around this physical existence, and if you find yourself there it may virtually guarantee you’ll find a reason to come back. If you’re done you probably won’t be in any of these areas. How you know you’re done is something I’ve never heard explained. I guess it’s just a complete lack of desire to return- a complete lack of affiliation with those in the belief territories who are still returning. A feeling of having fulfilled what there is to get out of it.
I am guessing that the reasons to return are extremely emotionally compelling, which is why it is difficult or not desirable to break the cycle. Some of these reasons according to our sources include- wanting to dance more, wanting to be a father/mother, wanting to have more kids, wanting to test a personal societal experiment, wanting to be a different race in a different time, a different gender, rich/poor, athletic, wanting to get revenge!, wanting to be of service to others (ooh, now you know you’re getting closer), and according to Monroe- about 80+% of us are here because at some point we witnessed a graduate and were in such awe that we vowed that we would do it no matter if it took a hundred thousand attempts. Virtually any price would be worthwhile for the reward. And it seems to me the price is paid in full.
How to become a graduate I have no understanding of and it is never clearly described (obviously if none of us are, this is not surprising).
If we are to consider this outline as a feasible map of the afterlife in the remote chance that we somehow survive, this world truly is like the bar full of aliens in the original StarWars movie. I can imagine Mormon belief system territories of people reincarnating and vowing to have as many kids as possible to draw their buddies into the same lifetimes. I can imagine miscreants and unsavory prisoners populating realms of anguish and confusion and trying desperately for another chance. Apparently when you first start, you are almost certain to want to come right back to get even or get what you missed. It happens so frequenty that you are not even aware that there is anything else other than this, even after death. The pull is so strong. The memory nonexistent. Nobody tries to talk you out of it. You wouldn’t listen anyways… you have to get back to save your tribe, your children, the world. The whole universe depends on you to save it. At least you think. There are many accounts of NDErs being told their time is done and they can stay. Most would accept this gladly and are angry they have to come back, but some fight like the dickens to go back to take care of their children, family, whatever. They are told again, no, that was just a temporary experience, you are done with it now, you’re “home”. But they have a strong desire to return (like the coma woman in the recent video).
In this StarWars bar world full of millions of directionless goals, it is interesting how we gravitate towards like-minded people, but are forced to live around those we are incompatible with. Last night I noticed there was a BIlly Graham revival on. I naturally shook my head and laughed and felt embarrassed by anyone believing in that absurdity. But then I thought to myself, what if all this belief system territory stuff exists, and some of those Graham crackers in the audience were once those miscreants and former prisoners beset with unbearable guilt and shame floundering around confused between worlds, and this fable of redemption in Christianity is just the spark they need to get back on track again? The light goes on. What if I was one of them once? How can I judge such a thing? It all seems so absurd, until I realize that through my short life I have already been immersed in at least 3 or 4 powerful belief systems I have subsequently moved out of.
One zen teacher says that “enlightenment is learning to stand on your own two feet”, perhaps not to need belief systems. Maybe somehow we can accept the multi-layers of insane beliefs in the world compassionately. I have never found a way to do it. I think it absolutely depends on a belief in the afterlife to have compassion on people who are seemingly a ball and chain on the well-being of the planet. If there is no life after death, these people must be stopped! If there is life after death, we can only help to make the pathways to development healthy (even if it means accepting the purpose of the Billy Graham crusade without vomiting on my flat-screen). My perspectives are totally dependent on whether there is life beyond this, and there’s no way I can know with what I know. Yet like all belief systems by definition- you never know you are in one.