Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The First Place

            The last thing I told myself was, "This could be it!" I know it sounds silly but I actually thought of the possibility. It might be over. I hadn't been under the knife since I was 12 years old. I rarely entered a hospital, let alone allowed them to cut me open. Yeah, yeah, it was only dental surgery but the idea came to me nonetheless. I laid on the cold and sterile slab. I felt like a lamb led to slaughter. I gave them permission to kill me. It was only a dotted line but it seemed as if I had signed my life away. Once the drugs were administered, at the beginning of my fade, I went to God in my head. Just for a brief moment, I assumed I would now meet my fate. I thought of Joan Rivers and how she also laid herself down to die. I then recognised my lack of trepidation. I wasn't afraid of it. I was ready, I was sure. The effect did not creep. In that one moment I was able to face my maker, then I dropped off the face of the world and jumped into the darkest place. There was no dreaming. There was nothing but black and calm and peace. If this was all death would bring me then I really had nothing to fear.
            It felt over in a second but the shadow seemed to linger forever. In my childish dread, I felt surrender. Actually, I didn't feel much at all. I slipped into the black believing I would never come back. Somehow, I was okay with that. This microcosm of what it feels like to end sat relatively easy with me. The tunnel wasn't harsh or ridged. I melted into the void and never even stopped to say goodbye to my life. When I awoke, I felt stupid. I felt like I needed to find a new hobby. I tried to tell myself it was natural to think the way that I had. I believe that everyone must doubt before they slide into the abyss. I have seen so many people suffer on their way out the door that I was almost gleeful that I didn't have to have this experience through that filter. In the past, my Bipolar disorder insured that I knew what it was like to scream upon approach. So many times, I closed my eyes bearing much fear and even loathing towards what rested on the other side. I was, most certainly, scared of any pain, any extremes that death might bring as I passed into oblivion. I was always frightened to meet Jesus, or God, or even the devil. Years of contemplation and focus had chased all those daunting faults away. To be honest, after the silent emptiness was over, I began a new approach to my doom. The recognition that I was no longer afraid of facing God makes it easier to survive Him while in this mortal coil. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was nothing to survive after all. If we all end in this vacuum then bring on the worst.
            We spend our lives waiting for monumental changes to occur. We think we see them coming. It can feel a little odd when true change comes in small doses. Some experiences are silent filler. It appears that the tiniest amount of shift can have a greater and much more lasting consequence than some of the most monolithic events from a lifetime. Not every lesson comes like a big bang. There are often whispers rather than ruckus. Pinpricks collect into bruising. What appears to be an insignificant moment in time can change a person forever. More often than not it is meant to. Unfortunately, just because someone is presented with a lesson doesn't mean they will absorb it, let alone pay attention to it. People don't change their stripes, they have to be forced to. It matters little the catalyst. Fear, trepidation, that sense of nothing approaching very fast, they are all illusions. Perhaps our Near Death experiences are just that. It must be probable, a possibility on some level, that the other side is not full of light or Glory. Perhaps the other side is nothing but black, nothing but constant floating on a sea of nothing at all. Could it be that I was wrong all along? Is it possible that heaven is permanent bliss inside that ether? Is the blackness home?

"I'm not scared of dying
 And I, don't really care
 If it's peace you find in dying
 Well then, let the time be near
 If it's peace you find in dying
 Well then dying time is near
 Just bundle up my coffin
 'Cause it's cold way down there
 I hear that it's
 Cold way down there,
Crazy cold, way down there"
(And When I Die, Blood Sweat and Tears 1969)

            I have danced with the idea that there is no God for decades. The truth be told, everything I studied, everything I came to understand, always pointed in two directions. On the one hand, the light I pursued was a pleasant place to stay. Everything would be okay if you go towards the light. God awaits therein, such peace and calm we will only know when we are taken into His Presence. Heaven has no dimmer switches. Then you come to it. The fork in the road goes from sunshine to shadow. In the other direction lies nothing at all. So, if all there really is, is nothing, then there is nothing to fear. Arguably, all this bleakness and ebony and empty is unto itself something. Again, nothing in itself is something. Constructs from ancient manuscripts would have one believing that God dwells in everything. So if God is everywhere, in everything, then the darkness holds Him too. If when we die there is the true end, then at least there is comfort in the black. Perhaps the scriptures are correct. Perhaps there is peace for all, we shall rest in peace. There is a chance, albeit a large one, that the other side to our living is not living. I still believe in a personal God but I have to say it's getting harder to keep believing as my life goes along. I'm starting to think that God may well be forever in darkness, serenity in the nothing that is nothing. Bliss from leaving it all behind.

            A few months after the suicide of my first partner, I was hopelessly lost in the scope of it all. I had committed myself to my contrition, riddled myself with guilt and a sense of penance in spite of it all. The light I encountered during a recent Near Death experience convinced me that there was more to the pain, more to the world in which I lived. I went from beggar to borrower. I began to search everywhere for hints of the light. I went on a quest to study, to understand, I believed the only way I could survive God was to comprehend Him. At first, this trip was exclusively Christian in its nature. Given time, my journey took me to other Gods and other spiritual disciplines. As much as I would have hated to admit it at the time, all the words did little to quell my questions. In fact, things just got worse. I started to realize just how much human nature one could find in the Holy nature. Anthropomorphism became my catch word. It seemed not that God had created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27), rather that somewhere in our history we had created all gods in our own image. Personification personified. I couldn't handle this revelation at the time so I switched from academic study to inspirational analysis. I needed some sugar in with all the sour. I remained riddled with bleakness, walking the line between my own doom and the punishments that lie waiting for me. Oh how I dreaded more. The light came when I least expected it.
            Sitting on a railroad tie atop the hill on my parents' property, I had placed myself in a meditative state. I sat facing the fullness of a hot July afternoon. At first, I thought it was the sun. My epidermis soaked in the summertime. It spread quickly and I was suddenly overcome. My contemplation flipped a switch somewhere deep inside me. Even during my NDE I had not felt such a calmness, such soothing energy. Every question was therein answered. Every doubt, every fear washed away in steady stream. It was the presence of something far beyond what I had encountered before. The light in the tunnel had come out of the darkness but this light forced the darkness to disappear. I sat frozen in spirit. This was not imagination, something had entered me, filled me, touched me and I knew not what it was. The Christian may summon a Holy Ghost. The Buddhist may achieve nirvana. This essence was not grounded in earthly ways. It was all encompassing and I eventually found myself floating on the universe. I left like molasses draining through a sieve. I was possessed. Although I have encountered brief moments with this captor in the years that have passed me by, I have not come close to the experience I had that day. There is a part of me that yearns to reunite with such magnificence. For me,  unfortunately, that time and that person are lost now to abandon and survival. I am cold to those things which I cannot hope to understand. My heart is not hardened but my mind has become a safety wall, protection from life as a wrecking ball. 

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
(Archbishop Desmond Tutu - retired, South African activist)

            I find it rather interesting that I spent my entire adult life running scared. I was so afraid of getting to the other side that I lost touch with what was on the other side. Whether it was a natural repulsion to pain upon approach or the condemnation I feared upon landing, I tried not to fly at all. It is strange that after all the years I spent trying to survive God that I somehow discarded Him along the way. Nor have I missed the irony. It says a lot about religion when eternal darkness holds more comfort in death than facing the God who professes to be the light. Although I cannot deny that I still believe on some level, I am convinced that quite often it is better to believe in nothing than it is to give credence to the institution of religion. Its subjective expression through scripture and Holy books is more a justification of the character found in the explanation than an expression of how things really are.
            Yes, there is light if you wish to seek it. You can find it on a hilltop if you look hard enough. Yes, there is darkness. You can swim in it if you close your eyes. Either one is only the grasping at straws. We can't really know anything until it's over for us. The only conclusion I can come to is that one experiences the unknown based on the circumstances one exists within. In the light of an NDE, we find the archetype we have been raised to look for. In the darkness, there lies the peace we have been taught to fear. These figments, these conditioned hopes, are nothing but an artificial pathway to a place of which we know nothing. There is surrender in the reality that we know nothing at all. I now cling to the idea that, in the end, I will survive God because the very same God I was trying to endure never existed in the first place.   

The Monster in the River

The village priest was distracted at his prayer by the children. To get rid of them he said, “Hurry to the river and you will see a monster breathing fire through his nostrils.” Soon the whole village had heard of this monstrous apparition and was rushing to the river. The priest too joined the crowd. As he panted his way through four solid miles, he kept saying to himself, “It is true I invented the story. But you never can tell.”

A good way to believe in the gods we have created
is to convince others of their existence.
(The Song of the Bird, Anthony De Mello 1982)