Being curious animals, we like to speculate on what happens after we die. There are several ways people try to answer this intriguing question.
Some educated people (and that is a lot of people) nix the question, won’t talk about it. Annihilation at death is a foregone conclusion. In contrast, some educated and a lot of uneducated people belong to faith traditions that firm up their belief in an afterlife.
Then there’s a tiny minority of individuals that try to use rational methods to determine whether our consciousness goes on after death. The method here is to collect stories that lead one to infer that somebody’s mind survived bodily death—tales of reincarnation, mediumship, apparitions, near-death experiences, and so forth.
The philosophical approach is another way to tackle the mystery. Now you reflect on the nature of your mind and come to realize something quite shocking—it is not made of the same stuff as your body. It has no spatially divided parts, it’s invisible to everybody but you, it’s not extended in space—so where is it? Unlike our brains, our minds seem to be nowhere in physical space.
Plato’s dialogue on the death of Socrates has such an argument. Soul, mind, consciousness—these are not in physical space, unlike our physical bodies. Physical bodies have parts, are complex, and can, and do, fall apart, disintegrate, die. But simple substances cannot and are therefore immortal. Plato thought the soul was a simple substance and therefore immortal. You can’t slice up your soul or mind the way you can a nice Genoa salami.
Now to my new way of looking at life after death. The idea about the afterworld I’m drawn to is simple and direct: Just go there. Let me explain. What is it that might survive death? Clearly, not our bodies; what survives, if anything, is our minds.
So, in fact, we don’t go anywhere; we’re there already. To the extent that we are at all we are in and through our minds. We are, after all, in a clear sense, nothing more than our experiences, and the essence of experience is mental. What we can do is go more deeply into our mental life. The next world is not “somewhere else.” If it is anywhere it must be hidden in ourselves, part of our subterranean mental life that we normally are not aware of.
No use blaming ourselves for not having a strong sense of our inner life. Today’s obsessive capitalist ethos is designed to capture, keep, and control our consciousness. What distracts us from our hidden depths is being entangled with a body in a physical world. It—our hungry, needy, exposed bodies- makes great demands on our attention, and eat up our consciousness.
Our ability to explore our inner landscapes—and gain a glimpse, a taste, a sense of the immortality—is hampered by the distracting pull and noise of the external world.
The new way to see life after death is to experience ourselves in a state in which the ego dissolves completely, and awareness of pure timeless consciousness becomes luminously self-evident. There are many written accounts of these experiences. People just wake up to the full reality of their own immortality.
The truth is right before us in our consciousness. Every glance at the world contains it, every heartbeat repeats it; it’s a question of seeing, feeling, being it. We end with a paradox. Enlightenment is very far from us and very close to us. In my account, Experiencing the Next World Now (2004) is possible, and happens all the time. The book shows there are ways to experiment, ways to discover and realize that we are already present to and within sight of the “next” world. It turns out that “next” means an extension of now.