Tag Archives: death

I AM : The ultimate experience

I used to think that death was the greatest mystery of our existence. But I have learned that death can be explained easier than life. Death is mostly understood by the fact that it is the experience of transferring to another state of existence . Although what happens to our consciousness after death remains a huge mystery , the experience of death itself is as far as we can possibly go in our empirical and tangible world.  We can all understand that death is the end of our current existence as we know it.  Our bodies decompose and our minds , if they actually exist, enter the unknown.  We cannot begin to understand the unknown.
But what remains a huge mystery to me is not the end of existence , but existence itself.   The mere state of being aware.  And not only aware, but aware of ourselves.  Aware of the “I.”  The “self.”  How can we know what or who we really are?  How can each of us differentiate from other “I’s” or “selves.”? How can we even use the phrase “I am?
Religious scholars and teachers interpret the bible’s use of the phrase “I am” by referring it to God, or higher power.  It is used mostly to describe the eternal and “present” God.  It was written in the book of Exodus that when Moses asked God whom should he say sent him to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, God told him to tell Pharaoh that “I am” sent him (Exodus 3).  In the Gospel of John , Jesus also referred to himself as the “I am”.  Because of these references , scholars decided to associate the “I am” with the divine being or God . It is also agreed by most religions that God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He is the eternal present.

In Buddhism , being in the present moment, or mindfulness, is one of its teachings to help avoid suffering.  To be aware of the present moment.  The here and now.  Is experiencing the here and now the same as experiencing God?  The “I am.” ?

Was God trying to teach Moses that He is the Eternal Present (“I am that I am”)?  Was Jesus teaching us that the resurrection (a new life) is in the eternal present, as opposed to in the future (“‘I am’ the resurrection”)?

But what exactly is the “I” or the “self.” Could it simply mean the “eternal presence” that we all ignore by focusing on the past and the future?
The present moment, or the here and now, is all we really have.   Everything else is a fabrication of our minds. We fool ourselves with the notion of reliving the past (remembering stories of past heroes and events) and anticipating the future ( maintaining hope and having goals ).  These mind created phenomena is what keeps us living an illusion, which then can turn into depression, anxiety, regrets, and fear.  We create our own heaven and hell in our own personal minds.  All of this while missing the here and now.

Is the “I” , the self, an illusion?  Are we truly individual beings?  Or are we connected as one big entity, while believing that we are separate beings?  And what about the phrase “I am?”  .

When I use the phrase “I am”, what can I use after it to accurately describe the self?  I am human?  I am a person?  I am a body?  What is being human, person, or body?  I am a parent.  I am a patriot.  I am a writer.  Which one of these are true?

None of the above.   Since they are all fabrications of the mind.  They are all identities that I use to attempt to create the nature of the self.  And while I write this post in this blog, I still keep using the word “I” as if it means something.  Or someone.  What is it?

Furthermore, saying ” We are ” or “They are ” can be questionable.  Not everybody will agree with whatever characteristic you give to a group of individuals.  But when it comes to identifying with the “I”, how can you question your individual present?

In its purest form , I am is simply I am . Nothing else… No other addition can make it more true . It is simply identifying myself with the present moment.  With the eternal present.

I am is the ultimate mystery.
The ultimate experience .


“Am I Dying…?”

This question was asked to me by my uncle who is suffering from lung cancer that has spread to his brain. He has been given days to live.

I did not know what to say. Should I tell him what I have heard? Should I try to change the subject? Should I lie? I froze.

I could have used logic and say “We are all going to die…” Or I could have minimized it and said “Don’t worry… you are fine…” Or perhaps I could have denied it and say “No, you are not .” Others would have probably used religion by talking about God and the “plan of salvation.” Would this be ok? Do I have the authority to talk to a dying person about what to do to go to heaven, when I have my own faults?  My own doubts?

Death is such an awful thing to accept.  It is difficult to finally face the reality that one day a loved one and all of us are going to cease to exist on this earth.

Cancer is a monster.  It is a way for the cells to replicate faster than it can get rid of, ultimately killing the whole body. It is a way for the body to slowly commit suicide.  Scary.  If I had a completely objective mind, the thought of cancer would be simply a medical condition that just happens. But since I have feelings, goals, intentions, wills, and hopes, thinking about this makes be very uncomfortable.

Is it possible to accept death without any fear?  I have learned that we all have a fear of death from birth.  As babies we cry when hungry, cold, bored, or in pain.  All of these experiences, if not taken care of, will ultimately lead to death.  When we are adolescents, we crave for acceptance and identity, something that will lead to feeling abandonment, isolation , and ultimately death if not addressed.  As adults, we want to marry, earn a career, have possessions, and have a purpose in life,  which will bring us to depression and anxiety if not accomplished because it means that we will be closer to having or being nothing, which is related to death.

If we are going to die anyways, why do we fear is so much?  It happens to everybody.  Why do we always try to ignore it and pretend it is not going to happen?   Is it the fear of the unknown?  Should we learn to accept it as we learn to accept failures, discomfort and pain?  Analyzing about why we fear death does not help me to alleviate the fear.

We have the concept of eternity.  We long to live forever.  Does this mean that we can actually live forever?

I don’t have the answers.  I am not sure if anyone does.  All I know is that one day we will all have to confront our end.  I hope that before that happens, I will be able to do what I enjoy the most and gives me purpose in life:  spend time with my children, paint, go to the beach, learn to play the guitar, visit other countries like Italy and Japan, and much more.  Today is the day to do these things.

However,  I also try to remind myself that I don’t want to be here simply to meet my own selfish desires.  I want to also be other people’s blessings.  I want to help others feel loved and important.  I should not only strive for the things I want for myself.  I want to also be part of a whole.

I recently read the quote “To be happy is not to have what I want.. but to want what I have”.  Great words of inspiration!   Being content with what I already have should be my life’s purpose.  That is why I also long for simplicity.

Maybe being content with my current life will help me to accept death more.  Maybe being happy with what I have accomplished and how I have blessed others should give me peace of mind.  Perhaps wanting to continue to help others in need should be my ongoing journey until it all ends.  Maybe death is like graduation.  A stage in life where I look back and acknowledge my losses and triumphs, always thinking that it is all about helping my fellow human beings.

What did I actually say to my uncle you may be asking?  I looked at those big green eyes staring at me…. thought for a few seconds and said “I don’t know for sure… all I know is that you are still here with us today…you have accomplished a lot in your life…  and we are happy to have you right now…. because we love you.”


Caring for those who are still here.

Visiting my dying uncle who’s frail and weak.  I find myself turning humble and meek.

How can I continue to take life for granted? I must stop myself from being so blinded.

Between intention and action there is a great abyss.  I think of all the love that we tend to miss.

I ponder on my family and close  friends. Cannot escape the notion that it will all end.

Ignoring that we’re mortals has its price.  We should appreciate more this wonderful  life.

It is better to continue the act of giving, instead of crying for the ones who are leaving.

Hug your children.  Laugh some more.  Enjoy the horizon at the shore.

We are not eternal, at least on this earth. So deny yourself and have a rebirth.

The ones who are dying will leave us forever.  The ones who stay need more than a prayer.

Let us live our purpose loud and clear.  Caring for those who are still here.


Until We Wake Up

Moving along in this life, sometimes can be painful.  I just heard two bad news: one of my uncles just passed away and the other was given two days to live.  They are both distant family members, but the realization that death can happen any moment is frightening.  I hurried and went to visit the one who is still alive; lung cancer which has spread to his head, causing a stroke.  He was conscious and alert, but physically weak.  I never had a close relationship with him.  I never did with any of my uncles.  I haven’t even had a close relationship with my own father.   I happened to call my father on my way to visiting my uncle just to check on him.  Papi (which is how I call my Dad) sounded content and healthy.  He had a mini heart attack about two months ago, which was also startling.  He has been better since then.  But having an ocean between where he lives and where I live makes the pain even bigger.

When I arrived at the hospital where my uncle is, I had a casual conversation with him.  I started to contemplate on this life.  Why do we have to go through so much pain? I reflect like this often, but especially during the time that a loved one is about to leave us.  What is going on through my uncle’s head?  What would he be thinking? We talked about the weather, the news, movies, the past, etc.  He seems ok.  But to think that maybe in one or two days he will be permanently gone puzzles me. It is not the same hearing about other people dying, and meeting your uncle probably two days before he dies.

Maybe this experience is to help me get prepared for more losses in my life, .i.e. Papi.  Maybe I need to see my uncle in this condition so that I can be more accustomed to death.  Because, whether we like it or not, death is inevitable.  We have to accept it, either as a transition to another life, liberation from physical pain, unity with the unknown, or termination of existence.  We don’t like to talk about it.  We all do so many things in life to distract ourselves from this cold reality.  We occupy ourselves with selfish agendas, pretending to be immortal beings.  We like to live an illusion of eternal life.  This is probably why we create religions that promise eternal salvation after this limited life.  But at the same time, the evidence of something greater than ourselves is clear, I think.

We are simply sleeping.  We are unconscious.  We are unaware of what is actually out there, waiting for us.  But because we are not conscious of it yet, because we have no certainty of what awaits us on the other side, we prefer to pretend it is not going to happen.  But it will.  We are sleeping beings who one day, I believe, will be awakened to what is really there.  We think we are awake now, and will sleep eternally upon death.  But I think it is the other way around. We are sleeping, and will be awakened…. when the time comes.

So I said a brief prayer before I left the hospital.  My uncle then said “I will probably last another 30 years…!” I smiled and said “Amen to that!”  What else could I say?  I will probably not see him again, on this side of existence.  Maybe the next time I see him will be when it is time for me to wake up, and meet my two uncles, and anyone else who have awakened by then.  Maybe when I am awake, I will be able to see the reality of the unknown.  But until then,  all I can do is wait and believe.


River

I used to be a pond, but now I am a river.  Walking on this journey , never ending journey, like a river that runs and never stops. Sometimes it encounters rocks, pebbles, and it alters its flow, but the river keeps going.

From strict to flexible…. from desperate to hopeful,…. from being afraid of death, to being prepared for the transition to the next life…. from idolizing God, to serving God….. from religion to spirituality…. from feeling guilty for doubting, to  accepting doubt as a tool to know God more…. from being stagnated to being fluid and constantly changing.   From pretending to be certain about this life, to continuing to seek …. from knowing to being comfortable with the unknown…. from trying to convince others that my views are right, to acknowledging my mistakes.

I am tired…. but the river keeps going in spite of the rock and pebbles. I am without answers, but the river keeps flowing closer  to the Truth.

Sometimes the river reaches a waterfall, where it simply gives in to gravity…. and falls.  From being desperate and wanting immediate answers, to  patience….. from experiencing confusion and worries, to experiencing peace. …. from being spiritually distracted with specific doctrines, to experiencing presence.   From resisting and avoiding pain, to surrendering.  From living a superficial life, to simplicity.  From wanting to survive, to wanting to serve.

I am a river.


Is God’s Grace Unlimited? : A Response to the book “Love Wins”

I can imagine why so many people criticized Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”.  I just finished reading it. The book seems simple and honest. It does not represent the popular Christian view about salvation.  Bell’s way of thinking and writing is based on asking many questions, and they are good questions.  We like to assume that we have all the answers.  We prefer to think that we stand firm in our Christians beliefs. But this is not the case.  I rather admit that I am at least heading towards the Truth. As a Reflective Christian, I have learned to welcome questions which I believe helps me to know God more.  Not allowing myself to grow and learn more would be spiritual suicide.

The first chapter has many questions which, of course, none of us can accurately answer. It resembles the numerous questions that the Christian faith raises.   We tend to crave for specific and clear answers, we want to know the whole truth, but I have accepted the fact that, as long as we are inside our limited brains, we would not handle the Truth.  Bell points out the fact that many Christians believe that God selects who gets saved or not, and that people have different views of Jesus (like the number of denominations I presume).  It reminded me of the question I have had about what would happen to people who live their lives serving the poor, like Jesus commanded, but never accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, either because they did not choose to or were never told about Jesus. Bell also seems troubled that the sinner’s prayer or  saying the “right things” can guarantee people to go “over there” (heaven).  Which implies, of course, that the suffering in the world would not matter as long as we do and say the right things to have a ticket to go to heaven. I read in the Bible that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but did not command us to say the “sinners prayer”.

In the second chapter, Bell stresses on the story of the young rich man’s question “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  which he says means not to go to heaven, but how to live heaven on earth. He believes that heaven will be lived on earth, as he quoted so many scriptures that supported this claim.   When earth and heaven will be one; life in the age to come. Jesus did include in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.  I also believe that heaven can start to be experienced on earth, by practicing justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, etc.  But I also believe that Heaven is fully found “over there”, which it was not clear to me if Bell believes this or not.

I have heard about Gehenna, the city dump,  being the “hell” that Jesus referred to.  But Hades is then mentioned by Jesus when He spoke to Peter about building the church, but Bell does not explain if this is an actual hell or the city dump. Bell does imply that hell is experienced on earth (the same way heaven can be experienced on earth).  Just because hell is mentioned a few times in the Bible does not necessarily mean that it does not exist after life.  I am not ready to dismiss the possibility of a physical hell, or simply a state of being separate from God because of selfish actions on earth.  But is this separation eternal?

Is God’s grace unlimited? If so, I ask myself, why do some people miss going to heaven, and end up in eternal damnation instead? I was taught that the reason was that people choose to live without God (or not accepting Jesus regardless of condition of their hearts) and that we all have free will, which God respects out of love.  But Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved which brings up Bell’s question “Does God get what God wants?” Bell concludes that God gives us what we want, either heaven or hell.  But the author does not answer if eventually everyone will be saved, and I can respect that.  My question is: Is God big enough to show grace beyond what we can understand? Is He grateful only when we ask for his grace? The idea that God’s grace is greater than what we can imagine conforms with the concept of an everlasting, all knowing, all powerful God.

The idea of things in the world dying so that life can begin makes a lot of sense. We have to die to our old, selfish way of living in order to experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus talked about dying to live and he showed it in the cross and resurrection. Having Jesus manifested in different areas of life also removes the limitation of the Gospel and creates a more inclusive concept of God’s love.  But I can understand many Christians resisting the idea that Jesus can be found in other faiths simply because they believe people have to explicitly accept Jesus as Savior.  Like John says, Jesus always existed and through Him all things were made.  So Jesus did not start a new religion, He is much greater than that.  As Bell puts it, our “nearness” to Jesus (believing we have Jesus figured out in our own religious boxes) can actually separate us from getting closer to Jesus.

Bell uses the parable of the prodigal son as a way to illustrate the magnitude of God’s grace, which is not fair.  Are we going to believe what our experiences in life teach us about us, or are we going to listen to the unpopular way that God sees us, regardless of how little we deserve His love?  I am careful to not believe God’s grace is beyond any judgment simply because it is convenient.  But I have been questioning what exactly is the “good news” that Jesus came to teach.  And I felt it wasn’t simply to love our neighbors as ourselves.  I understand more that the good news is that, first of all, the story I have been telling myself about me is different from the story God says about me.   I am able to love my neighbor because God loved me first, unconditionally.  The question is: am I going to trust God’s story of love for me?


Living HELL

heavenhellI was listening on the radio today a person talking about believing in hell.  He asked if the listener believes in hell, and if the answer was yes, then than meant that the listener had to make an important decision about Jesus.  In other words, if I believe that hell exists, then believing in Jesus becomes crucial.  I just shook my head in disbelief and changed the station.  Does this mean that I must believe in the Gospel of Jesus simply because not doing so will guarantee an eternal damnation in hell?  This leads me to follow Jesus out of fear, not out of love.  I understand the concept of the consequence of not choosing to believe in God and living as if God does not exist.  I believe that a Godless life must be really miserable.  But teaching that believing in Jesus is important because it prevents me from going to eternal damnation is a twisted message.

Jesus is about unconditional love.  He did talk about those that will be judged because they chose to live wicked lives. But the main message , the main purpose about Jesus is simply to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The Gospels started talking about loving others, being humble, fighting for righteousness, forgiving, and having a pure heart more than it talked about avoiding hell. I guess the real message of love that Jesus taught is not chosen frequently because it may not motivate people as hell does.  Fear can move people quicker than love can.  I don’t know for sure.  But the reality is that many Christians use the scare tactics to motivate people to follow their doctrines, not Jesus.  It is sad.  It reminds me of telemarketing.  You hear a lot of messages like “Use our products and you will get rid of the wrinkles” (avoid the reminder of aging)  or “Try us for a month and you will lose 50 pounds!” (avoid obesity which threatens our lives) or “Try our product and you will save hundreds of dollars!” (avoid not having enough money).  Avoid this, avoid that.  Fear.  People respond quick to fear.

But as soon as people hear the message of “Donate blood today and you will save a life!” or “With your $1 gift, a child will not go hungry tonight!”, then they think twice about it.  Not fear.  But love.

Jesus’ message was more like “donate blood” and “give money to the poor” more than “follow me and you will avoid hell”.

Let us turn things around and follow Jesus for the right reasons.  Let us not talk to people about avoiding hell, but about embracing love, acceptance, equality, justice, mercy, peace, community, humility, and the like.  While thinking about today’s message on the radio, I thought of a nice way to turn the message of hell into a message of love.

So I just came up with the acronym of H.E.L.L. which stands for Heaven Embodied in a Legitimate Life. Heaven is where all begins, the spiritual life, God.  Embodied because heaven can be manifested and materialized with our actions here on earth.  We reflect the life that is lived in Heaven by following the teachings of Jesus.  In a Legitimate life because we must practice the Kingdom of Heaven in a sincere way, without expecting a selfish reward (avoiding hell) but knowing that we are simply serving others (Jesus).  And Life because this life is the gift that God gave us to practice Heaven. So let’s get out there and start living H.E.L.L. !!

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