As we have been discussing, the on-going serial day-time dream is punctuated by interludes of transitory night-time dreams and the quiescent state of dreamless rest. An extended version of this is the serial dream of the soul. Its serial adventures continue on through life after life, punctuated by interludes of between-life dreams and a peaceful quiescent state of dreamless serenity. The death of the body and the interval between lives has been seen by the mystics as nothing more than a long sleep, with sleep understood in the conventional sense of signifying a temporary fading out of the serial-dream.
Death changes nothing. Life, in its truest sense, is unaffected. Illusory forms continue to change much as they had previously, when daily the ongoing serial-dream changed to the night-time ephemeral dream, but now the particular serial-dream of the body in this incarnation comes to an end, and does not subsequently pick up again where it left off before. Nevertheless, the cycling through the three states of consciousness continues unabated, with different content. Although the serial life adventures of a particular body have come to an end, there is another ongoing serial dream which continues over a much longer time frame. This is the on-going serial dream of the soul, which appears to take on a series of individualized incarnations in successive lives, tied together by the thread of soul identity.
One way of looking at the soul stream was pointed out by the American seer, Edgar Casey, in whose day the top male movie star was Clark Gable, playing in a new film every year. One year the rage might be Clark Gable playing the role of a Southern gentleman in the American Civil War, another year he was a British Navy officer during the 17th Century, then an American cowboy in this century, then a Chinese warlord a thousand years ago, and then a fictional character in the 21st Century, and so on. All these many movie incarnations, each with their own story line, are tied together by the single actor, Clark Gable, taking on all these individual parts, putting the characteristic Gable touch and mannerism on every film.
Between films, in other words, after a particular character part has come to an end in one film and before a new role in a new film has started, Gable plays some other shorter parts, what we might call ‘just being himself’, in other words, living the personal life of Clark Gable. For instance, he may go fishing with his kids or he might unexpectedly find himself a patient in a hospital having an emergency appendectomy, or being threatened and terrorized by a robber who broke into his Beverly Hills house, etc..... what are just a succession of shorter dream episodes. But also during this time between movies, he spends some time simply resting and lying in the sun, until the next movie part crops up.
Seen in the larger time frame, Gable wanders from one movie to another, each interrupted by the end of the movie role, followed by the taking on of some other shorter life roles of a different nature and by periods of rest. Of course, in our discussion here, Gable represents the soul. In a similar way to Gable, the soul’s ongoing serial soul dream continues through life after life, interrupted temporarily by the sleep we call death, when other shorter dreams of heavens and hells and between-life incorporeal experiences come and go, as the soul’s I-thought spins out worlds and then again recedes into the stillness of dreamless rest.... until spontaneously the soul’s longer-term serial dream once more resumes and a new incarnation begins. In one of these incarnations, we find ourselves as we now perceive ourselves to be, individuals sitting here this very moment, reading or writing this article, and reflecting on the true meaning of spiritual life and on the process of awakening permanently from all dreams.
Much as the ongoing serial dream of this particular body we now have will come to an end, the ongoing serial dream of the soul will also eventually come to an end. When all individualized consciousness ceases, all dreaming finally ceases, and we will have awakened to the truth of being, we will have returned home. More accurately, any sense of separate I will have dissolved into the limitless ocean of Self. But, in truth, nothing has happened. As was pointed out before, it is only the illusion, that which was always nothing, that has faded away. The Self is not affected by any of these dreams, short-term, long-term and long-long-term, playing on its surface. It is like the short-term foam and the longer-term waves and the still longer-term currents playing on the surface of the deep ocean. To the ocean they are all just water, all identical with itself.
Although the on-going serial adventures of the body are temporarily suspended every day as we cycle through the three states of consciousness, there is a peculiar fear that grips us, identified as we are with the ongoing serial dream character. This fear comes when the serial dream is threatened with permanent termination. It is the fear of death. To see just how silly this fear is, consider for a moment when in the evening after a busy strenuous day, we as individuals go to sleep, as we call it. Do we view that with fear, even though terrible nightmares may come to disturb us in our night-time dreams, or the possibility exists that we may never awaken? No, sleep, as we view it from within the relative plane of our day-time consciousness, is a familiar daily change of state that promises to refresh us.
For most of us, our nightly sleep feels totally natural, and we look forward to it since it provides a welcome interlude of rest, in other words, a relinquishment of the burdens of the world and our need to make our separate way in it, protect our bodies, do our work, amass wealth, accumulate objects, maintain our families, leave our mark, etc...... the whole human ‘catastrophe’, as Zorba the Greek spoke of it. We know intuitively that the fading out from our day-time serial dream into what we call sleep, provides an opportunity to take a little vacation from the world and our daily cares and begin to awaken into the truth of our being. Being a safe, non-threatening, change of state from what we consider to be our normal consciousness (ie. the day-time serial dream), the process of going to sleep is intuitively welcome to us as a kind of template for the return path to our true home, the home we all instinctively yearn for. At some deeper level of knowing, we realize that to awaken to our truth we must leave our serial dream identity behind and transcend this worldly life until all vestiges of separated individuated consciousness are gone. Sleep shows us a familiar way of transcending our bodily identity. And so, we certainly are not afraid of falling asleep.
In the same way, the soul is not afraid of the body falling into death and going through the cycle of sleep between incarnations. Many who have come back from death encounters speak of going through new ethereal experiences and being enveloped in a wonderful peace which awaits them on the other side. From all accounts they don’t miss their serial-dream and their adventures in the world. For the soul it is a welcome interlude in which it gains a little respite from its ongoing incarnational sojourns, and in which it can take on some shorter, less gripping episodes of dream life. Just as Clark Gable looks forward to the interval between films and would laugh at any fear of a particular movie part coming to an end, the fear of body death is just a joke to the soul, which is in no way affected by it. Like Clark Gable expecting to do another film, the soul knows it will come back again into another incarnation and pick up its serial dream where it left off.
We see that fear of death arises for us because we have identified ourselves with the illusory individual body in this incarnation. We could easily solve the fear of death problem by shifting our identity to the soul, which is going through a stream of incarnations. Instead of clinging to our present body consciousness we could transfer our allegiance to our soul, which drops bodies and takes on new bodies in each successive incarnation, much as we seem to take on different dream bodies in our dreams at night and drop them again when the dream ends. Then the fear of death would not be an issue. Is that what we want to do? Obviously, it would be a step in the right direction, but the correct answer must be ‘no’, for the soul is also caught up in delusion. Rather than having its life goals as the accumulation of property and wealth, the development of profession and family, and the acquisition of a good reputation and a good name, which are the universal goals of human life within the serial dream, the soul’s goal is the seemingly loftier one of spiritual evolution. But this is just more illusion playing out on a longer time scale within the relative plane of existence.
The soul is also ultimately unreal. It has come and it will eventually go. Does the soul have a fear of soul death, when the on-going soul serial-dream finally comes to an end? We can speculate that the soul knows no such fears, being a little smarter than we are, misidentified as we are with these fear-ridden dream characters. But there is a soul-ego and in the illusion it too tries to hold on and stave off its ultimate disintegration. Within the on-going soul serial dream, this desire for soul perpetuity then becomes the principal obstacle to full awakening. But even that fear cannot put off the awakening. Within the illusion, it happens when it happens. In the absolute sense, of course, nothing at all happens.
It becomes clear that within the dream, instead of shifting identities, all identities must permanently vanish. Instead of changing disguises, the I-thought, ie. the ego, must completely and permanently disappear. This takes place naturally when awakening happens. It need not and cannot be programmed, but it can be directly experienced and it can be observed.
In connection with this discussion of the fear of death, there is a whole body of literature on near-death experiences. I myself have had several personal near-death experiences. Let me share one of them which revealed to me the totally unnecessary suffering that attends our fear of death. In 1978 I became very ill with liver cancer. The body lost about 40 lbs. in a short time and was deteriorating so rapidly it looked like I would die within a month. At the time I had been running a 3-month workshop at Esalen Institute, called the Inner Road to Health. Health practitioners and healers of many different backgrounds came into the program to learn alternative systems of healing. It was a little embarrassing that the principal teacher was dying and unable to carry on with the classes. Actually, this episode is embedded in a much larger story in which, as a result of following inner spiritual guidance which directed me on this particular course, I took on the illness of another. But these details are not relevant here.
One evening I found myself in the worst pain I had ever had or could ever imagine. It felt like the liver was in a vise and was slowly being crushed into jello. One of the people in my workshop, a cardiologist, was with me at the time and wanted to give me some pain medication. I was writhing in bed but would not accept any drugs. I was afraid that if I took something that would knock me out, I would die. Suddenly and totally unexpectedly, my consciousness changed completely. As consciousness I shifted out of the body and was up on the ceiling looking down on the scene in the room, with the body still doubled over in pain and several people present trying to attend to it.
Gauging the reactions and perceptions of the seeming others in the room, nothing whatsoever had changed; but clearly I, as consciousness, was not present in the body. I was serenely peaceful and still,
totally uninvolved with the scene in the room. Then all sense of time and all images disappeared, and a depth of peace beyond description and understanding enveloped the field of consciousness. It seemed to last forever, but in earth time the experience lasted only perhaps 10 to 15 minutes. When I returned to body consciousness, the fear of death had left me completely. Although it would seem that objectively nothing had changed, consciously everything had changed. From the viewpoint of the soul, I had stepped out of the serial-adventure of this life to experience a different sense of I. For a moment I was in a new dream, an ethereal dream, one very transparent to the underlying basis of stillness and peacefulness that is the reflection of our ultimate awake essence. And then even this thin veil of dream receded into the pure awareness of consciousness.