By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
In his “Meditations,” Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Everything is but what your opinion makes it; and that opinion lies within yourself.”
I hold certain opinions about matter and spirit, which opinions shape my life profitably. I begin by imagining a universe where everything is perfect: all matter in it has taken the form of a tightly ordered crystal, which never changes. Being a a crystal, such a universe would not be subject to the second law of thermodynamics: it would not move towards greater disorder. Energies flow inside the crystal structure in never-ending cycles sustaining the existence of vast numbers of spiritual beings, garnered from living planets everywhere. This is a universe of peace, tranquility, total security, and bliss.
The souls in such a heaven are linked together in a master mind, which sees to all their needs, immaterial as these needs are. Spirits in heaven exist in perfect harmony with each other. Yet, sometimes a soul will pine for living in a material world, with all its vibrant sensations, the risks and thrills of adventure. Then it is sent out to a planet outside the heavenly orb to experience material life once again, and procreate new bodies into which spirits may enter. The connection of the soul to heaven is never lost; after the death of the body, the soul returns to heaven to enrich it with new experiences and bring new growth to the universal mind.
I choose to think I am such a soul. I am not my body, but an imperishable spirit making its home in my body; my body is a possession like my clothes, house, car, discarded when worn out,
not useful any more, replaced by a new body, or no material body upon my return to heaven. I can provide no scientific evidence for the existence of the crystal universe of heaven or even for the existence of an immortal soul in me inhabiting my material body; I find it helpful in my life to think and feel it is so. I choose to feel I am always tethered to heaven, no matter what dangers threaten my body. I am like a deep-sea diver or a space-walking astronaut with my lifeline to heaven and companions above. I am a surveyor craft landed on this planet to collect data and sensations, transmitting these to my home in the crystal universe for my fellows there to experience.
I am confronting dangers in my adventures here, yet my soul is always safe from harm; if my body is destroyed, or when it dies of old age, God will withdraw my spirit through the umbilical cord connecting me to heaven. I can experience my body aging, suffering injury, disease and damage; if I cannot prevent these ills, I am not concerned. I seek help from above and continue my life on earth as best as I can.
As I pass from moment to moment, I keep in mind that my spirit is priceless, being the immortal and important part of me; but my body, having evolved over billions of years through innumerable struggles and dangers, this body is also very valuable, deserving the best of care to survive long and well in order to serve the goals of my spirit.
Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid; my spirit is safe with God. If my body perishes, it will be a small loss compared to the safety of my spirit. Not that my spirit can be lost, but it may be barred from heaven, and go to a different place, a place of oppressive power, anger, and cruelty.
I remember in my daily efforts that my mission on earth is justice, peace, compassion, knowledge, and wisdom; I focus on my mission: to experience many sensations, adventures, learning, arts, actions, helping my own spiritual growth and that of family, friends, and community. To continue doing so, I also want to make my body as strong, healthy, and versatile as it can be for my age and constitution so I can cope with life’s mountains and pitfalls.
How do these ideas of mine differ from religious teachings? They differ because I take them as conscious choices, assumptions, or definitions; no one can argue with definitions. The test of a definition is not its truth, because a definition is arbitrary, but the usefulness of a definition in solving a problem. I define spirit, God, and heaven as I choose, because my definitions help me solve the problem of my existence, and continued survival on earth– posssibly even beyond this earth.
Should I discover that one of my notions is a detriment rather than an aid in my life, I am ready to reject it, replacing it with a more effective notion; so does a physician when a particular medicine does not heal a patient; the physician tries a different prescription which may help, not harm the patient. This approach of mine is also very different from the various religious doctrines, which sometimes do harm, but are not erased from the scriptures by the patriarchs, except rarely. In this respect, my approach to spiritual matters is more scientific rather than religious, evolving when I meet with new facts and experiences, and not becoming petrified.
The commandments to myself are not carved in stone; I prefer to change, adapting to new trials. I visualize my move before taking it, seeing the result in perfection, sensing that I am guided by a beam of light from above. I become keenly aware of my surroundings, my body and mind acting deliberately to do what is right, what is proper, what brings forth good fruit, and what is beautiful.
Beauty is indeed immortal, such as we find in great works of art. And my spirit is immortal, but can it change as artistic expression changes? Can my soul get better or worse? Yes, it can, just as character changes. The spirit aims towards perfection, which is not possible on earth or any other material planet; yet that goal of perfection is clear to me. I see that goal in what I think, feel, and do. I clearly visualize the perfect moves I need to make in any game I play. When I achieve that perfection occasionally, then I am “in the zone,” as athletes say. I cannot fail in that state of mind, but can only do what is right and successful.
Otherwise, what happens if my spirit changes for the worse? Can it go back to heaven? I think admission back to heaven would be barred; heaven cannot allow an infected spirit to come back. That sick spirit needs to go through lives of purification, penance, and cleansing on other planets, before being re-admitted to the crystal orb of perfection. Sometimes a soul goes so far astray, it cannot hope to enter heaven any more and is sucked into a sphere of evil, known as hell, a place of grief, agony, and slavery.
My main effort in life is to avoid the whirlpool of hell, to seek the updraft of heaven, not just to prolong the use of my body or to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. Yes, I want to prolong life to get the maximum mileage I can from this body, in order to learn more things, experience fascinating adventures, do good work for myself and my fellows. But when the time comes to go away from this sphere, I will leave without fear or regret, having done the best I could have done with the gift of life given to me.
I will have no regret upon dying, but joy instead, looking forward to joining my beloved parents and friends who passed on before me. I will be eager to arrive in heaven and be in the company of people who share my feelings and beliefs, congenial souls, those of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad, Lao-Tse, Descartes, Bacon, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Whitman, the souls which are brothers of my own. It will be great indeed to be talking to these people, remembering together our lives on earth, discussing the ideas that intrigued us all during our lifetimes and the opinions laid down in our writings and talks.
Yet, what if I am mistaken in hoping for the immortality of my spirit? In that case, my consciousness will dissipate in earth’s air upon my death as my body goes still and begins to decompose. There will be no harm done to me or to any one else because I imagined a great existence in an afterlife. In the meantime, I enjoy romancing the soul; and transcendent hope sustains me, filling me with meaning and purpose, moving me to good feelings, deeds, and accomplishments.