Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joe Omundson

Is death the end?

Endings and goodbyes are difficult. My brain likes to assume future continuity, so cessation in general can be disorienting. I especially can't seem to come to terms with death, the ultimate goodbye. When I was a Christian the answer to this was simple: death isn't the end, it's just a transition to a different life which lasts forever. Eternity was impossible to grasp, too, but in a more comforting way. It felt incomprehensibly wonderful instead of damningly bleak. I couldn't wait to experience it.

Now that I don't believe in any kind of spiritual afterlife, reconciling my view of death with my desire for continuity is challenging. These things may be irreconcilable because my desires are not necessarily in line with reality. But the idea of falling asleep and never waking up is disturbing, and I'd like to have more peace about it.

Maybe death is not so much the end of all awareness like I've feared, but more like a leaf falling from a tree. Yes, the individual unit has run its course but the underlying structure which birthed and sustained it remains intact.

The individual is always simply a part of a bigger unit; we don't stand alone and we never have. We depend intimately on countless environmental inputs and reactions every day of our lives. Even our bodies are not ours. We share them with a vast array of microbial organisms whose actions directly affect our experience of reality via neurochemical influences. The "person" that we feel like we are is already an abstract conglomeration of trillions of tiny little lives.

Another analogy would be to consider all of humanity as one body, and individual humans as the cells. Cells are constantly dying and regenerating, and the entire body is replaced after some time, but the spirit-idea that animates the body remains a singular, enduring, evolving entity.

In the same way, when people die, fundamental humanity-consciousness is not affected. The branch from which the leaf falls is still alive.

Perhaps the more attention we give to the underlying structures of life, and the more we shift our perspectives outward from ourselves into what is more holistic and interconnected, the more immortal we become; the individual becomes insignificant. Our lives then exist within the web which connects us all, which will continue to exist and evolve long after death.

It's like someone who uploads their consciousness-files to the cloud, instead of storing them on a personal hard drive. Their personal computer will grow obsolete, the hard drive will fail, and eventually all local information will be lost, but the files will endure if they're stored within a dispersed network.

Why do we store our lives on a hard drive instead of the cloud? The cloud requires trust. It requires letting go. A hard drive feels concrete, secure, because it is in our personal control; but it is also very finite and fragile. Trust in a broader connection is stronger even though it feels uncertain and requires dependence on others.

I think death is inevitably going to be traumatic, but if we devote our lives to transcending personal experience and merging with all of the reality we find around us, I wonder if our deaths could feel less like "the end" and more like "an end", with other parts of our spirit-idea continuing indefinitely. This seems to be what all the other animals do. They don't have anxiety about death because they've never indulged in this illusion that we are separate from what is around us. They play out their roles like the leaves on a tree and when their time is up they don't hesitate to fall. Life continues to flow around and through them.

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