Thursday, June 2, 2016

Life After Death

"A Beautiful Moment"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

There was another campus shooting incident yesterday here in Southern California –a gruesome murder-suicide in which a professor was gunned down at the UCLA campus. I was in Starbucks when news of the event hit the social media and lots of people were talking about it. As I sat and listened to what people were saying, I overheard a conversation between two college-age students sitting at the table next to me. My guess is they were probably evangelical Christians because they were having a very vibrant discussion about what happens after you die, when you go to heaven to live with Jesus.

As I sat and listened to those two students describe life in the “next world,” I was immediately reminded of something I came across not that long ago written by the Jesuit priest, Anthony DeMello, in his book, Awareness.

Many think the most important question in the world is,
‘Is there life after death?’
I think the more important question is,
‘Is there life before death?’
In my experience it’s precisely the ones who
don’t know what to do with this life
who are all hot and bothered about
what they are going to do with another life.

Interestingly enough when you look at all the great wisdom teachers of most major spiritual traditions, few if any ever talk about “life after death;” rather they talk way more about “life before death,” living fully in this life here on this earth. Jesus himself says almost nothing about the life to come; instead he tells his disciples that the Kingdom of God is here and now-within us, teaching them about finding deeper peace and greater happiness by living a life of compassion and service.

Eckhart Tolle puts it this way:

There never was a time when your life was not now and there never will be.
Nothing ever happened in the past, it happened in the now.
Nothing will ever happen in the future, it will happen in the now.

The wisdom of this seems so obvious and yet it is a lesson that very few people seem to be able to embrace in today’s culture of “great expectation” as we bask in the remembrance of past accomplishment and strategize for success in a future that will never come.

There is a wisdom saying attributed to the Buddha:

You only lose what you cling to

I actually know plenty of people who have already lost their lives and they aren’t even dead yet, always preparing for what comes next in life, the big move in life, the next step up the career ladder, the bigger house, life after death.

I also know people who are well into their seventies who spend most of their days clinging to remembrances of the success of the “good old days” or living in a memory of regrets over the failures of the “bad old days

And amidst clinging to all these past remembrances and future machinations, many people fritter away their lives because they have missed the “moment,” and life only happens in the moment.

Yesterday when I heard about the untimely shooting death of that UCLA professor, it didn’t at all make me wonder about “life after death;” rather, it revived my resolve to a live a life that is “fully alive” before I die.

I am reminded of something Anne Lamont once said in an often-quoted commencement speech

Oh my God, what if you wake up some day and you are 65 or 75
and you never got your memoir or novel written,
or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years
because your thighs were too jiggly;
or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people pleasing
that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life?

It’s going to break your heart, don’t let that happen to you!

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