There was a time long before the dawn of humanity, or even life on earth, when the sea covered the whole planet. There was nothing but time not measured, space uncharted, the wind, gigantic electrical storms, and water everywhere.
Then, something sparked and life began in that vast ocean. Our ancient ancestors could be found in that strange soup, single-celled organisms that were anything but simple when one considers they contained deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, the building block of all life on earth that would go on to become ever more layered and complex as life evolved. Is it any wonder our connection to water is so strong? There is a thread that draws us back through time, before mammals, before dinosaurs, before amphibians and before fish – back to the water we came from.
Water comforts us. It washes us clean. It helps to heal our wounds. It quenches our thirst when we instinctively feel the need to replace the water our bodies lose through physical activity, the very act of living. Water fuels those bodies, even fuels thought itself, for without this precious fluid we would be dry. Our blood would not flow; our eyes could not express emotion through tears. Our bodies are bags of water.
Go beyond that which we can see easily with our naked eyes. Dig deeper, not by using a microscope but by exercising the power of your imaginative mind, bearing in that mind something of what science has, to date, discovered. Go into the molecules of what appears to be water to us, and we can see atoms spinning, little solar systems in themselves. How do they keep their distance from each other, we might ask. We might also ask, what occupies the space between those atoms? Some philosophers and writers argue that this emptiness, this void, is anything but. It is here in the darkness, they postulate, that the universal consciousness resides. An interesting idea, this: in, around and through us all, through every living thing and every physical thing, there might exist this spiritual, self-knowing energy, coursing and transforming, directing and informing us.
Keep peeling back those layers, going even further beyond, delving below the surface of, the everyday reality, to discover the even greater mysteries of the subatomic world. We know that there is more, the universe having the potential to be an infinitely-layered onion, with complex planes of existence below the atomic, into the quantum. Our limited scientific investigations of the quantum to date have led to the development of chaos theory, which cuts through the ‘everything is knowable, everything is provable’ edict. Everything is not knowable, not to human beings confined to the flesh from conception to death. We can, of course learn throughout a lifetime but eventually, sooner or later, even the most intelligent and cerebral among us will hit a wall. It is the only wall that is real because it is the only one we cannot knock down or scale. We imagine god-like powers, or God, await us on the other side.
There are hidden, deep worlds within and without us which we do not see or touch. Do we ever sense activity in these worlds? Are things in the subatomic making themselves known to some of us through extra-sensory perception, spirits, telepathy and other disputed, hotly debated phenomena? We can only ever guess, or dismiss, or hold onto belief like religion without proof. Science has long taught us that there are many more dimensions we cannot ever hope to see, touch or in other ways physically experience, discovered through mathematics. These dimensions are as real as those we exist within, yet to us, in every practical way, they are as unreal as the most abstract of ideas. How can we dismiss out of hand the possibility of spirit being real and surviving bodily death, going on to exist in a place out of reach of the living, when we have that mathematical confirmation of the existence of other planes of reality? To deny all hope of heaven is as ridiculous as human efforts to define it.
It is not the most pleasant thing to do but I’m going to ask you to imagine the dead body of a human being or other animal. There it lies, cold and no longer breathing. The heart no longer beats. The blood does not circulate. All electrical activity in the brain has stopped. With the onset of rigor mortis, the body stiffens into an unyielding shape. We are absolutely sure that this being is no more. It has ended. When it is someone or some animal we loved, we grieve for ourselves because we can no longer communicate with them, will never see them again, or so we think. Go into that body, continuing our imagined fantastic voyage, and see that the blood, while it no longer pumps, is still wet. There are things in there, inhabiting the space. Bacteria and viruses. The unity of the collective in the form of a personality no longer has expression through voice or physical function, but that collective remains hard at work, its mission changed from one of maintenance to a job of dismantling.
Is the person or animal dead? Yes. Is the body dead? No, not really. Not yet, if it ever truly is. Over time every element of the body is dissipated into the earth, other creatures and plants. The single life made possible by millions of other lives working to a common purpose becomes millions of lives again. We talk of returning to the earth from whence we came, or to God, and so the idea of death taking us to a greater, more expansive existence is one which dates back a very long way. Scientific investigations have shown us exactly what happens but we’ve kind of known, on some instinctive level and through simple observation, since the earliest days of humanity. There is energy in a corpse. There is activity that is not dependent upon our restrictive definition of what it is to be alive. Atoms continue to spin, protons and electrons keep moving in the mysterious ways. The dead are as miraculous as the living.
When we go swimming in the subatomic realm, we realise that there are no boundaries. Nature does not have walls. The shapes perceived by the mind and eye – tree, cat, person, car and so on – do not truly exist. They are the separate pieces of consensus reality that, by definition, is not truly real for we are incapable of perceiving that which is truly real. The question to ask is, not whether something of the living continues after death, but what form or forms that continued existence takes.
So many things matter to us which are wholly temporary. Land ownership. Possessions. Reputations. Money. None of these things truly exist. They are pieces of paper, mostly. Only the foolish, and there are many of those, believe that anything of the earth belongs to them. Nothing does. A landslide can rob you of your precious farm; a flood can take away your house. The ground you stand on can open up and swallow you. The concept of ownership is temporary custodianship at best, The things we cherish, like clothes, photographs and gardens, they only exist for a limited time. Absolutely everything we consider to exist physically has its origins in the ancient waters or even further back, and will one day be returned to where it came from. Be it a vase or a cat, a daughter or a book, there’s a fundamental truth in the phrase, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ and yet those words often provoke grief and despair because, to my mind, the saying is incomplete. It does not reference those ashes and that dust going on to play new roles in the generation and maintenance of life. Our loved ones are not dead. They are only changed.
If there is a consciousness or authority holding the universe together, and let us surmise that there is, it is the same consciousness or authority which forms flesh and stone and flower. Now imagine that consciousness as a great, liquid sea. Individual droplets emerge from that unlimited ocean to enter into the miracle of conception, becoming that which we know is life, going on to form a matrix in which mind and personality serve no other purpose, no greater purpose, than the universe taking a journey of self-discovery. It is in the existence of everything we find life. There is only one life to be found. We are I.
When the time of any living creature in this limited reality is over and done with, its essence – the raindrop – returns to the sea, atoms redistributing themselves, personality and, perhaps, an echo of shape remaining for a time but ultimately feeding back to the source information on all the unique things it has learned from its time spent in those dimensions we are most familiar with when mortal. Nothing a living creature experiences can ever be said to have been a waste of time, when we consider this to be the way. Everything counts for something.
The universe as consciousness is or would be the greatest of beings, seeking only to love and explore itself through experience, to learn with joy like a child wriggling its toes in the water. It It is when observing small children at play that we can most easily sense for ourselves the love and curiosity of the divine. Love is not accidental. It is debatable whether it conveys mechanistic, evolutionary advantage. When humanity first named love in language, love made itself known to us in ever deeper ways. It came from minds and hearts and entered into art, writing, poetry, painting, music, science and everything that makes our species unique – and which we mistakenly assume gifts us with superiority and mastery of other creatures on the planet. We are not superior in any way. We are simply operating under our specific instructions, coded into our species, adapted and upgraded as history has moved forward. Other creatures have their own lessons to learn. When they touch our lives, they join us in learning about love. Any friend to cats, to give just one example of how animals can change in the presence of humans, can tell you a feral cat is an entirely different, purely functional beast to the one that purrs in front of the fireplace. One of them has learned the benefits and joys of love, how to enjoy the receipt of it and how to show it, while the other has not.
Of course, some people choose to hate. Others simply run from love. This does not mean they were ever meant to turn love on its head or reject it. The universe might learn from them regardless of what they elect to do in their lives. As much as people judge and condemn, the universe won’t do that. By not judging or condemning, it protects itself against hate, which requires both judgement and condemnation to thrive and spread its poison among souls.
For all his misogyny and other intolerances, St Paul, in his Letter to the Corinthians, or whoever did write it, expressed connection to the divine as a truth fixed and eternal when he said, in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Love ‘keeps no record of wrongs’, Paul wrote – and yet the Christian faith, like others, has maintained such focus on judgement, condemnation, notions of rewarding Heaven and punishing Hell, everlasting joy or eternal fire and damnation. But no. There is no judgement awaiting us upon our exit from this reality. We emerge into this world from a place of love, and it is to a place of love that we return. Reunification in the great ocean awaits us all. It therefore follows that we will one day be reunited with all those we loved and love still, who went on before us.
Each of us being a part of a greater whole does not in any way diminish us. The oceans, lakes, rivers and streams of this planet would be nothing without each individual molecule of water residing in them. If each and every drop taken away, life on earth would end. Everything forming the reality around and within us, every person, every animal, every plant, every cell, every rock, stick and molecule, these are all important. To the universe there is no such thing as celebrity or the positioning of one creature over another because of its strength, intelligence, cunning – or, in the case of humanity, monetary wealth. Everything, every single one of us, is equal before infinity.
Even those experiences we perceive to be negative, whether part of the natural world or produced by the words and actions of people, such as pain and suffering, loss and grief, torture and cruelty, good and evil, the many dualities and labels by which we categorise and order our existence, serve their part in helping us, those of us who are looking to learn, to reach the realisation that love is supreme. It has to be. We see with our eyes what goes right when love is given and received; we see how things go differently when love is absent, its place occupied by violence, hatred, abandonment, despair and abuse.
People perceive of spirit, if they believe it exists at all, as being nebulous, like the webs of spiders or dust on the breeze. I believe it to be more akin to love, which is itself like water, these three – spirit, love and water – being the defining properties of intelligent life, that is life which is aware and self-knowing. Spirit is an energy that flows through everything, into everything, sustains and motivates us. It is also each and every star in the sky and all the blackness between them.
You can dismiss all of the ideas expressed here, of course. I anticipate many will, and that’s fine by me. I’m just a writer playing with the shape and meaning of words and, like a sculptor works with clay, I work with a blank screen before me waiting to be filled with words expressing thought activity, pinning it down for others to receive into their heads. But for some, hopefully, what I’ve written here will resonate and even bring a little comfort if they’ve lost someone. That’s what we should all be about, besides love: being kind.
And that’s where I’m going to end this exploration, for now. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Andrew’s latest book, myfibromyalgia: one man’s experience of living with chronic illness, is out now in all Amazon store territories the world over. The ebook is £5.99 and the paperback £8.99. UK Amazon link.