Imagine there’s no heaven

A seed carries the potential of life. Upon encountering fertile ground it may sprout into a plant. As a plant it has inherent characteristics that turn light, air and water into what it needs to develop and grow. It also has some sort of awareness. Several experiments have demonstrated that plants react to music by healthier growth (e.g. “The Sound of Music and Plants” By Dorothy Retallack.) One may claim it’s the vibrations of the sound waves, but still, there is room to believe plants have awareness. Without dwelling further into plants and awareness, I will just mention that plants reacted differently to different type of music, responding better to soothing classical music than to modern compositions. Ultimately plants, like all living entities, perish. They are born out of a seed, convert resources into life-energy, develop through a life-cycle which ends up in death. Sounds familiar?

For humans too, every sperm and every egg innate life potential. When an egg and a sperm unite, most of us would agree, life begins. The embryo has qualities that allow it to turn food into growth-energy. Awareness starts to develop from very early on (e.g. unborn babies respond to music and to their mother’s voice while still in the womb.) As with plants, one may claim it’s just a response to vibrations, but in this case, versus the plants, there is more acceptance that it is human awareness and not just triggering of plant genes by playing certain frequencies. Awareness aside, once born, the human inherently knows how to convert air and food into growth-energy through a life-cycle ending in death.

Why do we expire? Why does anything living ends up in death? It seems that as proficient as we can be in converting sources of energy into what we, as humans need biologically to thrive, we are also born with a limited amount of life-energy. In the traditional Chinese culture there is a certain type of Qi, Yuán Qi, which is innate or pre-natal, acknowledged as pre-set amount of life-energy that cannot be replenished. It is our individual clock ticking from inception, until it is all used up. Imagine it as a block of wood. It has the inherent energy of producing heat when burned. Once it is completely consumed, its energy turned into fire and heat, nothing is left of the actual piece of wood but ashes. “Though the grease burns out of the torch, the fire passes on, and no one knows where it ends,” wrote Chuang Tzu (Basic Writings). There is no “wood soul” that passes on when our block of wood is all used up; it’s all gone, turned into dust. At the end of its life-cycle the plant is dead; and so is the human. We bury the body but know it’s nothing but an empty shell.

We want to believe we have a soul, that our awareness transcends to higher planes. It is way too scary to imagine otherwise. But what if there is no after-life? No heaven, no incarnation. What if our existence came to be because a sperm and an egg met and materialized their innate life-growth potential, and our awareness is just part of that process, nothing more? While we are alive we feel awareness. It is part of our life-form, much like it’s possible each and every single living entity has awareness. Maybe, and most likely, not similar to human awareness, but an awareness all the same, suited to that specific life-form, be it a plant, a bacteria or a dog. We are not that unique in nature, just different and, probably, biologically more advanced.

We do not want to die. We do not want to believe that when we depart this life there is no greater beyond. That this is all there is.
Religion had spread like wildfire over the years based solely on our fear of death and the belief in after-life. After all, if there is absolutely nothing that happens past our death, where would religion be in all this?
But this post is not about religion, nor is it about whether or not plants have awareness. It’s about us, about our energy and impact while we are alive.
Even if after our death there is no place our so-called soul travels to; even if after our life ends, and that flicker we call awareness dies out like a blown out candle, something of us remains. It is the sum of our life’s actions to that moment. Because aside of converting energy sources such as air and food into self-serving life-growth energy, hopefully we have done something else with our lives. Each and every action we took, each and every thought we had, words we spoke and deeds we did, is energy we passed along, energy which made an impact in one way or another. And as such we already exist for eternity. Whether we brought kids into the world, planted a tree, shared our knowledge with others, built some machine at a factory or helped a child cross a busy street, we made an impact.

“Though the grease burns out of the torch, the fire passes on, and no one knows where it ends,” wrote Chuang Tzu. Our fire burnt out completely, but in the process it passed along to others as well as to the environment, and no one knows its full long-term impact.
“Imagine there’s no heaven,” wrote John Lennon.
Your life right now is your eternity.

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Awareness, comprehension, futility and friendships

At any point along our life’s journey, we can only grasp as much as our mind’s capacity allows us.
Can you recall an event from your childhood, when an adult tried explaining something to you, and you just didn’t get it? (yeah, I know, some of us still don’t get it… 🙂
Or maybe a book you’ve read years ago and understood one way, but now, re-reading it, you see a whole deeper meaning, that completely escaped you the first time around? Was your initial understanding wrong? Not at all. It was right for you at the time.
I feel the same way about every aspect of my life, from love and relationships, to my Tai Chi and Yoga practice. A Tai Chi move I have learned 22 years ago, and that had some specific meaning, now occupies a fuller spectrum of insights I was unable to, and, more likely incapable of, comprehending in my 20’s.
This may lead one to question how limited is our understanding now? As persons along our own individual paths, and as humanity along our joint journey.
It is futile to get upset when explaining something to a person not yet ready of comprehension, or get annoyed at oneself when an idea is out of grasp. It would be like pouring water over a stone and getting distraught the rock is not absorbing. Understanding takes time. It is difficult, if not impossible, hurrying it up. Yet, it’s a good idea to spend time with someone who may have deeper insights. It’s an even a better idea to keep company with people who are open-minded, who do not judge but rather encourage and support influx of new ideas. That sort of openness brings about growth. It is one criteria by which I seek friendships.

The day I let my troubles go

Sitting down to meditate I felt a sense of heaviness weighting against my chest. It is a feeling I have experienced before and mostly ignored. Today, however, I noticed it differently. I observed that this weight is composed of my worries and concerns, my troubles and fears; and I realized, maybe for the first time, that it is not an integral part of who I am. I perceived that though the load seems to be an part of my existence, it is actually a separate bundle; a package I have been carrying for so long that it became indistinguishable as such to the bare eye.

In meditation I had an insight. It became clear to me that the only thing making me hold onto this sack of troubles is my fear, my fear of letting it go. Sounds strange? No stranger than a fear of cutting off one’s own arm; doing away with something that had been acknowledged as an inseparable part of me for as long as I can remember. Realizing this, I didn’t bother to stop and inspect each and every item within the package. Instead, I told myself I can just do away with it, release it, let it go. Like the box of invisible items we move from house to house when we relocate, never opening it but still schlepping it along… And so I let it go, just like that.

No weight was immediately lifted up. No great light shone on me. Where heaviness once lay, a sense of weight remained; not the mass itself but a phantom imprint. The load had been there for so long that the pressure did not completely vanished – it left a shadow impression. Yet, I noticed I was breathing a little easier, somewhat deeper and definitely lighter.

I opened my eyes and looked outside the window. Autumn colors of reds, yellows and browns vividly washed over me, as if seeing it for the first time. With the curiosity of a baby I discovered a delicious palate of shades, birds soaring, leaves dancing to a symphony of wind. The sounds, smells and sights, it all hit me and there was no chatter in the mind; just observance. It was all so sharp yet connected; an experience beyond words.

What’s next? Other troubles will surely come. Some of the old worries will find their way back to that space on my chest. New quandaries will stick like Burr seeds to a passing traveler. I have no delusion that I am beyond all this. But now that I have seen it once I know I can always let it go. And when you let go of the weight, that vacant space it held, quickly fills, even if just for a short while, with unexplained happiness.