There are two well-known hypotheses – death survival and immortal life. You may find the idea of living forever a bit daunting.
If you were to continue to exist, what you would be doing with yourself all that time? Actually, if true, it would be much more than a long time: it would be – well – forever!
Everything we do would get tiresome if done forever. Food and drink give less pleasure as we become satiated; travel, sport, parties, hobbies, and work become irksome if we do nothing else. The mind boggles at the very concept of immortal life that goes on forever.
From a mystical perspective, immortal life is timeless existence. Something of this consciousness can be experienced now. When you are enjoying life, or absorbed in some activity, then subjective time ceases to matter. It is really only when you are faced with the world’s daily requirements and deadlines that time starts to impact.
People, in this life who feel energised, enthused, and satisfied, are turned on by something deeply meaningful for them. They don’t get bored and time doesn’t drag. What absorbs them, they would happily do forever.
I would suggest whether anyone experiences lasting satisfaction depends on their inner attitude: what mind-set they adopt when dealing with others and engaging in things.
The basic message of all faith traditions is that there is immortal life – that we do live forever. Also they all say that deep and lasting happiness comes from learning to stop putting oneself first.
This central idea can be seen in much sacred writing and the books written by many spiritual teachers – when they talk about mindfully living in the present, reducing craving, living ethically, and cultivating love and gratitude. Personal fulfilment is said to be found by making a difference in the lives of others.
And so I would like to suggest a deep sense of meaning comes from thinking about people and community. We can contrast the attitude of ‘what’s in it for me’ with the attitude of ‘thinking of the needs of others’. The latter is all about providing something good by serving a useful function.
My research on midlife adults has shown that the majority of people are more than willing to sacrifice their own happiness to work on behalf of a larger cause. (Susan Whitbourne, psychologist, 2010)
In this world putting others before oneself involves finding a useful function in whatever organisation you work for. It could be a charitable, commercial, private or public body.
Perhaps you are like the hands and arms of the corporate body doing the spade work and getting your hands dirty, in the coal face, on the factory floor. Or perhaps you are at the head of the establishment, a director or senior manager taking executive decisions, planning strategy and setting policies. Or maybe you work in public relations and marketing as the face of what the public sees of the company by developing the brand and publicising the added value.
Just as we each can have a place in a corporate body, so we can each have a unique place in immortal life in what has been called the ‘universal human body’.
This isn’t conceived as just the small body of a committee or organisation but the whole body of humanity of good people. Together this huge number of people can be visualised as a universal human form. Just as each part of the physical body is needed so each person in the whole universal human form has a place to play.
So one can learn about what meaningful roles one can find that go beyond time and place, by thinking about the useful functions of each part of the human body – heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, blood vessels etc. Just as there are countless operations and tasks for all the parts of the body, so there are many and diverse roles for us all to uniquely take. Each different responsibility is a needed part of the whole.
In thinking about a timeless function in immortal life, one can get a clue by considering one’s part played in the body of people to which one belongs in this world – whether it be a small social or work group, or an organisation.
Are you the eye, the nose, the ear of your group or organisation? Maybe you can recognise yourself and others you know in the following?
Are you the eye? These people see what others miss. They have intelligent understanding and illuminating insight that sheds light on some matter about which others are in the dark. They can see through appearances to comprehend the true essence of some difficulty or issue.
Or are you the nose? Having a good nose for something is the ability to sense what’s going on that is not immediately obvious. Perhaps something that smells fishy. Following one’s nose is smelling out what is good and bad. In other words having a quick general intuition about what is happening.
Is your part to play through learning by listening to and then heeding what you are told? Simply carrying out instructions can be crucial when expert advice is needed. Not everyone pays attention. There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear.
Or maybe you are the tongue that tastes? Sometimes it is important to find out what something is really like. If you don’t taste it how will you know you won’t like it? This can be important when people are exposed to deceit. Lies will leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Or are you the skin? The skin interfaces with the environment. Some people interface with the social environment. They keep the social cogs well oiled by making the effort to keep in touch with others.
Or perhaps you are the heart? Having a heart-felt interest is at the very centre of wanting a fulfilling role. The risk of course in caring is a broken heart when that concern is rejected.
Instead you could be the lungs. Without the lungs the body cannot breathe. Those with energy and creative ideas are always going to be needed to breathe new life in to something. Their ideas are needed to prevent a flagging project from dying away.
Or even the womb? The womb protects and nurtures the fragile foetus. One can sense the tender love of young children that some people have.
And these are just a few examples. There are actually numerous parts of each of several bodily systems –, digestive/excretory, muscular/skeletal, nervous/hormonal, reproductive, and circulatory/respiratory etc.
Body of Christ
Paul writes about idea of a universal human form in terms of what he calls the body of Christ:
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)
This notion is in line with the mystical idea of the presence of the infinite Source of compassion and wisdom in our finite being.
The challenge of immortal life
The idea of living forever challenges us to imagine life beyond the limitations imposed by living in a material world; constraints, for example, of money, geography, and education. It takes us beyond the specific economic, legal and social conditions in which we live our ordinary lives. Thinking about immortal life gets to the nub of what is spiritually involved in finding fulfilment because it raises our consciousness above mere worldly considerations. The idea of a universal human form shows the way all good people complement each other in their individual roles.
What timeless role in immortal life do you feel called for? Where do you fit into the concept of a universal human form?
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems