Unfinished Business

Death is always a humbling event. Earlier in the week when I witnessed one, it was weird. I had seen him just a few weeks ago – with his usual smile and sense of humor. He was walking around and talking to us. And now here he was – sleeping. It was very weird. The face looked calm and serene. He looked as though he was going to open his eyes any minute and wake up from his sleep. As time passed, the feeling started to sink in. The body is there, but he wasn’t. Who was he? Where is he now? What has happened to his intelligence, his curiosity, his anger, his laughter? where is all that? The body is still here. Where is he?

Soul – the consciousness that powers life is not very hard to understand once we see death. Or for that matter, once we start aging. Even if you don’t believe in “soul”, I am sure we all agree that there is a life force which powers our lives like electricity powers a gadget. The question is, how is our identity (our ego) connected to this life force? Is it the life force itself or is it something activated by the life force? Each culture has its own theory but everyone accepts one thing – that we are not the body. Body is just a medium. It is just a context in which experience occurs.

Some time after seeing the body lying there without any movement, this idea that I am not the body started hitting me hard. I looked at my own hand and felt something alien about it. I felt million cells moving within my body – each having its own mind, coming to life, growing, multiplying and dying; constantly. I have no control on this. I wanted to scream “Stop!”. But they wouldn’t. The buzz of activity only grew louder and louder until my inner voice was lost in it.

How do I know I am even alive? When I breathe, I am aware of the time and space in which I am breathing. I am aware of the body that is breathing. I am aware of the thought that I am breathing. Whoever I am, my life is defined by the time, space, body and thoughts in which I am breathing (or my heart is beating). Without this I am lost. I don’t know how else I can describe life to myself if I didn’t have this context of time, space, body and mind.

I looked around. There were people crying loud. Some shed silent tears. Who are these people? They are not their bodies. I see multiple souls (life forces) trapped inside their bodies – each of them are ticking time bombs – bundle of cells growing, multiplying, dying again and again until it all stops one day. And then there will be silence.

Until that day, I breathe, fueling my body; I think, fueling my mind; I am aware, fueling my soul. I am intensely aware that I am in touch with my body and mind but cannot experience someone else’s body and mind. Why can’t I live two lives at the same time? I can only imagine how it will be to be someone else. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t – even for a second – be someone else; feel what they are feeling; experience their body. I am all alone in this world. I can’t trade my life with any one else. I can only witness them living their lives. Even with my mother or brother or wife or children. I am utterly lonely. And so are they.

So what exactly is my relationship with them? What is love, friendship, or kinship? Just like the time and space, they too are nothing but a context. When I look at my wife and she looks at me, its just two souls sharing the same context. In her life at the same time and space, I was there. Relationship between us strengthens the context through emotions. When I see her, I create a feeling of love inside me. Only I can experience it. She can’t. Inside her, there is a similar (not the same) emotion which is accessible only to her.

Are we trapped inside our bodies and minds? Yes. We can’t see it because this trap defines our identity. Our ego is welded to the time, space, body, mind and relationships. If I remove this context, existence has no meaning.

So what survives death? Who are we really? Are we the soul? What happens once life force leaves the body? Does soul have its own identity/ego? Is there a purpose to our lives?

I don’t know the answer. Its hard to rationalize using the devices available to us within our current context. But in my opinion, I don’t think there is a purpose. What does purpose mean to the dead body in front of me? But its good to think that there is a purpose because our ego (identity) feels better that way. A better question is, what happens to the ego after death?. I think ego is a construct of the context. It is bound to it. When the context ends when we die, ego dies too and our life, as we know it, continues to remain an unfinished business.

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  1. ymadhuri says:

    Sharing your thoughts. With each tragedy there's been an urgency to finish what we've come here for. Feels like walking blind.

  2. Nani says:

    Deeply moving. And thought provoking. You have created a word picture, Bala.

    I agree that our ego seems welded to context. In fact, I'd say that it changes according to context, even within our individual existences… in a certain past context (say a relationship, job or milieu) you would have carried yourself a certain way, but might find it nearly impossible to reprise in a different context!

  3. Uma Panchavati says:

    well written Bala. i like the way you tied relationship with sharing same context and space at a given moment.