Q: Your newsletter/blog post "Egos Are Like Fruit Flies" prompts a question. I was raised in an environment of lovely, giving people who also thought that everyone outside of their sect would go to hell. In the theory of Spiral Dynamics, consciousness goes through necessary stages, from basic survival, to "my tribe, my god", to "let's all get along", to "all stages are an expression of one", etc. This implies multiple lifetimes to move all the way through. In your experience at age 20, death didn't really change much but was just a continuation, after which I assume we'd come back and continue somewhat close to where we left off. Meanwhile, near death experiencers (NDE) report the blinders being taken off and having access to vastly greater wisdom, all their questions being answered, etc. On one hand, if the NDE is an accurate picture, how and why would one come back and take on a bigoted or narrow view of the world? On the other hand, if it's more like what you describe, what a bleak picture: learning our lessons with such painful slowness, taking on an ego again which can only be seen through by means of suffering; and on a mundane level having to learn to wear diapers, walk, and go through adolescence again! The teaching, "death is just merging back into where you came from" is supposed to remove our fear of death, but in my view it completely misses the point. The greater fear is of having to start all this over again.
A: Thank for your very good questions. There are lots of "maps" of what happens after death. In the Tibetan tradition, it is assumed that everyone is shown the totality of Truth at the moment of death, similar to your description of the NDE. The only question is, Can you stay with that totality? If not, then you are shown a lesser truth, and then a lesser truth, and if you cannot contain any of the bigger truths, then you go back and reincarnate. It is kind of like a final exam at the end of the lifetime, and if you do not pass, then you have to reincarnate.
The nondual teachings tend to point to the possibility of experiencing the biggest truths before you die, but in some respects the same principle still applies. After a full awakening or even just a glimpse of a very complete perspective, the question becomes, Can you stay with or integrate that degree of reality?
In either case, our worldly life is the schoolhouse and an opportunity to practice for the big exam whenever it might come. This human life is itself an incredibly intense experience and of course is not really separate from the ultimate reality. The way you master the "lessons" of life is to accept and even embrace them totally. If you get in the habit of loving every little experience that comes along, then the big glimpses are just one more opportunity to open and allow everything. If you cannot accept and embrace what is happening, then in that moment you are in a place of suffering and the "lesson" is delayed and has to be repeated.
At every twist and turn, the most important question is can I accept and even embrace this experience as it is? If the answer is no, that is not really a problem as then the question becomes more subtle: Can I accept and embrace that I cannot accept and embrace this moment? If you are in resistance or judgement, then you are in resistance and judgement. If you can see this clearly and fully accept and embrace that you are suffering from your resistance and judgement in that moment, then paradoxically, you are back in a place of acceptance and can even learn from your experience of resistance. Strangely, suffering is no longer suffering when we embrace it. And once you are in a place of acceptance, then it sometimes becomes more possible to also accept the thing you were resisting in the first place
Our conditioning is strong to further resist any suffering, so it can take a while to get the hang of embracing your suffering. We tend to suffer over the fact that we are suffering! But the reward for accepting your resistance is that you no longer are suffering at any moment when you turn towards what is here right this very instant, even if the experience right now is one of resistance and suffering. Even the fear of having to come back and experience this human life is no longer a problem if you can simply accept fully that you are afraid. Is fear really a bad experience? What are the sensations we call fear? Are they bad sensations or just particular sensations? Is there any part of you that is actually enjoying the drama and intensity of fear while it is happening? And if you cannot embrace your fear as it is happening, can you embrace your resistance or judgement of fear? Is there any part of you that is already enjoying the resistance and judgements you may have about even your deepest fears?
It truly is all grist for the mill. And paradoxically when you can enjoy and accept every moment of fear, doubt, resistance, worry, judgement, desire, stuckness, shame, contraction, overwhelm, confusion, loss, despair, pain, and ultimately even physical death and also every moment of joy, pleasure, bliss, satisfaction, clarity, love, peace, expansion, acceptance, NDE, surrender, awakening, and liberation, then it no longer matters if you come back for a million more lifetimes. It is all fundamentally the same, and it is all rich and worthwhile.
Of course, the ultimate paradox is that when it is completely OK to come back a million more times, then you probably won't. But the freedom is when it does not matter either way. Then if by chance you are meant to be a kind of bodhisattva and stick around a while longer, so be it. And if you are simply meant to move onto the next adventure in consciousness, so be it. Slow is just slow and fast is just fast. The biggest freedom never looks like we expect it to, but it is totally free.
I hope this is helpful.