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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Death and the Mind


“You work, you slave, you worry so,
But you can’t take it with you
When you go, go, go,

So keep repeating, ‘It’s the berries,’
(Something, something, must fall)
Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all!”

Sung, probably, by Rosemary Clooney, this was a popular tune in my youth.

It came to mind because I was thinking, “You can’t take your mind with you when you go.”

A friend was troubled by the attitude some people were taking towards their mother: that their mother should go ahead and die. They were saying she’d be happier, reunited in heaven with their father. My friend was grieved. She was not at all sure that that was what happened after death.

I believe people need to find some comfort, some order, some compensation when facing the death of someone in the family, or their own deaths, for that matter. Religions often offer some reassurance of continuity of personality, and of reward or punishment for the way one has lived ethically.

As a pastor and chaplain, I have been present at the moment of death just a few times. I experienced passage to… something. Eternal life might be experienced in what we time-bound ones would call half a second. People who have been revived after dying often report experiences. They report them in words and images that are the mind’s interpretation of what they experienced. The Revelation of John does not say that heaven has gold streets and jeweled thrones. It says it has something “like” gold, “like” jewels. Glory, exaltation, and communication with the divine had to be communicated to us earthlings in words and images that John’s mind could provide.

PBS showed a program recently on people trying to understand how the mind arises from the physical matter and electrical energy in the brain. (They are nowhere near an explanation.) Intrepid, curious scientist researchers showed MRIs of excitation of various brain areas when exposed to various stimuli. (Excitation shows up as red.) They showed the deflection of activity in persons who do not have a corpus callosum to send impulses between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. They even showed an MRI of a Buddhist monk meditating. All the red, excited areas gradually faded, till only a blue area at the center of the top of the brain could be seen.

That night I read the part of Sarah Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Live,” that describes her experiences with yogic meditation. It also relays some of the teachings from gurus. Freed, at least for the moment, from her endless thinking and worrying, she “saw” a cool, blue circle of light that was her essence, her heart. This blue light is the part of us that “knows everything and has always known everything.” It is totally love. This is how we are divine, and how the divine is within us.

So: When we let ourselves free from the concerns and responsibilities of this life, we leave the body, brain, and the mind based on it, behind. It seems to follow, that when we leave the body behind permanently, we are love. As love we have a kind of consciousness that is not based on the brain.

Sarah describes a process of forgiveness and reconciliation, in which, while meditating, she sees her blue light and someone else’s circling each other, loving and knowing each other. As a result, Sarah lets go of resentment and hurt which was impairing her life.

So: Yes, my friend’s friend will be reunited with her husband. They will be love. They will BE love.

My image of my mother (who died in 1986) enjoying a favorite place in the company of a very dear friend is true. It is not literal, it is true.

These thoughts make me happy. However, I share the built-in desire of the living to continue to live, and I do not want other people deciding when it is time for me to move on.

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