By William T. Hathaway
Death. The very word casts a pall of doom. Why is it so upsetting to us? Perhaps because it conflicts with two different ways in which we know the world. If both of these ways told us we are nothing more than matter, merely a conjunction of atoms, death wouldn’t bother us. We would just accept that as the way the world is. But we know intuitively that we are immortal beings. Our sense perceptions, though, tell us we die and cease to exist. We see that the person we knew is gone. The body lying there is not them at all. Where are they? Where are we going to be when we die? How can an immortal being cease to exist? This contradiction between two kinds of knowing creates an epistemological crisis in us. What is really true?
The contradiction is bridged when we reach the state of samadhi in meditation (my experience with this has been through Transcendental Meditation). In samadhi we transcend, go beyond, our thoughts and our everyday, relative self. We leave them behind, analogous to dying and leaving the body, and we shift into the transcendental Self, the field of consciousness that manifests and animates the universe. Our individual boundaries drop away, and we merge with this unified field where everything becomes one. But paradoxically we’re still us; we don’t disappear into it. Instead we experience this field as the interface between God and the universe, filled with divine love, energy, and intelligence. But we usually experience it only for a few moments; it’s too overwhelming for us to stay longer. We think How wonderful! and are pulled out into the relative again, back into thoughts and boundaries. But our minds have been infused with some of the qualities of that field, and we bring those into our activity, making our life more energetic and enjoyable.
After many experiences of leaving the small self and merging with the big Self but still maintaining an individual identity, we no longer fear death. We understand that just as we join with the transcendental field in meditation and then return from it again, we join with it in death, rest awhile, and then return in a new body filled with desires to experience relative life. But once all our desires are fulfilled (the state of enlightenment), we don’t take another body. We stay there with God. Why go anywhere?
William T. Hathaway’s first book, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award. His new one, Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness, concerns the environmental crisis: www.cosmicegg-books.com/books/wellsprings. He was a Fulbright professor of creative writing at universities in Germany, where he currently lives. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.