Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Don't Fear the Reaper, and more cowbell

People are afraid to die.
No great shame there, of course. Death represents the most inexplicable and profound of unknowns. It casts questions that cannot be answered. It’s the final, ultimate darkness at the end of what has been, hopefully, a long run of light.
And so it’s no wonder that people want to attribute some grand meaning to it. It’s not an end, but a beginning, the gateway to some ethereal plane, a place where all is always well and kindness and pleasure are eternal presences. And what better place to meet up with those who went before us, those we miss so acutely it hurts in our core, there to reunite and reminisce and celebrate?
But somewhere along the line, we saw the need, or someone did, anyway, to give credit for this splendid afterlife to the same god, or gods, who’ve become increasingly more obsolete by the decade. So if we’re watching the god-creators erode and decay, what does that say about their versions of Heaven?
Are the Fields Elysian? Are there seventy-some or so virgins awaiting our deflowering manhoods? Is St. Peter posted at the golden gates, checking his list once, and then twice, damning those naughty and admitting those nice?
Heaven might be none of those things. And it might be some or all of them.
Or, even more likely, but by no means verifiable, there is no heaven or afterlife beyond this one, and when your body ceases to function, your cells gradually and gracefully dance the slow waltz to decomposition that lands them back among the most basic elements from whence they primordially came. This would mean no dreams, no recollections, and no supernatural visits back to the land of the living to find out just how much your widowed husband is living it up now that you’re not there to crimp his philanderous style.
But no matter what our ultimate lot, whether this life is a way station en route to the next cosmic plane, or if it’s the be-all and end-all, the whole gamut snarled into one existential Gordian knot, the bottom line is, no matter how many SacredHolyDivine books and scriptures insist otherwise, and no matter how much I rant and crow to the contrary, we just don’t know.
Say that with me.
We just don’t know.
When we die we may have several dozen chaste young ladies crawling over us for a taste of our carnal hotness, or we may have several hundred worms and insects crawling over us to ingest us and excrete us into the earthly coil, that and nothing more.
But whatever it may be, whatever may await us, we just don’t know.
And yet, it seems that the majority of us live our lives with our eyes on the afterlife as some great prize, as though it’s a piñata that we’re lucky enough to hack at without the hindrance of a blindfold, so this word be damned, full speed ahead to Heaven, let me at what comes next, to hell with what I could do today with the time I’ve got.

To call it a shame would be like calling a nuclear blast a bonfire. In fact, it is an atrocity, a slimy, dripping gob of phlegmy saliva spit in the eye of the processes that have plodded for millions of years to bring us to where we are today.
We are so intent in worshipping something outside us that we forget about the god inside us. We are so focused on getting to the Next Level and avoiding some heinous, evil underworld that we lose sight of the life we have now. And in so doing, we lose sight of what’s truly important and Holy in the world around us, the souls we touch and who touch us, and the personalized faith we need to keep churning in our spiritual engines.

Yes, this intense fear of death helped create the need for externalized faith, and so aided greatly in the creation and evolution, not to mention the unscrupulous implementation, of religion. As we became more aware and cognizant and contemplative, we conjured up a need for a redeeming afterlife, one which somehow or another could only be magnanimously provided for us by a deity, assuming, of course, that we were aptly devout and duly cowed by said deity’s alleged greatness. And this afterlife helped make us less afraid. Or so the story goes.
Yet when the night is dark, and the odd noises creak ominously in our rooms, and sleep is found to be too damned distant, we might dare, perilously, to be more honest with ourselves than at any other time and think long and hard about the things that happen now, and why, and the things that happen next, and why. And in these moments, with the white-hot perception brought on by such introspective frankness, our hearts tach up and our souls grasp fruitlessly for a hold, and we admit to ourselves, with a teeth-chattering shudder, that when it comes to what happens after death, we just don’t know. We can hope, and pray, and desire and crave and need, but we do not know. And the fact is, if there’s no “after” after this, if our purpose here is nothing more than to be part of it all, to play a role, grand or otherwise, in this unbelievably intricate and complex production, then those who lived their lives with an eye on the heavenly prize will have wasted entirely too much time worrying about how what they are doing today will effect the judgment to come. They’ll have whacked the shit out of the piñata, hitting it square with every swing, and all that will have fallen out is broken hopes and shattered dreams.

So damn you if your primary concern is with some heaven or another. Damn you if you enjoy one thing less in this life than you could have just because you were worried about your name writ in some mystical endgame book. Damn you if you worshipped some god without when you should have been worshipping the gods within. And damn you if you ever take one life in the name of this silly-ass concept of god and his heaven. May St. Peter be a toothless, paranoid schizophrenic with TB, may all your virgins be syphilitic crone-whores, and may the glory of this alleged god be shards of glass rubbed in your face with a chain-mail glove.

You want goodness in this life? Love yourself, and love others, at least those you care to. Teach your children to be the best people they can be. Teach them accountability, that every action has consequences, and that those consequences are theirs alone to bear. Love them, endeavor to give them more than you had yourself, and try to learn when to protect them and when to let them feel the burn of failure.
Don’t do anything to anyone else you would not want done to yourself.
You don’t need a Bible, or a Koran, or a Torah, or some marketing-driven, cash-cow self-help scheme to fill those empty spaces inside. Because, see, they’re not really empty. They’re just waiting for you to let the faith already there become ripe, to let it shine more brightly than the fear you have of death or the misplaced faith you have in some god. And hey, if there ends up being a god and a heaven of some sort, you’ll have lived a good and scrupulous life, so you should be good to go anyway.

It’s a cliché, but truer words were never coined: Life is for the living. Not only that, but life is for living. It’s not for getting ready to die. Learn that, and believe in yourself and those you love and trust more than in any other specious concept, and you’ll be as full and happy as any book, seminar, audiocassette, or other religious trappings could never make you.

Next we’ll address synchronicity and intricate balances.

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