The question of what we might experience after death causes a lot of anxiety for many people, mostly because nobody knows the answer. There are, of course, plenty of theories. I’m going to describe one you might not have heard yet, in hopes that someone will find some comfort in it.
A theist, an atheist, and a pantheist walk into a bar.
If you ask a religious person what happens when you die, he or she will most likely tell you that there’s an afterlife—that the choices you make while you’re alive determine whether you’ll enjoy a pleasant eternity or suffer an endless nightmare after your death. If you ask an atheist, he or she will probably tell you that that’s it—game over, nothingness, oblivion. Though I understand the reasoning behind them, I respectfully disagree with both of these theories.
The reason I disagree with the theist is that I don’t believe there’s an afterlife. I believe the Universe is endless, meaning we are already experiencing eternity. Whether your experience is heavenly or hellish is ultimately up to you.
The reason I disagree with the atheist is that I believe it’s impossible to experience nothingness. If you were to die and then, say, a million years later, some scientists were to dig you up and use some fancy, high-tech machine to bring you back to life, that million-year gap would feel like an instant to you. It wouldn’t feel like you had been alone in a dark, empty room for a million years because you wouldn’t have had any senses—you wouldn’t have felt anything. It seems your entire stream of consciousness ends when you die, but is there a part of you that lives on?
The atheist would probably say no—that “souls” don’t exist. While I, too, disagree with the notion that everyone has an individual soul that gets judged and sent to either Heaven or Hell, I believe we all share a single “soul,” so to speak, and that that soul is simply the Universe itself. (And when I say “we,” I’m referring to every living creature in the Universe.)
To help you understand what I’m getting at, imagine a stationary ocean critter (that may actually exist somewhere—I’m no zoologist) like an anemone or something, with a bunch of tiny buds growing all over it. Each bud has a unique set of eyes and is aware of its immediate surroundings. The critter itself doesn’t have a big set of eyes, but it is able to see through all of its buds’ eyes simultaneously. Likewise, I believe the Universe is experiencing itself through every single conscious being at the same time. The catch is that we’re only able to view life (the Universe) from one perspective at a time, and we have to view it from birth until death (No jumping around!). I believe we’ve been doing this forever, and that we will continue to do this forever.
It can be terrifying to imagine an infinite chain of finite lives—having to go through school, puberty, heartbreak, child birth (Yikes!), death, etc. over and over and over again—but think of all the wonderful things you’d get to experience an infinite number of times: falling in love, learning something new, having fun with your friends, raising a child—the list is endless. Not to mention, you’d eventually get to be every movie star, musician, and professional athlete that has ever lived or will live. You’d also get to be every animal ever: a hawk, a dolphin, your pet…
But then again, anything—whether it’s good or bad—can seem hellish if you experience it over and over and over again, right? Well, yeah, but that’s not the case here. You start each life with a completely blank slate, so the adventure is just as new and exciting every time. I really believe that someday (Well, I guess it’s today!) I’ll be reading this post through your eyes, with no recollection of writing it during my lifetime.
Treat others how you wish to be treated.
The moral implications of this theory of reincarnation give a whole new meaning to the golden rule, “Treat others how you wish to be treated.” If everyone and everything is essentially you, then there is no escaping karma. Even after death, you will experience the legacy you leave behind through the lives of everyone you will have ever come in contact with. Thus, if you orchestrate the genocide of millions of people (or animals), you’ll have to experience each of those horrible deaths (and lives) after you’ve lived out your life. On the other hand, if you help others along your journey, you will receive your own love, compassion, and wisdom in your future lives. You reap what you sow. This theory strongly highlights the responsibility we all have to this planet and to each other, because it implies that we aren’t done with this place when we die. The Earth that future generations will see as soon as they’re born is completely dependent on what we choose to do today.
The sooner we all recognize the sacredness of everything in existence, the sooner we can truly manifest Heaven on Earth.