What happens after we die?

What happens after we die? I can’t truly answer that question but turns out that many people experience death anxiety years before that final event.
Lots of people have different opinions about what takes place shortly after we exhale that last breath. Some want to believe in an afterlife; in heaven and hell. Others are certain of reincarnation; yet there are those who are quite sure the soul merges back into some ultimate pool of energy.

Reading Staring at the Sun, a book by Irvin Yalom dedicated primarily to Overcoming the Terror of Death, Yalom discusses some of these ideas. One approach he mentions resonated with me as it’s one I already subscribe to via my own explorations of various approaches to death. Though familiar with this idea, there was a lesson for me in the way Yalom introduced it. I am referring to the idea Yalom calls Rippling.
Yalom starts by mentioning the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and his school of thought of nothingness: we all come from nothingness and, when we expire, we go back to nothingness. No soul, no afterlife, nothing. Our only impact is during our short lives in this body, expressed through everything we do; anything and anyone we touch, any action (or lack of) we take. Thus, and this is already my own interpretation of the above, we each must have been “living” for thousands of years prior – since before life started on this planet, as we are each a result of some unknown and endless preceding events, and we will each continue to “exist” for eternity as tiny particles in the infinite puzzle of existence. Some may find comfort in this idea while others may be terrified. But regardless, the concept of Rippling is tangible. The effect of our individual lives is like ripples on the surface of a lake. As Chung Tzo wrote in a chapter titled The Secret of Caring for Life, and which I take to be the same as Rippling: “Though the grease burns out of the torch, the fire passes on, and no one knows where it ends.” Thus every word we say, every act we take, is of immense importance. It will linger long past our awakened moments.
Learned from: Staring at the Sun by Irvin D. Yalom


About Ronen

Ronen Divon had been walking spiritual and holistic paths for well over thirty years. Born in Israel, educated in New York, and currently residing in North Carolina, Ronen had traveled the world, spending time with teachers, masters, healers and guides. With wisdom that spans multiple traditions, including the Far East, India, Israel, Brazil, Peru, and Native America, Ronen remains a student, learning and adding modalities that will best serve his clients, each according to their own unique needs. Ronen is also a published author, a Yoga, Meditation, and Tai Chi instructor.
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5 Responses to What happens after we die?

  1. Smadar Katz says:

    I find it amazing you take the time and reflection needed, to deal with death.
    I’ve never heard of “Rippling”.
    But according to your description of the idea,
    for me it’s a comfort, and even a drive for action.

  2. What happens after death? Accounts of common experience span the globe – that light at the end of the tunnel; reconnecting with one’s loved ones, merging into a universal consciousness. The idea that we come into this world, grow, develop and then turn to nothing makes no more sense to me than the idea than the leaves that fall from the trees each autumn completely disintegrate and that spring and new blooms do not sprout from the remnants of that which was alive 6 months earlier.

    Is it simply a projection of comfort in the idea of rebirth? I don’t know that the trees and the flowers are comforted. I suppose it’s safe to say I don’t speak their language. Yet the buds bloom again. And they bloom again regularly, no matter my beliefs as to what the non-vocal members of nature might be feeling.

    Nature is such an intricate constantly renewing system. As we look at a river flowing, the water at any single point is not the same from second to second but the life of the water continues.

    When a fire burns down a portion of a forest, new life comes from the charred remains. When a volcano spews lava over a landscape or bursts from the ocean, new land masses are formed.

    Humans like to distance themselves from nature. This way of thinking is one of our biggest downfalls. Separating ourselves as members of the regenerating ecosystem limits our minds, our consciousness and our potential to seek out connections that can extend beyond the blink of an eye that we call our lives. At one point, the world was flat. At one point films were soundless and only in black and white. As our technology grows, we become more accepting of what’s possible. Yet we must remember that our world, our universe boasts order and complexities and layers of life that we are still infants in understanding. Our limited knowledge of our galaxy does not limit or change its structure. We may be proud of new discoveries…everything from the atom to black holes. But our pride in their discovery does not change the fact of their existence…they were there before we could prove they were there.

    I remember reading a conversation with a pastor who said he could understand people doubting the existence of God, but who could not wrap his mind around those who said God definitely did not exist. After all, how could one be so positive about non-existence? And why would anybody intellectually choose no possibility over possibility? If we could change one thing about ourselves in order to grow, that would be my vote. Open doors and minds are so much more powerful and ripe for potential than their definitively locked counterparts.

    Child prodigies playing classical music with artistry and technique way beyond their
    years. Where does a lifetime of mastery come from in toddlers’ fingers?

    When my daughter was born over 20 years ago, she came into this world screaming the hospital nursery down. The other babies were crying. She was screeching like she was being murdered. My daughter only recently is overcoming anger issues that have molded her personality since the day she came into this world. How could an infant be angry? What would she be angry about? She was loved from the moment she was born…and angry as long as I can remember.

    After reading a book on reincarnation, I decided to ask my 2-1/2 year old daughter who “Desmond” was. Desmond was her grandfather who had died before she was born and was not spoken of in the house. Kneeling by her bed, playing with her dolls and without missing a beat, my 2-1/2 year old daughter matter-of-factly replied “Desmond…he’s far far away. He can’t get to me but he loves me so badly”. I then asked her who “Fred” was. I didn’t know any Fred. She replied, “I don’t know Mommy”

    “Argue for your limitations and sure enough their yours”
    Argue for limitations?
    The poet in me sees unlimited possibilities in every sunrise.
    And perhaps – just perhaps – that “little voice” that speaks to me – you know the voice…the one inside all of us that tells us which road to take or that something is not right – perhaps that voice is a messenger from one who has passed from this world. I can’t prove it is. Can anyone prove it’s not?

    • Ronen says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful post. One additional comment I would like to make is that our limited understanding needs to be acknowledged as such rather than inventing bigger-than-life theories and then starting to believe in them. Have you ever read Flatland? (a book that is over a hundred years old.) Ignoring its chauvinistic undertone, its a wonderful little book, way ahead of its time, so much so that its author was too ashamed to put his own name on it… It describes a 2-D world and what happens to one of the characters in it when a 3-D object penetrates through that flatland. A 2-D person cannot comprehend three dimensions. All they can do is come up with theories along the lines of their own limited understanding or yield to mysticism which cannot be proved and therefore becomes a safe-haven for believers. That is why great thinkers over the years, namely scientists, were first ridiculed and even persecuted.
      Ever questioning while accepting that we are limited, is one path I suspect will serve us best.

  3. I haven’t read Flatland but will put it on my list. Oh that list is growing, which is a good thing. Finding more time to check off more entries on that list would be an even better thing!

    Our 3-dimensional world is populated with all too many 2-dimensional inhabitants. For every great thinker or innovator, the planet’s population boasts millions of sedentary, non-questioning, sheep-like souls who do not wish to learn or ponder a new thought. They happily live a 2-dimensional life and hold fast to their 2-dimensional thoughts. And yet, the planet is also proud to boast its 3-dimensional progeny.

    Limited consciousness never represented the entire palette of possibilities…of human potential…of the potential for all beings in all galaxies. Negation of possibilities does not change what’s contained in the catalog of the cosmos. No matter what the scientist or the theologian prefers to believe about the universe, what is true – is true!

    Kudos to science for all it has achieved. And highest praise to the great minds throughout history who had the capacity to accept that other dimensions may exist – that the works of mystics throughout the ages cannot conveniently be scoffed at because it’s easier to say that which cannot be proven using weights and measures is not viable or for lack of a better word, true. Yes, science has achieved much. Sadly, what our mechanized world has gained from our technological toys, it has often paid for with its spiritual soul.

    Scientists were ridiculed and persecuted as others who suggested new information. The human race is so much happier with the status quo. Humans will fight valiantly for their right not to change at all! People do not like change. They resist it with all their might.

    A new discovery – scientific or spiritual – can be completely threatening to a person’s way of life. New information might force us to admit to ourselves that everything we held fast to throughout our time on this physical plane suddenly appears to be wrong, lacking, and in turn requiring an overhaul in how we view our world and how we live our lives. Even Steven Hawking, one of our greatest scientists, admitted he was wrong regarding his assumption on what happens to time as the universe contracts.

    Limitations exist but not as often as people cleave to. “I can’t….” is the single greatest assurance that “I won’t.” Limitations can be nothing more than a sanitized substitute for “I’m scared…”, “I don’t want to…”, or “I cannot prove this and therefore, I give up”.

    “Accepting we are limited” falls like a weight to the ocean floor. “Allowing ourselves to be limitless” changes the horizon and ushers in a world of possibilities that the preceding sentence does not allow. I like that…

    • Ronen says:

      Regarding limitations, let me clarify using a couple of quotes from Chuang Tzu. First is beginning of section 3, a chapter titled The Secret of Caring for Life:
      “Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger. If you understand this and still strive for knowledge, you will be in danger for certain!”
      Another relevant quote is from section 6, The Great and Venerable Teacher:
      “He who knows what it is that Heaven does, and knows what it is that man does, has reached the peak. Knowing what it is that Heaven does, he lives with Heaven. Knowing what it is that man does, he uses the knowledge of what he knows to help out the knowledge he doesn’t know, and lives out the years that Heaven gave him without being cut off midway – this is the perfection of knowledge.
      However, there is a difficulty. Knowledge must wait for something before it can be applicable, and that which it waits for is never certain.” and it continues but i will stop here.
      I hope it helps to better clarify what I meant by limitations.

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