Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The End of All That

She withdrew her fingers from his mouth. She sighed. "I know you have a question now you want to ask me."

"Great lady," he whispered. "What is it like? To be dead?"

Cool hands moved in the dark and found his right hand. She lifted it and placed it snugly between her warm thighs. “Its not so different, really.” She squeezed his hand with her thighs. “A sleeping person wants to sleep. A dying person wants to die.”

“Tell me.”

“I don’t want to.”

“But can you love, if you are dead?”

“Love is only a cloud hiding the color of the moon,” she said, and kissed his ear. “Love is a fog, Shoji-chan. It hides the true nature of things, until it burns away.”   

                                      Lady Dainagon and Shoji  from "The Color of the Moon" 

I’ve often suspected that my little town has a force field around it.  Violent storms never seem to come here.  You see them on the Doppler radar map as a marching battle line of menacing red blobs that have just killed people in the next state over , but when they get close invariably a hole appears, they break into chunks that move above and below my little town and then reassemble over South Carolina and burst once again into tornadoes.

I do miss them.  I like to watch lightning storms in my little back yard with my skinny peach tree and my garden.  In the evening it’s where I come to dream.

I can hear the storms rumble over on the other side of the Savannah tearing up Edgefield County, a kind of meteorological whipping boy that takes all our beatings while I sit in the back regarding the distant mayhem with a small whisky glass of mead.   Most people have never heard of mead, I’m currently teaching myself how to brew it in case I can go pro someday when I retire.  Mead is fermented honey, probably the oldest booze known to our species.  When you see pictures of Vikings and warriors in Valhalla drinking from animal horns, mead is what they’re drinking.  The mead I make is about 20%-30% alcohol, I’ve got that part figured out, so I drink in respectful small amounts.

I watch the lightning and mull over a scene I’m writing for a story, trying to think how to describe what I see.  I know what lightning is, a negative charge connecting with a positive charge, the explosion of sound as super heated air breaking the sound barrier, I know all that.  But I liked it better when I didn’t know.

One of the characteristics of our time is that we know so much that sounds like sorcery, but isn’t as much fun as real sorcery.  Lightning was more fun when all we had was the mystery of it.  Vikings in their dragon boats or tending their cattle, or maybe getting wasted on mead, could imagine that Thor – or Donner as the Germans called him in their operas – would put down his drinking horn, pick up his war hammer and whack something or someone really, really hard and make that god like display of wanton excessive power that set forests on fire.  The world at one time was filled with magic.  Thor and his hammer.  Zeus and his lightning bolts.  Capricious god’s blessing and destroying at will and whim, sometimes for no reason at all.  Gods you could talk to.  Gods you could cut a deal with.

The old caves in France that go back 50,000 years or more show human beings morphing into animals, animals as supernatural beings.  The world of the spirit and the world of matter were the same, existing side by side and constantly bleeding over into each other.

As a mystic, I tend towards the kabalistic view of the world and God which says that God is the only reality there is.  There is no God and creation, but only God existing on many levels of reality simultaneously, a surface with deeper levels of structure like an onion, or a stack of Russian dolls.  I hold up my hand with my little glass of mead.  A physicist will tell you my hand is mostly made of empty space, atoms with cosmic distances in between.  Move up a little, and the atoms become organic molecules.  Chemical compounds mixed with carefully controlled electrical currents.  A little higher and the chemicals become organisms, tissue cells and bacteria that live and die, attacking and killing.  Nine out of ten cells in your body mass are bacteria, not tissue cells.  About 3 to 4 pounds of your body weight when you step on a scale is the weight of bacteria living inside and out of you.  Seen from that level you are not a person, you are a colonial super organism, a vast moving forest of plants and animals living symbiotically with individual tissue cells working cooperatively to form the operations of your body including consciousness.  Even consciousness, ninety percent of that too is operating outside of your reach, out of sight of what you think of as “yourself.”  

I love knowing these things, which I take on faith as much as any religion.  And yet.  There was a time I believed in angels, when the whole thing seemed impossible and mysterious.  Like seeing a ghost in front of you.  It can’t be, it doesn’t make sense, but there it is.  Our age is the stripping away of mysteries and finding answers that only provoke more mysteries.

The only mystery left is death.

We still don’t know what happens when we die.  We know what death looks like.  We can monitor the heart, scan the brain activity until it ceases and things begin to cool down.  “He’s dead, Jim.” 
Sam Parnia, in his book “Erasing Death” describes his medical work resuscitating people who have just gone past the clinical point of death in the short window before the body begins to break down.  He’s kind of the medical equivalent of a storm chaser, arriving on the scene just after someone has died.  People who have had an experience of life after death are rarer than you think, but they’re out there.  They’re rare because there is now a clinically recognized standard that defines death to a scientist and what it means to be brought back when you’ve crossed over that definition.  He makes an interesting statement in his work – if roughly 1 out of nearly 1000 people remembers experiencing consciousness after all function in the brain has ceased and the brain has been inert meat for several seconds or even minutes, and then been resuscitated with that experience intact – and there are plenty of these people -  it means that our fundamental ideas about consciousness are wrong.  It at least raises the question that consciousness could briefly exist independently of the brain and whatever that implies.

I’ll be a little sad when that gets figured out.

I’d hate to think that my last thought on earth will be “Oh.  I see.  So that’s all it is.  Okay.”


  1. I believe - take it on faith, if you will - that the world of spirit and the world of matter ARE the same, "constantly bleeding into one another". The magic is still there.

    Actually, when I began working on my post for this topic, I thought "This is silly. I don't know what happens when one dies, but any model that I consider doesn't include the notion of missing anything. Either consciousness will simply wink out - or we'll be absorbed back into the One, losing our individuality and our memories - or be reincarnated as someone else. Even if there were a heaven (which seems like a ridiculous notion to me), you wouldn't miss anything, because heaven is supposed to be perfect, right?

    Anyway, I love your post. I'll have to taste your mead someday!

  2. P.S. You might like this poem I wrote a decade or so ago.

    Magick will not be denied.
    It lies in wait
    while we tell ourselves
    we can live without it.

    Magick sings in our veins,
    blood of our blood,
    flesh of our flesh.
    We try to pretend
    but Magick knows better.

    Magick is patient,
    waits in a seemingly
    empty room:
    the chalice full,
    the cards thrown,
    the candle flares
    and fades; the rose
    and the lash arrayed
    by the crescent moon.

    Magick is.
    It does not matter
    if we believe.
    The circle rounds.
    The ritual continues,
    welcomes us
    when we return.

  3. I'm actually okay with 'is that all there is.?' I'm a believer in making the most of the time we have right here. Without too many expectations there are fewer disappontments.

  4. Yesterday's magic is today's science. It tends to stay magic until we can put it into terms. Is it magic that tells us our lover is on the phone before we answer? 'God' lies in intimacy with others and with our environment.

    None of us really knows what will happen and what we will miss, but Lisabet may have a handle on the spirit or soul being absorbed back into the whole, sans memory.

    But JP calls for the best bet. Get it while we can. Hope you're feeling better, JP.

  5. my brief moment of almost death was complete oblivion. that might just be for me only though. who knows.

  6. Hi Lisabet!

    Your view of the afterlife is similar to mine, but its a minority view to the rest of mankind. Most people believe that in that blank slate of the afterlife there will be some kind of moral justice (especially towards those we feel have wronged us, now they'll get what's coming to them) and some kind of bliss where the things we've longed for - notably sex on demand with a variety of beautiful lovers - will be ours for the taking.

    As I've noted in the past we live in the age of the Rock Star, people who have been allowed their heaven on earth while they were still young enough to enjoy it and they've destroyed themselves with vapid excess or even committed suicide in despair, none of which speaks well of how we would handle Heaven.

    To me Heaven would be the "three blessings"

    Union with the greater consciousness
    a great task to do
    a great lover to perform it with


  7. Lisabet - you spell Magick in the Wiccan way, that of drawing on the spirit. I believe in that too. Thank you for this poem.


  8. Hi JP!

    Making the best of the time we have is the best way to approach life in my opinion too. The end will take care of itself. One of the things i fault fundamentalist Christians for is the notion that the rapture will rescue them from this world. To me that's quitting. Better as you say to make the most of what is in front of us.


  9. Hi daddy

    I'm generally convinced that there is a continuation of consciousness independent of the brain, as Lisabet says, some greater pool of consciousness to which we return. Even though I believe in evolution, I suppose I reserve that much of a corner of the old religiosity to believe in something beyond science. It comes from the way I've experienced my life, always longing to be part of a tribe, of a community of good and idealistic people. I think for people who think this way, I hope, the moment of death will not be fearful.


  10. Hi Amanda!

    You almost died?? You'll have to tell us about that sometime. In the Fresh Interview on NPR, Sam Parmia speculates that maybe all resuscitated after death experiences have some activity but that the vast majority simply lose the memory on revival. Its one of those things you can't prove, but its an interesting thought.

    You can hear the interview here:



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