Many spiritual teachers quote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s saying that “we are spiritual beings having a human experience”—a classic way of affirming that each one of us is endowed with a pure fragment of Spirit that lives in our hearts. It is this Divine Spark that guides and encourages the soul’s journey back to our Source.
But we are also human beings striving to have a spiritual experience. Like it or not, we live in animal bodies. While enjoying the benefits of the brain’s neocortex that can analyze its own thoughts and feelings, we also share a limbic brain structure with other mammals—which may explain mankind’s long-standing relationship with dogs, cats, and horses. In many ways, we think alike.
It is the interplay between our divine and animal natures that makes being human so fascinating and, yet, so frustrating. It is also this cosmic dance that explains why our mortality so astonishes us when its reality comes crashing into our lives, disrupting the plans we have made for a rich and enjoyable future.
Ceasing to exist is not a concept we easily entertain. Nor should we. Because the “I” that each of us is does not cease to exist. It merely changes bodies. And we understand this at deep levels of our psyche. What shocks us is the realization that the time to lay down our present body may be upon us—or upon someone we hold as dear as life itself.
Several months before my husband, Stephen, died from metastatic colon cancer, he became acutely aware of a dichotomy at work in his being. On the one hand, his soul—the divine nature that he strove daily to embody—was not afraid to die. In fact, as we read sacred texts describing the soul’s journey from this world to the next, he would weep in recognition of the unspeakable love that awaited him on the Other Side.
To Stephen’s soul, departing this life would be a glorious rebirth and reunion with the Divine Presence that he contacted with increasing power and frequency in the meditations that sustained him. There was no fear in this exquisite communion.
And yet, as his strength began to ebb—his body weakening from the terrible disease that was consuming his liver—he became aware of the body’s fear of its own impending transition. It was remarkable for him to sense these two, so different, forces coexisting within him—and to so clearly differentiate between their processes.
It was not unusual for him to say, “My body is anxious right now,” and then become very still. Although he never articulated what was transpiring, I often felt that his soul was ministering to his body, reassuring it that every care would be taken to ease its burden. And I’m quite certain he promised that I would watch over it when he was no longer able.
Losing his body was difficult for Stephen because he had always been so strong and healthy. He had suffered athletic injuries, but never disease—with the exception of a phase of migraine headaches, which were most likely brought on by spiritual distress rather than a purely medical condition.
Stephen was accustomed to his body enduring, even growing stronger, under duress. But now it was his soul that had to rise to the challenge of his transition—and rise it did. In the last few weeks of his life, he literally etherealized before my eyes, until one day he declared, “There is nothing to fear from here on out.” He did experience some agitation and even sudden discomfort in his final days, but I do not believe his body was afraid any longer because of the grace with which he slipped away.
So, coming to terms with the fact that the body must die in order for the soul to live on is a challenge for any of us. Our mortality astonishes us because, even for those who are much less spiritually oriented than Stephen, we are more soul-directed than we may realize. It is as if we sense the continuity of consciousness that exists before and after life. In a way, we play out the drama of death and rebirth every night when we go to sleep and then arise the next morning. And the fact that we do wake up creates a sense that we will always do so.
So we create elaborate distractions to deny the body’s eventual demise. We refuse to discuss death. We invest millions to keep bodies artificially alive, even when souls are clearly ready to move on. And we lose the blessing that can come to the body from the grateful soul who reaches the crossroads beyond which the body cannot go.
I believe there is a tenderness between body and soul that we totally miss in our techno-pharmacological approach to both life and death. And it is this loving partnership that I will discuss in a subsequent article. For in this dynamic duo, we experience the miracle of communion between our human and divine natures. And it is the mortal vehicle—the body—that facilitates the conversation.
Copyright 2010 Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.