I am currently reading an entertaining and fascinating little book called ‘Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives‘. This book isn’t anything to do with people’s near-death experiences or what some loon who apparently came back from the dead can tell us about what’s next. Rather, it is a book that considers forty different scenarios about what could be next.
One tells the tale of an afterlife where it is just like your normal life, except it only contains people you know from earth – no strangers and a largely deserted earth. Another speaks of entering a purgatory where you stay until your name is spoken for the last time on earth. Until that happens, you can explore the waiting room and talk to your grandparents, celebrities that were taken too soon and historical figures like Einstein who are condemned to this ‘waiting room’ for a very long time.
One particular story that stuck out to me though was the very first one in the book called Sum. In this afterlife, you relive your entire life but where all of the moments that are share a quality are grouped together. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. You spend seven months having sex. For five months straight you flip through magazines on the toilet.
The same is true for more unpleasant experiences: you spend eighteen consecutive months waiting in line. You take all your pain in one long marathon that includes bone breaks, car crashes and skin cuts. You absolutely stink for a large portion of the afterlife because you can’t shower until it’s your time to take a marathon two-hundred day shower.
The impermanence of everything makes life tolerable
As well as being immensely thought-provoking and entertaining, this story contains a very valuable lesson. The impermanence of life is what makes it tolerable and often, extremely enjoyable. All of our experiences are fleeting and only last mere hours, minutes or moments at a time.
Because experiences only happen in tiny chunks, they are much easier to capture, enjoy and endure. Nobody wants to spend eighteen months waiting in line, but I don’t think anyone would choose to spend seven consecutive months having sex, either. The fact that the good and the bad, the painful and the enjoyable, come in small, manageable portions makes them all that much better.
You’ve had a wide variety of experiences already and you have all of that and more to look forward to again – good and bad – in the future. Drip by drip rather than everything at once.
Life itself is impermanent and we can realise and rejoice every day that its good and bad states are impermanent too. It’s a great thing that nothing really lasts.
In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.