It’s today. And it’s always today. Usually I’m so busy planning, coping, doing damage control, and just being busy, that realizing it’s today is like picking my head up out of the debris and blinking at the bright sunlight in confused wonder. I look back at the long, wild journey behind me, and at the long, wild journey yet to come. It’ll keep going, today after today, now after now, until I run out and they cast my ashes to the winds of Agiochook. And still I’ll be traveling, bits of me scattering in a million different directions to become a part of something else.
Those ashes are not really “me” of course. The whole idea of “me” is mysterious. There’s something here feeling, thinking, acting. Cogito ergo sum. But what is it? The “I” that experiences the world does so via this meat-mobile that I drive around. I rely on its senses, its ability to manipulate and cogitate. I could lose an arm or suffer brain damage. There would still be a “me” in here, experiencing the world, albeit not in the same way.
Folks pretty much seem to agree that when the person they’ve known vanishes, as with a radical change in mental state, inability to remember or function, they say that person is “gone”. One can wind up totally incapacitated, bedridden and deprived of one or more senses, but as long as one can still think and communicate, as long as the personality survives, one is still recognized. So at least to the outside world, who I am is a manifestation of the meat-mobile: mostly the brain, but the whole body can contribute to mood and personality. So when this organic vehicle I’m driving breaks down badly enough to destroy all manifestations of my personality, or ceases to run altogether, totally and irrevocably, then I’m gone. Dead. Deceased. Shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain, joined the choir invisible and so forth.
We have all sorts of theories and fables about where one goes when one dies. Obviously the physical self is defunct, although many cultures place sacred reverence on the remains, even trying to preserve them as much as possible. Futility. We borrowed all the parts temporarily from the natural world, and when the lease is up, the natural world reclaims and recycles them. Eventually the lease will be up on the planet itself, and the whole shootin’ match will get recycled into drifting star stuff.
But many stubbornly cling to the notion that something else survives–a “soul” that get reincarnated, or goes to heaven–or less pleasant places. There’s no way to prove this isn’t so, and considering the amount of comfort it gives folks, I see no point in trying. Unfortunately, it does lead some believers to make terrible sacrifices in this life in hopes of rewards in the next. I think that’s a shame, but it’s their own business. Unless they use their religious convictions to terrorize others, especially children, with threats of Hell and the like. They can claim that I’ve got no right to interfere with their beliefs, but that sort of abuse is a violation of my beliefs, and I’ll speak out against it every chance I get.
It seems to me that anything you could possibly call a “soul” can’t possibly exist without a physical vehical to support it. This “me” that is aware, that thinks and feels, is utterly dependent on my organic parts. In fact, every day for several hours I become totally divorced from reality. I experience things that aren’t real (at least as I define reality) and have little control over what’s going on. There’s still a “me” having these dreams, and I suppose, when I’m not dreaming I am completely unconscious. I can’t say, since by definition, I’m not aware. My brain ceases to manifest a “me” that can be aware. Seems to me that when the body does its ultimate shut-down, no reboot possible, there can’t be a “me” anymore, either. It’s like asking where the picture went when the projector shuts off.
I’ve been asked how I can stand the idea of death being the absolute end. What’s to worry about? I won’t feel anything–no pain, no suffering–I won’t care or know. This has the effect of making each of these todays that I have at my disposal all the more precious. There’s a limited number of them. Got to make the best use I can of them.
And since only thing that will survive me are the effects I’ve had on the world, I do as much as I can to be a force for good. Every kindness, every accomplishment, has a ripple effect. The more positive stuff I can get rolling, the better. It’s easy for an atheist to live in a world without the reward of Heaven or the threat of Hell. One simply needs to embrace each day as an opportunity, and choose one’s actions based on wisdom and compassion.
Of course, if it should turn out that I’m mistaken and there is an afterlife, I’ll just have to trust that a life based on wisdom and compassion is sufficient to any God or dharma that judges me. If not, then they aren’t worth my worship anyway. I’ve lived a good life and no regrets.
So it’s today. It’s now. What is the best way to make use of it?