I’ve spent much of the past month moving the last of my belongings out of Kris’s garage, storage shed, and house. It’s amazing how much Stuff I still has there, even after nearly two years of moving, and even after several years of purging before that. Now, though, all I own is here with me in the condo…or in the storage unit that Kim and I have rented across the river.

While much of the work to move my Stuff was tedious (and overwhelming), some of it was fun. For instance, I’ve spent several hours sorting through boxes of papers and notebooks, skimming my old essays and classwork from high school and college. (Why was I keeping these things?)

In the process, I stumbled upon some unexpected gems.

Here, for example, is an epiphany I wrote in my Astronomy class notebook during my junior year of college.

J.D.’s major spiritual transformation/revelation of 29 Sept 1989

Maybe things don’t need to have a beginning and an end. Maybe such constructs are just our attempts to impose what we can know and comprehend onto what we observe, which may be incomprehensible and unknowable.

Perhaps everything is cyclical — the universe just goes on and on. We do, though our intellect does not. Where did we come from? We came from a sperm and an egg, which grew and flourished as cells were transferred from food to us. We grew from food, which grew from something else.

When we die, we will not pass away. Our remains will be absorbed into the ground to feed the Earth, and our minds will pass away. But our remains will serve to replenish life elsewhere and our cells will become part of other living beings — an endless cycle.

The body belongs to nature and to the endless cycle of life.

So, where do our minds go when we die? What happens to that energy? How and why do we think? Our physical self is part of a never-ending cycle, but what about our mental self? Is our mental energy just a by-product of the physical nature of our beings and doomed to non-existence when we die? Or is it possible that our mental energy is absorbed into some sort of “psychic ground” to be born again in other lives?

Crazy stuff. There I am, at the age of twenty, trying to find an argument for reincarnation and the rebirth of souls. There’s nothing in my past that would have led me to that, and it’s an idea I discarded almost immediately. It’s only recently — since I’ve been dating Kim, who believes strongly in past and future lives — that I’ve begun thinking about these ideas once more.

I like the twist my youthful meditation brings to the subject. Instead of suggesting that our souls might be reborn whole from one life to the next (which seems to be the traditional view of reincarnation), I’m suggesting that our “psychic energy” might break down to become food for other souls, just as our bodies will break down to become food for other bodies.

In a way, this does happen, even leaving aside reincarnation.

Also while sorting my Stuff, I happened upon the eulogy I wrote for my friend Paul a few years ago. Here’s how I ended it:

Paul is gone now — but he’s not. I’m reminded of him every day in countless little ways. First thing in the morning, when I get out of bed and walk downstairs, I have to shuffle sideways like a crab. My bum knee hurts. That’s Paul. When my knee hurts, I think of Paul, every single time. It’s as if a piece of him is in me. When I hear U2, I think of him. When I get on my bike, I think of him. And every time I meet and talk with one of you, I will think of him, too.

So, maybe our mental energy doesn’t return to some sort of “psychic ground” when we die — maybe it’s a process that happens our entire lives. Maybe we’re constantly feeding people with the substance of our souls, so that pieces of who we are will linger long after we’re gone.

8 Replies to “The Substance of Our Souls”

  1. I don’t know how people reconcile a belief in reincarnation with the continually growing population of the world. Where do the “extra” souls come from for all the new people? Clearly, it must be possible to create a new, “clean” mind as well as recycle an old one, right, since there are so many more now than there used to be? If so, what determines who gets a new mind and who gets an old one? Do recycled minds push out budding new ones in order to find themselves new bodies, like some sort of cosmic nest parasite?

    Not to mention that even if you could resolve these sorts of questions, you’re left with the question, “What use is reincarnation, if you don’t bring you memories and experiences with you?” which is clearly the case, or everyone would be able to tell you all about their last life. Well, at least the people who had one, which clearly isn’t all of them.

    These sorts of things are why I’m not religious.

    Our mental energy *does* feed those around us, through our words and our works, even after our deaths. For some, much more than others. The fact that Shakespeare’s stories continue to influence millions of people hundreds of years after his death shows the spread of his own mental energy, but it’s not nearly so mystical as the way many people like to describe it.

    From the “circle of life” perspective, I think that the energy in our minds doesn’t do anything fancier than obey the law of conservation of energy. Sure, the energy is lost form our decaying minds only to end up spread around the galaxy doing all sorts of different things, some of it ends up in another person’s head storing an electric charge in a different neuron. Some of it ends up in a star somewhere, radiating as heat to warm planets we’ll never see. Some of it ends up as sunlight that helps a tree to grow. But energy has no memory. These things carry no more presence from their ancestors than does a lego brick in a model race car carry the form of the space station it was yesterday, before a child tore apart the one to build the other.

    • Andrew Snyder says:

      If you believe in reincarnation and that sort of thing, it’s estimated that the number of people who have ever lived is over 107 billion. Plenty of souls to go around.

  2. Babs says:

    Yes. I was thinking words & deeds live on. But then I see Shakespeare has a different view.
    “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”
    I think that was just for the story line though.

  3. I was looking for a particular quote that I failed to find, but I came across some other good ones. Here are a couple:

    “It’s amazing that a man who is dead can talk to people through these pages. As long as this books survives, his ideas live.”
    ― Christopher Paolini, Eragon

    “I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.”
    ― Carl Sagan, Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium

  4. Kristen Wallway says:

    I just wanted to say I’m glad to see Tyler commenting. It seems like it’s been a while. I wish you well, Tyler, as well as J.D. J.D.’s thoughtful writings keep me checking in on him when I have a spare moment.
    Best wishes, All.

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