I used to haunt my local library, and I found this enormous hardback book called Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (Cranston & Head, 1977). I booked it out so many times in succession that I might as well have kept it. When eventually they decided to “modernise” the library, the book – along with a good third of the books in the library, it seemed – disappeared, during one of the days I had foolishly let it out of my keeping, to be replaced by a whole lot of tacky music cassettes. I was cross about that. All the times I’d thought about stealing ‘my’ beloved old friend Reincarnation, and never did because my conscience wouldn’t let me – and then they throw it out to make room for – not-books, for dross. It was at that point I gave up on public libraries altogether, and thankfully soon after it became possible to order books online.
Which is where I got the equally enormous paperback copy that sits on the desk beside me now.
Sometime after we divorced, my husband told a mutual friend that I had Got Religion around this time – one reason he was glad to see the back of me. There were many reasons he could have cited for being glad to see the back of me – looking back, even I’d even have been glad to see the back of me – but he was wrong about that one. I didn’t Get Religion then, and I still haven’t. I started thinking for myself around then, and searching for answers. The search goes on.
I remember one summer’s afternoon, sitting on the back step of our house. He was down the garden in his workshop constructing something intricate and splendid involving lathes and drills, and I was just… sitting on the step, thinking about reincarnation… and something suddenly clicked. It was… you know like if you mesh your two hands together in front of your face…? Something fitted together, precisely. Something felt absolutely right, at last. And that was reincarnation. I just knew it was right, not through any intellectual process but as if retrieving an ancient memory. It fitted with that feeling I had since a child, that the past is not something irretrievably gone, but all around us still. I felt my ancestors, and strangers, and scenery long vanished – beside me. I knew time was an illusion, but I didn’t know how.
Over the years I have read more, in different fields – testing it – trying to find something that would be an antidote to that unreasonable, unscientific certainty – but only seem to have stumbled across more and more things that fit with it. It now seems to me that the traditional Eastern idea of reincarnation is a simplified version of an unimaginably complex reality. I think there is more to it than amassing good karma and bad karma, and the possibility of coming back as a worm/slug/dung-beetle if we misbehave, or working one’s way up to some kind of disembodied semi-angelic status if we’re really, really good.
My sense is that when we die, we leave our used-up physical bodies behind, obviously, but then maybe rest between lives. And during that between-lives period we design, assemble or are irresistibly drawn back into, another life, depending on what we next need to learn; the ‘life after life’ pattern being an extended learning or growing process. I think we are ‘sent out’ – or maybe even fling ourselves joyfully out – from our source – like flares from the sun – and we ‘return’ – or maybe sink gratefully back – to our source; and that in returning we bring with us what we have learned – so that the source is enriched and in a small way modified by everything we have seen, experienced and suffered.
I don’t see ‘That’ as anything that can be named; or as in any way static, but rather as a something continually and violently in motion – boiling, like the sun – always rearranging, realigning and reconfiguring. I see human creativity – that surge of joy that happens when a poem line comes to you, or you when you paint a picture just right, or capture the photo – as a fizzy foretaste, a pale, just-bearable echo of what it is to be That – the violence, the frightening creativity, the rage, the restless urge for change, the passion to bring into existence Something from Nothing.
Getting Religion, I suspect, would have been the easier option!
Though all dies, and even the gods die, yet all death is but a phoenix fire death, and new birth into the Greater and Better.