Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What If I Die Without Ever Knowing Who I Am?

The source of many of my essays on LifeCentering come from email exchanges with friends who often ask questions or offer answers to my own.  Such is again the case with this item.

My friend and I have exchanged many emails searching for answers to questions I think many of us wonder about from time to time.  She sent me a course on healing techniques that had been helpful to her.  As I responded after getting started with the program we exchanged our skepticism about such highly hyped courses that seemed to promise “too good to be true” results if you would just give it a try.  In one of her emails she posed the following thought-provoking questions.

What if a person dies without ever knowing who he really is, once all the lifetime "labels" no longer apply, and not knowing absolutely that there is a supreme being and some form of continuing life?  Karma, reincarnation, God etc. are nothing more than words to me that may or may not be real. I want to think there is more to come in my life, but right now I'm clueless. Just a little light food for thought...or not.

A most intriguing series of life questions I thought.  I would like to think that whether or not we come to some understanding of the answers to those questions, Life will continue as "intended" and that essential part of us--call it spirit or soul--that somehow is imprinted with the reality of our purpose will continue to seek its fullest expression.  Admittedly this is a "statement of faith" more than an "understood" Truth, but it works for me.  I guess I remain impressed with the philosophy of Kierkegaard and his "leap of faith" proposition.  Ultimately, life requires that we take that leap if we are to proceed in understanding.  Here are a few of his thoughts on this subject gleaned from Web sources (and my memory of a college paper I wrote about his work).

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. [1]

Most people are subjective toward themselves and objective toward others, frightfully objective sometimes—but the task is precisely to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others.[2]

For Kierkegaard, his belief in the ultimate need for the “leap of faith” has to do with his commitment to the reorientation of the self and acceptance of personal demands that go beyond what he generally knows.  While the phrase is often seen as taking a risk, for him it is meant in a specific way.

An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.[3]

There comes a point in time, it seems to me, that after gathering all the knowledge and insight that appears to be available to us, we must decide, “What now?”  We ask that question because our searching outwardly has not provided a satisfying answer.  It is now we must take our own leap of faith as it were, believing absolutely that we will land on solid ground.  My personal vision of this process was one of a person literally stepping off the edge of a cliff with no sight of a landing to be seen anywhere.  Through the years this vision encouraged me to trust that while I may not know how things were going to work out, I knew they would.  It was not necessary for me to be able to “see” the landing, only to take the step forward.  There were times, though, that I could not take the step.  That meant a kind of inertia immobilized me until I regained my commitment to the leap of faith.  You might liken the process to recharging your battery.  I looked upon the healing course given to me as one of those opportunities to recharge my batteries.

For those who hold no truck with the notion of faith, particularly in the religious sense, there may be no urge to care about wanting answers to questions they are not asking.  But for those of us for whom our belief has led us this far, we recognize our need to keep on keeping on with our search.  Continuing to seek inevitably leads to finding our greater truths. 

And because others have said similar things in ways, perhaps better than I, I share these two quotes from the same friend who started this whole notion of questioning “What if. . .?”

Sometimes it's hard to believe there's a God--to have faith in an unseen power--
To know there's a force you can call on for help in your darkest, most desperate hour.
I know it's not easy--I've been there myself, though our problems are not just the same.
I know how it feels when no one is there--when "God" is no more than a name.
But I'll tell you a secret: I pray anyway to something I can't hear or see.
I pray to the darkness. I pray to the night, or to what may be holy in me.
And sometimes--not always--there comes a deep change.
I feel peaceful, set free, and made whole. Is it God? Is it me?
Has some power of the universe helped me to heal my own soul?
I don't have the answers. I can't say for sure that what I believe in is true.
So I say: I believe...and I do.
--Author unknown
And from a novel, Out of the Shadows  by Kay Hooper. A character (scientist) with "no belief in a deity" offers this on something of us that survives death:

To me, that's not a religious thing--not a question of faith or belief, or any notion that surviving death is some kind of reward for a life well lived. It's a certainty. It's like knowing a tree sheds its leaves year after year, cultivating a new set each spring of its cycle. The tree grows and sinks its roots deeper and deeper, and wears a new set of leaves each spring, until it finally grows as large as it can, reaches the end of its life, and dies.

Our bodies are the...leaves of our soul?

Why not?...We tend to think what's real and lasting is only what we can see, but that doesn't mean we're right. Maybe our skin and bones and the faces we see in the mirror are really the most transitory things about us. Maybe we just wear our bodies the way that a tree wears its leaves, our physical selves being born and maturing and dying over and over while inside our spirits grow and learn.

Perhaps the greater truth will be discovered in wondering if we ever will know the full extent of our reality.  Is there a “culmination” to life?  If there is such a point, what must it be like?  If there is no end, then . . .?

Some things each of us must discover for ourselves.  There may be as many “answers” as there are people asking the questions!

[1]   Journal entry, Gilleleie (1 August 1835) Journals 1A
[2]   Works of love
[3]   Concluding Unscientific Postscript

1 comment:

Raven Dana said...

Who a person ‘is’ cannot be ‘known’ since the ‘knower’ will always be unable to experience itself in much the same way as a fingertip cannot touch itself. We, I think can only know ourselves to the degree that we ‘touch’ (experience) life and others. What if who we ‘are’ changes ? What if there IS NO one ‘self’ to be known, but that who we are is a changing pattern, a compilation of our preferences, likes, dislikes and that within us that is able to make ‘free will’ decisions? We are not our beliefs. We are not our ‘shoulds’. We are more a reflection of our preferred experiences. SO, if we keep ourselves caught up in our Mind-Jail, assessing and considering the ‘Big Questions” of life, rather than being present to our experience and our thoughts and emotions about those experiences, how can we know anything? We are not our roles, our jobs or our talents. Those things though, are expressions of who we are.

Who am I? I am a self-aware being whose body is made from the matter the came from distant stars. I have experiences and preferences that I respond to with pleasure and discomfort and my preferences and reactions change. I change. I am who I say I am. I am my patterns and reactions that were wired into me in childhood. I am all of this and none of this. I am as unknowable as the stars, as dreams, as time. I’m OK with that. I have found more useful questions to live by. How can I be happy and satisfied? How can I contribute to the happiness of others? I have discovered that when I’m fully engaged in the activities these questions inspire me to engage in, I have fleeting moments in which I know exactly who I am.