By Celia Coates
There’s an ad on TV that plays some loud music and shouts out these words, “I want it all and I want it now!” while showing a large table loaded with plate after plate of take-out food. That attitude is a national problem: too many people think it is important to get it all – just for themselves. Our materialistic society has become wildly unbalanced and we’ve made that lack of balance obvious: a few people are getting it all, now while many others are struggling with not having enough. And it’s about a lot more than food.
A wonderful woman named Duane (her mother was determined to give her that name) sent me this quote by Bishop Desmond Tutu several years ago during the time of Reconciliation in South Africa:
“In our African culture, there is something which is very difficult to put into English –ubuntu. Ubuntu speaks about the essence of being human…. We say that a person is a person through other persons, that it is impossible to be human as a solitary individual…. We are created for interdependence, and my humanity is caught up in your humanity. I need you to be all you can be for me to become all I can be.”
That certainly isn’t the view about being human that’s found in the world of the rich and powerful today. In that world a person has to make others less than they are so they themselves can compete and win. And if you are not that kind of winner, the value of your life is discounted.Winning means gaining wealth, status, and power. It means loading up the table in front of you with more than you could ever really want, even if other people have to miss out on what they need. Is this the way to become all you can be and lead a good life?
In 1995 celebrity actor Larry Hagman became one of those people who had a Near Death Experience that taught him something about what it means to be human.
He said that death,
“…is just another stage of our development and that we go on to different levels of existence… This was not the end. There were more levels, an infinite number of levels, of existence, each one adding to the hum of the cosmic orchestra, as if we’re always spiraling upward until we reach a state of atomic bliss….” *
If that is what lies ahead of each one of us, what does it mean to live a good life? How should we live while we are here at this physical level of existence?
Raymond Moody published LIFE AFTER LIFE, the book about his revolutionary research about Near Death Experiences (NDEs), in 1975. It was before that, in 1964, that actor and comedian Peter Sellers had an NDE after the first in a series of heart attacks. He had not learned from Moody’s research anything about what other people had experienced. According to Paul Roland, the author of the book in which I found this story, wrote, it happened this way,
Sellers “…was declared clinically dead but at that moment all he could think about was how liberating it was to be free of his ailing body.
‘I just floated out of my physical form and I saw them cart my body away to the hospital. I went with it…. I wasn’t frightened…. I was fine, it was my body that was in trouble…. I saw an incredibly beautiful, bright, loving white light above me. I wanted to go to that white light more than anything. I’ve never wanted anything more. I know there was love, real love, on the other side of the light that was attracting me so much. It was kind and loving and I remember thinking, “That’s God.’ Then I saw a hand reach through the light. I tried to touch it, to grab on to it, to clasp it so it could sweep me up and pull me through it.’
But then he heard a voice say, ’It’s not time. Go back and finish. It’s not time.’ The experience haunted Sellers for the rest of his life, compounding the idea that life on earth was only temporary and not to be taken too seriously.” *
The majority viewpoint in our country is that life on earth has to be taken very seriously and we are trained to pay little attention to the hints and clues that there is more to life than what we can touch, measure, or prove scientifically. We’ve been taught to climb to the top of the heap, to succeed by having the most and best stuff, and that the next level of joy is a luxury Italian sports car not the “atomic bliss” that Hagman encountered or the love that Sellers experienced.
In our society we are stuck with a very concrete view of what is real and good. For a person to matter, to be valuable, they must have material wealth (with low taxes and no sharing). The belief is that a good life is created by having “made it” financially. We’ve lost our sense of others, of community, and we’ve turned life into a race to the top for what’s mine, and mine alone. That way of living is destructive to everyone involved. It’s not that money is evil – we have to earn a living and be good stewards of our resources. It’s that the love of money is evil.
The true good life gets us ready to proceed to the next level of existence having learned as much as we can about LOVE while we are here. It’s about becoming the best possible human self – becoming all we can be, not having all we can own. This is a real good life, a life worth living here and now. And it’s the kind of life that connects us to the higher levels of being that exist beyond physical life.
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* Both of these quotes are from REINCARNATION: Remarkable Stories of People Who Recall Past Lives, by Paul Roland, Arcturus Publishing Limited, London, 2017.