What if this is all there is?

I was raised in a sort of religious tradition that placed a lot of emphasis on an afterlife. And the idea that based on your “good works” in this life, you were rewarded with stature and other sorts of things in the afterlife. As I grew older ( I think this easily may have started when I was in my teens), I grew skeptical about the idea of an afterlife (generally) and the idea that somehow my behavior in this life, some how affected what would happen in the world to come.

Like many of my peers, growing up in the scientific age, cause and effect were much more directly related to everyday life than, say, the idea of heaven or hell. If you misbehave, in other words, you get what’s coming to you. In other words, I got to believe in karma in a very immediate, very bone-crunching sort of way. Everything you do has consequences–now!

Once again, though, I have been challenged. What if this isn’t all there is?

There are two main schools of thought on what happens after you die. One school says that you have a soul and that when you die your soul leaves its “mortal coil” and you arrive in some sort of an afterlife–a heaven or hell, if you will. This school has several variants in several different cultures.

The second school says that your idea of self is purely illusory, and when you die everything that was you grinds to a halt. There is no ever after. This is all there is. That’s all she wrote!

Yes, there are some hybrid variants on these two world views but basically that is it.

Now, there are anecdotal representations of how these both work. Some claim to have seen a “white light”. According to the first school (that there is an afterlife) the “light” represents an opening or a passage into the afterlife. According the second school, however, this post-death or near-death experience, is merely evidence of the brain not getting enough oxygen, and the most common hallucination occurring under these hypoxic circumstances is the illusion of a white light! So, which is it? And is the “white light” even indicative of a near-death state of being?

So there you have it. The question remains: what if this is all there is? What if the white light is merely a figment of the imagination, a hallucination. And what if the near-death experience is actually nowhere near-death at all?

Hmph. So here we are. Still stuck.

I recently finished reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus seemed to me to be conflicted. At once saying that death is the end. And at the same time professing a belief in the gods (or a God). I wonder how much was lost in the translations (once from the Greek by Marcus Aurelius and once from the Roman by a slew of ancient history scholars).

Also, listening to a scattering of Buddhist adherents, there doesn’t seem to be any consistency or conclusion either on the nature of life after death. Some have identified (or invented) a world called the bardo which is supposed to be an interim state between what there is here and now, and what there is ultimately to be. It sort of makes things worse instead of better, if you are trying to answer the question above.

Is this all there is?

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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Here’s a brand new idea…

There’s a saying I’ve encountered several times in the past few days. Here’s how it goes:

It’s one of those sayings that is contagiously cute, but is it true?

Okay. You don’t have to be the smartest guy or gal in the room. In fact, being the smartest may not always be an advantage. Here’s what I mean.

Learning anything is great. Being in the learner’s seat is a great place to be! In order to learn, you need to do something extremely important. It’s not something everyone falls in to right off the bat. In fact, many fail in this one simple objective. That objective? Shut off the voice in your head. The one that’s always telling you the way things should be done. And let someone, anyone, show you the ropes!

It’s not something everyone can do right away. And the less you know about your teacher, the harder it’s going to be for you to take the learner’s role. The great thing is that your teacher may be feeling some of the same anxiety you are about being the teacher!

Here’s an example…

I want to learn to speak in front of an audience. I’ve never done this before, and understandably I am pretty nervous about this. My coach (teacher), I know, has done some public speaking. I wouldn’t call her the world’s greatest speaker, but she can hold an audience and get a message across, all the while looking comfortable and unflustered!

Nothing to it, right? Except she can do it, and I can’t!

The only way, I can learn anything is to swallow my pride and place myself in the hands of my teacher! And vice versa, the only way I am going to be able to teach anything (to impart knowledge, to teach a skill) will be to do the same thing–to adopt a stance of humility towards my learner.

You see, according to Mr. Palmer, the teacher and the learner are the same! I learn more from teaching than I’m ever going to learn from reading a book or watching a YouTube!

So let’s get back to my public speaking example. The only way my teacher will teach me to give a speech, calmly and without getting flustered, is if I place myself totally in her hands! And conversely, the only way she will understand how to teach me will be to see the lesson through my eyes!

Parker Palmer says you learn just as much as the teacher as your learner does. You too are the learner!

True.

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