On last week's post about Mary Oliver's poem, When Death Comes, my friend Darlene Costner, who is 93, left this comment:
”The more I ponder death and read what others think, the less I know how I feel. I was so sure that there is no afterlife, much as I wish I would be continuing on another planet or in another form here on earth.
“Now I am experiencing confusion about what to believe. None of us will know what happens until it happens; that much I know. I only know that I DO want to go gently into the good night. I agree with the last stanza of the poem.”
My psilocyben (magic mushroom) session, which took place five weeks ago now, continues to provoke new feelings and thoughts or, if not entirely new, has opened my mind to a re-examination of beliefs that, like Darlene, I assumed I had settled long ago.
I can give you all kinds of reasons to explain why I believe there is no such thing but that has not, over a lifetime, prevented me from enjoying speculation about what an afterlife might be. If there were one, of course.
One example: what if this, what we are living now, is the afterlife? What a (horrible) joke that would be.
In recent years, my favorite examination of afterlife possibilities is a 10-year-old book I've written about before, Sum, by neuroscientist, David Eagleman, subtitled Forty Tales From the Afterlives.
The description from the cover of a recent paperback edition explains its enormous charm and extraordinary creativity:
”In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people's dreams.
“Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.”
As many reviewers of this worldwide best-selling and award-winning book have noted, the book is “teeming, writhing with imagination.”
And so it is. I don't believe a word of the book; I don't believe in an afterlife. But it is still a delight to read and ponder.
During and after my magic mushroom session, I came to see that death is something like the other side of life; they are equal parts of the continuum, inseparable, each impossible without the other.
As inadequate as that and my previous attempts to describe the magnitude of the experience and related realizations are, one of the things I came away with is an important change: that I don't need to believe in an afterlife to entertain the idea of an afterlife. Both can exist simultaneously.
When I say that now, it seems so obvious that it shouldn't need stating. But there you are – sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn the simplest things.
Now it's your turn to take on the afterlife.