January 18, 2012

What should I believe?

Before I die, I want to understand as much as I can about who I am and what I'm doing here. All of us, at times, wonder why we're here, what the meaning of life is, what the meaning of "our" life is. But when you are faced with your own mortality, it can become of increasing importance to understand your life in order to come to terms with your death.

I first started exploring this a few years after my initial cancer diagnosis and treatment. While I thought I was cured, the idea of having a disease that could kill me left me with an uncomfortable gap in how I viewed life and my place in it. I went through an intense period of introspection, research and discussion with my psychologist, trying to figure this out. At the time I remember thinking how much I envied those who were very religious, who had an unshakeable, unquestioning belief in god, Jesus and the miracle of existence. These people know, with utter certainty, why they are here, what they are supposed to be doing while they are here and what happens when they die. With that kind of belief, there is no uncertainty, no anxiety, no fear of death. All things have meaning, all life has a purpose, and they can look forward to death with joy and rapture. Oh, was it so simple!

I finally came to the realization that there was no way to "prove" any particular theism or religion. It was all dogma, all speculation, built upon the imagination of relatively learned men who sought to explain the mysteries of life, death and existence to those who were less learned and more anxious about such things, as well as to themselves. There is nothing a learned man hates more than something that is unanswerable; that defies the activities of research and discovery that are the essence of thinking man. We need to know. Luckily, however, with the steady explosion of knowledge that we are experiencing in modern times, we can now see and readily accept that we can't know everything. So I am comfortable with not knowing everything with certainty, and am just as comfortable living with a belief system that is not completely provable, as so much is now. I needed an answer that I was comfortable with. That felt "right" in spite of the fact that it couldn't be proven.

As soon as I came to that conclusion, I was able to quickly pull together a set of beliefs and explanations that filled the gap with sufficient comfort to allow me to move on. But now that I'm facing death within a short time, I feel the need to revisit this to ensure that I am making the most of my remaining time and to have a better idea of what to expect on the other side, if there is one, and/or if I will be aware of it. But at least I have a starting point. I have the beliefs that I developed last time which I can revisit as I dig deeper and explore, with you, what else there may be. It's something I am going to do anyway so I feel it is appropriate to share it with you here. Others will have their own beliefs, their personal fears, whether spoken or kept secret, and they will be "right" for them. Mine will only be right for me but perhaps it will give you some insight into the mind of someone who is facing eternity a little sooner.

So let's start where I left off. For those of you who have read my book, "The Wolf at my Door" it will be familiar as I felt it was important to include in the story of my cancer journey. But perhaps it will have new or different meaning in the context of this new life story line.

I choose to believe that we are all part of what I call the "Spiritual Universe", or the "Greater Spiritual". All of us and everything around us, seen and unseen, are made of energy and pass through different states at different times. We, as spiritual entities, come from the universe, spend time on this earth in our human form, and then return to the universe. The experiences we have during our time on earth - good, bad, short or long - change us and add value to the universe when we return to it. In that sense, the universe is constantly growing and evolving and we play an integral part of that evolutionary growth. Whether there was a big bang or not, the universe has always been here and will always exist, forever. Time has no beginning or end and no real meaning except that we move forward. Quantum physics, which I am very interested in, is questioning the concept of time, but I choose to apply this more simple meaning for purposes of understanding existence.

So I choose not to believe in any specific concept of god or supreme being beyond the universe itself. If you put aside the dogma and the "writings" and look at the essence of most religions, there is a consistency with all of these. I won't argue with you on this and I will readily support your own belief system because I can't disprove it nor do I want to try. If it works for you, then its right for you. There is value to me only in understanding my own belief system and what it says about my remaining life and death.

I'm going to stop here for now. This will be the first of a series of posts on this subject as I further explore and develop it in conversation with you. As always, I welcome any comments you might have either public or private. Remember, there is no right answer. I can't prove to you that you're wrong and you can't prove to me that you're right so let's not go there. Let's find out what makes life (and death) bearable for each of us!

PERSONAL UPDATE (Beginning with this post, I will be appending my personal update here - for posterity.)

The more stable I am over time, the more things stay the same, the better I am as I think it means the cancer is not going crazy. Oh, I know it's in there, growing, challenging my bodily systems, killing me, but I don't really care to know exactly where the tumors are, how many I have, or how fast my PSA is doubling. I feel crummy all the time, I fight pain all the time and I am so tired, so very tired.
Thankfully, I find the strength to write and I find strength in writing so I will continue to do that for as long as I can and even longer (think about that). This is my legacy, this is who I am. I hope it helps. It seems to be, judging from the feedback I get (which means so much to me).
Take care.


Stephen said...

It sounds as if you have made some good decisions about what you believe. I agree with you on most parts. As a quasi theologian, I could always argue the fine points, but what's the use?

My prayers and thoughts are with you Doug.

Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, and my life will never be the same. I am well into clean time but I never take anything for granted. I believe there is another side, but it does not make me want to go there sooner than the universes plan. But I am not fearful when I think this way. My father has gone many years ago and I wish I could have had this belief back then.... I was a very bitter and angry young lady, he was too young to die and I was not ready for him to go. On reflection some 30 years later, I know his body had failed him and he was no longer able to carry on. I still miss him dearly. But I will see him again. Thanks for sharing your story, I am going to look up your book!!! Bless you!

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