If I told you to imagine that you had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and then asked you to write about your fictional life, your words would likely be dark, helpless and regretful. You might talk about the fear that you were feeling, either about leaving this world or the people that you would be leaving behind. Or, you might share your regrets about all of the things you wish you had done while you had the time.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with my own mortality. My fear of death – and the anxiety that came with it – was so strong when I was a teenager that I honestly thought it would drive me insane.
At times, my mind would spin out of control as I struggled with the concepts of time, death and consciousness. I would just sit there in my car, staring into space, as the world around me faded into darkness and my mind circled the void in ever tightening circles.
For most of human history, the concept of life after death was purely a religious matter. After all, materialists, who believed that every aspect of the human condition – from thought to emotions to categorical imperatives – could be explained by activity in the brain, had little reason to believe that the afterlife was even a logical possibility.
I still remember the first time that I asked my parents, “Do animals go to heaven?” I was 6-years-old and my cat, Snowy, had just been hit by the neighbor’s car. My family wasn’t overly religious, but, we still performed a quick burial service for our beloved pet. It was one of my first brushes with mortality and it had a profound impact on my young soul.
Fear is one of the most useful feelings that we possess. Its entire purpose is to keep us safe by helping us to avoid danger.
For most of human history, our fears have related to direct threats to our lives – tigers hiding in bushes, poisonous plants and violent storms spring to mind. But, as civilization has developed, so too has the complexity with which we view the world. Our dreams and fears have become more abstract and our primitive brains have struggled to separate fact from fiction.
For many, death is like a dark shadow, lurking just over the next hill. These people feel its touch, even if they cannot see its presence. Ironically, the more we fear death, the more we forget to live.
In talking with the members of our community, I have learned that true peace comes from understanding our place in the world and this is impossible without accepting our own mortality.
From the beginning of time, people have wondered about the mysteries of the afterlife. Our religious traditions give us glimpses of what life after death might be like, but, the big questions are still a matter of debate. To dig into this important issue, I asked the members of our community to tell us their questions about the afterlife. Their responses were fascinating!
Near-death experiences (NDEs) are often held up as evidence that the afterlife exists. As the argument goes, the experiences that people describe in their near-death experiences are too powerful and vivid to be ignored. If people are able to form memories after they are dead then surely there must be an afterlife.
Even if you are confident that life after death exists, you probably still have plenty of questions about the afterlife. So, to understand your questions better, I recently asked our community to share their questions about the afterlife. Their responses were insightful and show the spectrum of questions that we all have somewhere in our hearts.
When researchers at the University of South Hampton in the UK published the results of their near-death experiences study, the Internet lit up with headlines like “Scientists prove life after death!”
But, the question is, what do these studies really show? Do reports of near-death experiences prove that the afterlife exists? Or, are we simply not defining “death” precisely enough?