Live well and go fearlessly, advises Dr Charmaine Saunders
What lies beyond? That's the $64,000 question isn'tit? No one has ever come back from beyond to give afull report on what we may expect when our time on Earthis through.
The Meaning of Death
Death has been called such things as "the finalmystery", "the last frontier", "thegreat adventure".
Are these euphemisms or reasonable assumptions aboutthe end of life? The answer really depends on your personalbeliefs. If you're religious in the traditional Christiansense, there is no mystery. You live, die and go toHeaven or Hell, depending on your behaviour here onEarth. The rest of us see the afterlife in a less preciseway. A friend of mine recently told me that he wouldlove it if he could believe in some sort of afterlifebut he just can't. Religious people say it's a matterof faith. You just have it or you don't. There's noproof either way.
For what it's worth, this is what I think - the soulis eternal and dying simply returns us to where we originallycame from, which is not a place but a state of being,the "light" or "home". Debbie Ford,American author and expert on personal transformationand human potential, sums this up beautifully in hernew book, "Why Good People Do Bad Things":
"We are spiritual beings whether we want to admitit or not, and inherent in our DNA is a design to returnus home - home to our true essence, our greatest self,our limitless self."
Jonathan Cainer, the astrologer, says, "You area cosmic being with a direct connection to the eternaland the infinite".
There's no way to explain this belief in rationalterms. My life experience and study over many yearsleads me to that understanding. I grew up in a strictCatholic family, went to two convent schools over the12 years of my education and was deeply religious asa child. As a result, I never feared death, seeing itas a natural conclusion to life. When one of the oldnuns died, the whole student body would troop past theopen coffin to view the sweetly smiling corpse. Naturallydeath was thus portrayed as something beautiful. Then,when I was 23, my mother died. Suddenly, death was nolonger an abstract idea but a grim reality. I went intodenial for six years, but finally had to deal with mybereavement, which changed my mind and feelings aboutdeath. I saw death everywhere, deeply felt my own mortalityand developed a nihilistic attitude, as in, "What'sthe point of anything if we're all going to die anyway?"
This only changed when I began my spiritual questin 1986. I began reading New Age leaders, exploringBuddhist beliefs, practised meditation, worked withaffirmations and visualisations - the whole nine yards.Now, I'm right back to no longer fearing death, butthese days it's not based on blind faith or religiouszeal, but rather on a more intuitive, spiritual senseof what is. I have no rational explanation, but whenyou feel something in your heart and soul, no explanationis necessary.
Near-Death Experiences There can be no finite definitionfor the word or the concept of "death". Theclosest glimpse we've been afforded is from near-deathexperiences that some people have had. They "die"and then come back, apparently by choice. The commonexperience is entering a white light like a tunnel ahead;also sensing a clear choice about moving forward orreturning to life. Another common thread is the profoundchange that accompanies this return. It would seem likelythat people would only choose to return if they hada compelling reason - loved ones, unfinished business,something to change. It doesn't seem feasible that theywould come back and just get on with life as usual.In fact, where these stories have been documented, thosewho've had near-death experiences have made profoundchanges after their return, as in the case of DeniseLinn, the well known dream expert. A physical scientistbefore she "died", she became interested inmetaphysics afterwards and changed her whole careerpath.
These experiences would seem to be evidence of an existencebeyond the physical plane.
What about reincarnation? Buddhists believe that welive many lifetimes and come back in various incarnations,according to whatever karma we have gained in previousones. For many years, I felt drawn to this philosophy,but refused to accept it because I felt it was too easyan explanation for all the injustices, inequalitiesand ills of the world - why some people and animalshave cruel, terrible existences and others seem to leadcharmed lives, like my cat! I wouldn't embrace the comfortit offered. However, being a Libran who needs to befair at all times and also needs to intellectualisefor understanding, I set about studying reincarnationobjectively. After many years, I now accept it. Thebest way it was explained to me is that our lifetimesare like attending school. We move up or stay back accordingto our performance at each level. It shouldn't be seenas reward and punishment or even cause and effect. It'sreally about lessons, growth and soul development.
The Bucket List
It's timely that I saw the film "The Bucket List"this week while writing this article, as it deals withprecisely the subjects of life, death and beyond. Thetheme of the film is a list that covers a number ofthings that should be done before death, like a wishlist. The two dying characters end up going on a supremeadventure but, of course, each one of us would makea different kind of list. It would seem better to compileone earlier in life so there's more time to completethe items. I made one years ago, but mine was almostall about places I wanted to visit and the things Iwould do there, like walk in the moonlight in Fiji,waltz in Vienna and swim in Hawaii. I think it's a greatidea for everyone to do. It focuses goals and remindsus to get the most out of the brief stay we have hereon the green planet.
The film is recommended. My favourite line from itis: "He died with his eyes closed and his heartopen." Also, Morgan Freeman's character asks JackNicholson's character to answer two questions that sumup one's life: "Did you find joy in your life?""Did you bring joy to others?"
All my adult life, I said that on my deathbed, I wantedto know that I'd made a contribution, left a legacyto the world I'd lived and worked in. However, aftera beloved friend died a few years ago, I changed mymind on this - I decided instead I want to be able tosay at the end of my life that I had a good time. Justthat, nothing more. There's a wonderful saying, "Don'tdie with your music still inside you". Let it allout, in whatever way pleases you most.
Why do so many people fear death then? It's reallythe fear of the unknown. Subsequently, we tend to liveour lives as though death does not exist. Most peopleare very uncomfortable talking about it. Black humourabout it is okay, but God forbid we should discuss itseriously. Actually, death is easy; living is harder.Death is not an ending, but perhaps the beginning ofa new existence, nothing to be feared. I experiencedit once during a past life therapy session. I felt myselflift out of my body, become weightless and then entera whiteness - no tunnel or light as such, just a blindingwhiteness. There I "floated" in perfect peace.
There's no way to prepare for death other than to livewell. Death is far harder on the loved ones left behindthan on the deceased. We're left with a terrible gapwhere the loved one was, a hole in our hearts wherethe pain has eaten through, and the gnawing doubts aboutwhere they've gone, the longing to have them back. Themore open we can be about the whole idea of death, theless scary it is. When we're dying ourselves, let usgo peacefully, not as Dylan Thomas would have us go,raging against "the dying of the light". Whenwe are walking towards that last journey beside a lovedone, let us help them to do the same. Let us not shirkor dissemble or resist. It is natural, after all.
What does the word "beyond" mean? To go further.There is no further to go than over the rainbow, acrossthe universe and into the wide unknown. It can be viewedas exciting or terrifying. It's your choice.
This quote says it very simply and eloquently: "Deathis not extinguishing the light; but putting out thelamp because the dawn has come."
Isn't that beautiful?