A Few Thoughts On Spirituality
By Matt Loewen at Jun 17, 2008
As wandering words ebb and flow
issues come and issues go
the fluffy nothings of apropos
and hand in hand we together go
about them all we shall never know
mind 'tis for the journey not the goal
for which we stray from home.
So, what happens to people when they die?
Though I have yet to search the literature for the explanation of anomalies such as haunted houses and things of that nature, I think it is fairly safe to assume that no one has yet to objectively demonstrate the existence of an afterlife in which the souls of the dead inhabit the earth as ghosts or spirits or angels or daemons or anything like that.
So, what happens to people when they die? The brain is shut off, yes, and the mind, or the self, that the brain contained, and the energy that the brain regulated, and the human being which is thrumming with the combination of that mind and energy is...well what, exactly? Is snuffed out forever? Somehow I have trouble believing that. While discussing this with some friends I realized I had only really briefly sorted this issue out in my head while I was doing dishes one time, if I remember correctly, which I probably do not.
Anyhow, I started to think about this idea of the spirit world, or about what happens when people die, and where their "soul" or "life force" or their "self" goes. The first thing I came up with was that my life force, or the combination of my mind, my energy, and the self that makes me who I am can be called my spirit.
When I die, my body will decompose. That is inevitable, unless I donate it to science, or if I for some reason decide to become a cryogenic zombie- the chance of either is slim. So, my body will decompose, and my cells, and their nutrients will go to the annelids and the bacteria and the nematodes and the plants, and eventually become cycled all the way around the globe through groundwater or in other organisms. Thus I will slowly encircle the globe.
"But those are just your cells, and the atoms that you once had, they weren't you, they didn't have your personality or your subversive political beliefs or your unexplainable skill with baked goods. They were just inanimate objects operating as a series of chemical reactions controlled by your brain. You're a delusional, new-age airhead whose hypotenuse would be squared by scientific objectivity before you could even being to consider the time domain expression of your transfer function."
Firstly, I would caution you regarding your belligerent Scientism, and the mechanistic tendency of those who uphold that ideology. If one is solely focused on continually breaking things down to into smaller and smaller boxes, into chemical processes and equations, then the larger meaning, the larger connectedness, and the larger and broadly-applied importance of the whole is as lost as the one who is attempting to transverse the maze of gargantuan Russian dolls heaped on the microscope slide. This is a narrow viewpoint, and like most narrow-mindedness, it can be extremely dangerous. It's like cutting someone open to see what kind of person they were.
Organelles function as interconnected interactions of their constituent parts: molecules and atoms.
Cells function as interconnected interactions of their constituent parts: organelles.
Cells create tissues which give rise to organs.
Organisms function as interconnected interactions of their constituent parts- every part is important, inherently, as it is part of the whole.
Ecosystems are made up of the organisms which inhabit them, as well as the interactions of those organisms with each other and the non-living environment, that is, the biotic and abiotic interconnected interactions.
Notice how things get more complicated as the scale increases, as the previous interactions all build on each other to create massively complex interactions of what some have described as mere muscular tubes (organisms).
That being said, the interaction of ecosystems with other ecosystems is so complex that it begins to boggle the mind if you momentarily step back and contemplate the layers beneath the surface. Imagine if you will, a painted light bulb. The glass of light represents the earth's crust. The paint covering on that crust represents all of the life on earth- from the deepest ocean trench to a living organism suspended, perhaps, on a droplet of moisture somewhere in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. They key here is that this light bulb is coated with a blanket of bacteria, mice, pigeons, donkeys, cucumbers, hippopotamuses, horned toads, jellyfish, alligators, yellow montane violets, etc.
This is what I am going to opt to call "Earth's Blanket," a term first used bu the Nlaka'pmx peoples to describe the plants and grasses that cover the earth's surface. They believed that if too much of the blanket was removed, then the earth, the mother, would become sad, and weep. I think it is safe to say that few would steal their mother's blanket and sell it for short term corporate gain if that blanket was her only means of survival, but also vicariously the children's means of survival.
This idea of the Earth as gigantic living organism is one of controversy in scientific discussion, ever since Dr. James Ephraim Lovelock proposed the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1960's. Personally, I think that it is a comment on the narrow mechanistic viewpoint of the global scientific community to dismiss the interactions of organisms with others, and how these create ripple effects that are felt globally. One of the simplest demonstrations of the global connection is humankind's emissions of carbon dioxide, which have a global effect, despite being concentrated in certain areas.
The atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, and the geosphere are all connected, are all interacting as part of the same system that is our planet. You can call it Gaia, you can all it our planet (and hey, some people that were highly regarded in the scientific community used to think it was flat, and the center of the universe, then they were suggestively falsified- it is important to bear in mind that there are only two types of scientific theories- those that have been proven wrong, and those that haven't been proven wrong yet) but at any rate, the idea of the earth as a large rock ball with a slimy, leafy, prickly, furry and generally sexy and delicious living skin is an idea that scientists have been chewing on for almost 50 years, and they have yet to spit it out.
Most of the time, people go out into nature as a vacation- to reconnect with the environment, to soak it all in like a sponge. I think it is prudent to ask, "Soak what in?" Have you stood alone in a stand of old growth forest? If you have, then you actually haven't, because you aren't standing there alone, the trees are standing with you, or rather they are thrusting towards the sun with such strength that one can scarcely hear it. Their silence is immense and vigorous, pierced just so by the ghost of a bird who watches from lofty foliage, or the softly sighing breeze through the trees that accentuates the rays of light perforating through the canopy and splashing upon the colossal, gnarled feet of the trees. Can you hear it? The air is crisp, crisper than any apple, and sumptuous in the lungs. Can you smell it? Every dew drop tentatively hanging from green Douglas fir fingers is visceral and real and significant and beautiful. The place has a feeling to it. You can feel the spirit of the place. You can feel its life as part of the experience of your own life. You can feel its spirit interacting with your spirit.
You can feel your own spirit- your individual self, your mind, and your energy. If you can feel it within yourself, and you can recognize it in organisms (for instance, you can recognize a dog is an individual entity that has a mind and energy) and you can recognize it in ecosystems- can you feel it at all scales? In the global sense? Can you feel a global spirit, and does it weigh on your conscience when this global spirit is being attacked from all angles, and nearly every level, in the name of the power held by rich white men who want to protect their power? Because of greed? For money?
Imagine that you live in a society where rape is commonplace. One of your parents were being raped by some of your brothers and sisters, and they were profiting from that rape, because by raping your parent, they were taking gluttonous amounts of the material and spiritual and cultural provisions provided by the parent. Usually all was shared, but this rape means that your future, and the future of your parent, and the future of whole entire family is at stake, because everyone relies on your parent to provide. Imagine that the rapists also usually depend on the parent for survival, but they rape because in doing so they gain profit, which provides the rationale for their rape- more resources than their brothers and sisters, and therefore power. Imagine now, if you will, that you had the means to do something to stop that rape. If you were in this situation, you most likely would not only use those conventional means but also means that are deemed illegal by the rapists (for the sole reason that such actions would allow you to interfere with the rape, and therefore stop their flow of profits, and force upon them dependence on the parent) to end the rape once and for all and bring to responsibility to bear on the rapists. Pretend also, that if you participate in the rape, then you can share in the profits.
Would you rape your parent for your own personal gain, so you can 'bling' off the rape of your parent (also known as 'pimping')? Would you try to stop it at all costs? Those who commit the rape have devised very entertaining ways to divert you from stopping their rape. Will you fall victim to these entertainments, or remain vigilant? Or, knowing of the rape, will you apathetically permit it to persist, because you are told by the rapists that it is for your own good, or that there is no alternative to rape, or that you are ultimately gain from the rape, or that you are interfering with the rapists' freedom to rape, or simply because rape has become the status quo? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those who permit rape commit rape. Furthermore, permission of rape is suicidal when one depends on the parent for sustenance and has means to fight against the atrocity.
Can you look at yourself in the mirror every day, or sleep at night, knowing that your provider is dying from rape-related causes? Can you look at yourself in the mirror knowing that you could stop it, but you were too busy? If you see the world as a living entity in and of itself (which requires you to recognize- not fully understand or comprehend, just recognize- the interconnectivity of all life) then you must realize that, as one of its spiritual, constituent parts, that the health and well-being of that entity is in your best interests, as your spirits are linked. Imagine a kidney cell trying to exist without the kidney. Or a man of the Yanomammi tribe trying to exist without the Amazon. Or a shrimp without a heart. It is impossible because the constituent parts, and the interactions of those parts create the essence of the larger entity, and the larger entity is comprised of the essence of all constituent parts.
Humankind is nearly alone in that it destroys that which provides its everything- I say nearly alone, because some viruses and diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, do that, too. Am I saying humanity is the HIV/AIDS inflicting this earth? Yes. Am I making a blanket statement about all humanity? No. Am I some kind of crazy, lazy, good-for-nothing misanthrope? Yes. Am I optimistic or pessimistic? No.
If this feeling of spirit can be broadened out and beyond the personal self into realms of experience- experiences that we can be inside and be a part of, such as being inside an ecosystem, and experiencing it- then why can't it go the other way? Imagine if you are rushing through your own veins as a red blood cell, or pumping as your own heart. They are selves in and of themselves, and they have energies. Every atom has energy, every atom is an individual in itself. Plus, they belong to the greater self, many greater selves, just as do we. Must we constrict our view of spirituality based just on what we can see? Can we not use our imaginations to try to feel the feeling of those places? Or are we too caught up in trying to feel the feelings? That's the only approach we really have at this point- and so we are limited by our approaches to such questions.
Can it be said that just because each of our cells doesn't have a measurable mind (what is a "mind," anyhow?) doesn't mean that it doesn't have a spirit? How to test what kind of mind a nucleus has? And when do we admit that there are some things that we will never know, and some things that will never be measured? Will we ever look at ourselves in the mirror and face our own limitations?
I think, perhaps, that it can be said that because, as constituent parts of a whole, our cells are a part of us, which help make up our spirit, and that they are a part of our spirit- that they share our spirit. Without our protons and neutrons, we wouldn't have a spirit (remember, spirit is loosely defined as our energy and our singular selves, distinct from others) because we wouldn't exist as our own self. They help to create that self in us, as one of the smallest known constituent parts of our own selves.
We all come from the same common ancestor- things are interconnected in ways that scientists may not know. Our electrons in our constituent parts are simply an electrical charge- many things have electrical charges- what happens to them when we die? Is it possible for this electrical charge, one of the facets of our spirit, can remain in the place where it once was, or by some chance event reassemble where it was once know previously, and is it possible that another spirit, a whole one, close by, can sense that spiritual facet, in ways we can't explain? Then is this information passed up the system of Russian dolls, processed by our brains, and termed as 'ghosts' or 'spiritual remains' or a being who had once inhabited this place but is now gone?
Is it possible?
I don't know. I never will. But the fun is usually in the journey, though sometimes in the destination is of great importance. But then, from the destination we proceed again to journey. And when the destination of our real and tangible journey, this life we lead, reaches its final physical destination in a coffin or urn or splattered on the pavement or deep in a silent forest, whence from there? Well, I believe that this destination begins another journey, one in which our spirits diffuse out in our constituent parts and join with others into theirs, creating, concurrently (through my own personal belief that everything is connected in that we share the same spirit as we all inhabit the same earth) huge and undulating webs of circumstance and chance and happenstance shuffle us, every single one, in and around one another, and we are buffered by others being buffered by others being buffered like a supercomplex chess game in which no one wins, and no one loses, and barely anyone even knows that they are playing, from Sandstone (a beautiful, easily-eroded rock) to Sturnus Vulgairs (a ruthless type of colonial bird) to Homo sapiens sapiens (large, confused, ape-type creature) to Linaria genistifolia (Dalmation Toadflax, a pretty yellow flower).
Thus, when I die, when we die, when anyone dies, when anything dies or breaks or cracks and splits and is no longer what it was before, we die in the sense that our bodies are gone, that our selves as we once knew them are gone- but our energy isn't dead. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, so sayeth the Law of Conservation of Energy- it can only be converted into different types of energy. Thus, our energy, and our constituent parts and they themselves bearing our spirit and their spirit to whatever end it reaches- usually to join with another spirit, or infinite other spirits over time. We are bundles of energy, buzzing around, and when we die, we get to finally unwind, relax, and join in the buzzing of everything else, and thus "live" on through eternity or until the end of time, or until Ragnarok, etc.
Or maybe not.
Heck, I'm having enough trouble trying to get a handle about what's going on in this world, right now- I figure I can worry about any other afterworld or whatever you want to call it when it comes.