(This “ask me anything” answer is in response to a class of young college students’ questions.)
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I’m not sure about an afterlife. I don’t believe in one absolutely, in that I’m not counting on it, but I do hope for one. There is much we don’t know about this universe, and I think it very possible that there are other dimensions where something like an afterlife might exist. I’m not sure that anything like my individual consciousness will continue in that dimension, but perhaps there will be some sort of connection. That’s what I like to imagine: a sense of connection to everything in the world.
It’s definitely painful to imagine not being connected to those I love, and I think it’s fine to take comfort in a belief that provides for those connections to be maintained in some way. That could be a traditional concept of heaven or angels or something else. Such a belief (as long as it’s not taken to any weird extremes) doesn’t do any harm and can provide real solace for loss in this life. And if it turns out not to be fact and death is just a void, we’ll never know anyway! I do know that others and I myself have experienced communications of a nature that defies explanation, so this kind of belief doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.
I can’t claim to know anything about the afterlife, however. I don’t really think anyone can. We can imagine it, however. And we can have faith in what we or others imagine, if we so choose. That faith is a fine thing that can make our lives happier and soothe us in our grief — though it’s not for everyone.
What I do know –and this truly is not just belief– is that the gifts we give in this life are what confer immortality. Those are the things that live on and continue to affect the lives of others long after we’re gone. Love is the greatest of our immortal aspects. The more love we give, the more immortality! We have to be careful of how we live, since the bad things we put into the world also have a lasting effect. As my son has noted in his Ask Me Anything answers , everything we do in this life, however small, changes the world forever. Just a smile can go on creating positive change well beyond its original moment, for instance. Chances are the good things we do and give will be positive gifts, and the bad things will make the world worse. We have a lot of power to change the world!