Confronting taboos: death and the afterlife, American-style

It is one of those unspoken social contracts that Americans won’t say anything to each other that might indicate any doubt that life as we know it will continue.

If you dare to bring up the subject of climate change, with its attendant erratic weather, major storms, sea-level rises, wildfires and crop losses, people roll their eyes and change the subject.

If you voice any doubt that the economy—local, national and global—will recover, you are dismissed as a negative Pollyanna, and again, the subject is changed.

If you were, just hypothetically, to express the opinion that our increasing reliance on digital technology might have the quality of an unhealthy addiction, and to worry aloud at the effect that all that unrelenting screen time is having on the current generation of tiny tots, you are dismissed as a raving Luddite.

Nobody talks about the fact that both of our political parties are thoroughly corrupt, and our Supreme Court even more so.

No one mentions the disappointment so many of us feel with President Obama, who has proven himself incapable of effectively standing up to Beltway politics—if indeed that was ever his goal.

We are living through a massive period of collective denial of social and physical reality, with no exit in sight from the crazy funhouse we inhabit, with its motto, “Everything is going to be OK” blazoned on every door.

It’s about time we accepted the fact that everything is not going to be OK.

Not by a long shot.

I have been a little bit quieter than usual this past month, with my attention turned to the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, but I have been paying attention nonetheless to what’s going on in the world.

The elephants of Africa are under siege and conservationists are now using the E-word to describe their future.

American bees are dying off at record rates due to pesticide poisoning, which is now not only killing the adults, but also the larva of the bee colonies.

The ice at the poles continues to melt at an accelerated rate, while down in Australia it was by far the hottest summer on record.

Just this week, record rainfall brought flooding to Argentina that killed scores of people.

There will be no escape from the severe weather that our degenerating climate system will wreak upon all of us.

As retiring climate scientist James Hansen has testified over and over, we are already at the tipping point from which there will be no return to what was “normal” for the past 10,000 years.

I totally understand the impetus to denial, because really, what can any of us do about all this?

What should we be doing?

Marching on Washington DC?  Setting up survivalist camps in the wilderness?  Sabotaging pipelines and coal-fired power plants?  Buying hybrid vehicles and solar panels?

Damned if I know.

I am on a list-serve that broadcasts a newsletter written by Alex Kochkin, who focuses more on the spiritual side of our current crisis on Earth.  Kochkin insists that we should not be wasting time worrying about the physical issues here on the planet, but instead should be focusing our attention on getting ready for our transition into the spiritual realm—in other words, for death.

Kochkin predicts that there will be a massive die-off of humanity in the coming years, but he casts this in positive terms, as a necessary cleansing that will enable the Earth to reboot and start on yet another spiritual and evolutionary journey.

Believing firmly in a nonphysical afterlife, he is unafraid of death.

This is so counter-cultural that it gives me pause.

Unafraid of death?  Really?

Our culture is so fixated on avoiding death at all costs that it is hard to wrench my mind around to another way of seeing things.

11857232-life-after-death-religious-concept-illustrationWhat if death were just a transition to another (non-physical) stage of existence?

What if it were in fact the best thing that could happen to our planet if the majority of human beings transitioned out of physical existence?

What if the tenacity with which we Americans hold on to our lives was entirely misplaced?

What if instead of focusing all of our technical and intellectual know-how on physical survival, we began to focus on learning more about the non-physical realms that we have so far relegated to the backward precincts of religion, New Age quackery, and woo-woo tales of near-death experiences?

There is a noticeable trend in popular culture reflecting an uptick in interest in explorations of the spiritual/non-physical dimensions.  From Harry Potter to Twilight and beyond, we have a fascination with stories that can take us beyond the bounds of ordinary physical reality.

So strong is the cultural taboo on discussing this seriously that it is hard for me to push the “publish” button and let this blog post out in the world.

But another part of me rebels and is just done with listening to the soothing murmur of the mainstream: don’t worry, dear, everything is going to be OK….

No, everything is not going to be OK.  Just like the elephants and the bees and the polar bears, human beings are going to face a massive die-off due to the changes in our climate system, and soon.

It is that, above all else, that we should be preparing ourselves for.  How? I am not sure.  But one thing is certain: insisting that all will be well, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is just silly and delusional.

It’s time to wake up.

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