One of my closest friends recently shared an interesting idea with me.
She believes, as far as I could understand, that who we are, our soul so to speak, and I ask that you refrain from attaching any preconceived ideas you may have of this term, is passed along, after death, from one person to a next person.
She believes that each soul has a list of tasks to complete, a list of challenges, that this soul must face during the lifetime of the person it currently resides in. If this person fails to meet one of these challenges, to complete one of these tasks, then this challenge will move onwards with the soul to the next person it inhabits, and that person will find he must face this challenge as well.
If, on the other hand, a person defeats this challenge, accomplishes some kind of goal, then their soul will move on to face the next challenge, and every person further down the line that this soul inhabits, will find life easier, as that challenge, previously beaten by their soul, could never present itself again, as they had already faced it in another life, and won.
Fascinated by this notion I searched my consciousness for some kind of awareness of previous lives or challenges faced and overcome. None came to mind.
If I have, in some form or another, already lived in another person, then I am not aware of it. Nor do I perceive any kind of internal struggle, some kind of persevering hardship I have been fighting for centuries.
If I am in fact defined by some kind of soul, participating in some kind of a recurring lifecycle, then I honestly don't perceive it.
I guess I'm alone in this fight... no past or future lives to lighten the load of the challenges I face. I'll have to face them my self.
If I am, in fact, just one person, with one life, no immortal soul with a lineage to share the burden with, then what is the point of facing challenges?
I mean if, in fact, I face some kind of challenge, head on, and beat it, then what happens when I die. Is that achievement lost?
Is there a way for me to, as my friend expressed it, prevent others who come after me from having to face that same challenge? Can I not, lighten the load, so to speak?
A year ago or so it was another friend who planted an idea in my mind. He had had a bad trip, he told me, one that took him a long time to get over.
Following that bad trip he found himself pondering an old Jewish philosopher's idea,which states that if the life of a single person is lost, it is as if an entire world is lost.
This pondering brought him to the realization that his perception of any person he had ever met throughout his life was not in fact an accurate depiction of who that person realy is. Rather his perception of said person was something else, made up of the sum of the interactions the two of them have shared, and hence this something is an entirely different person than whom that person truly is.
With this idea in mind, he expressed the notion to me that I had, in fact, created, throughout my life, and in the very depths of my mind, an entire world. This world is inhabited by all the people I had ever met through out my lifetime, but it is not inhabited by who these people truly are, but rather by unique people who are made up of the perceptions I have of each and every one of the real people whom I have actually met.
Each one of these people is not the person I have imprinted upon them, but rather they are a truly unique person, and hence an entire world exists in my mind and this world is made up of these truly unique people, who may resemble people I met throughout my life, but are all, in fact, people in their own right. Even if they only exist in my mind.
The direct result of this idea is this: If, and when, I die, this entire world, made up in my mind, and attached to people around me, will die as well.
Looking beyond my own mortality and that of the world which exists in my mind, I realize now that in the same way that such a world exists in mine, it also exists in that of every person I have ever met.
None of us truly know each other, we have just summarized each other into fictional characters whose sole existence is maintained by a single mind, in a single, oh so fragile, consciousness.
How truly small this idea makes me feel. How vulnerable.
I could die at any moment and take with me so many wonderful lives, and they would never even know that they died, nor even that they existed.
In one of my truly favourite, though highly under appreciated, films there appears a character who was recently emancipated from a form of slavery. Facing her own perception of self, and leading the rebellion against the oppression which enslaved her, she made a very interesting observation:
"To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time.
Our lives are not our own, from womb to tomb, we're bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."
I know this is only a film, and I probably do the author of the book on which it is based an injustice for placing my own ideas upon his work which has been crunched up though Hollywood's filter, but I find this idea very inspiring.
This woman made a connection in my head which I don't think the author intended me to make.
If it is our perception in the mind of others which defines our being, and it is only by understanding how we are perceived by them that we can understand who we are, then how can we truly know our selves?
I mean, if this idea is true, that each person's perception of us is unique and different, let alone different from our own perception of our selves, then how could we possibly define who we are by using others' perceptions of us?
That sounds like it could lead to a severe case of split personality disorder.
Pondering this I was leaning towards dismissing this character's entire philosophy. It just doesn't fit.
But then I realised something.
Perhaps I am misinterpreting her idea.
While it is true that each person has a unique perception of me, and hence my being can't be understood based on these multiple perceptions, maybe I am looking at this from the wrong end.
Perhaps when she states that "...to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other" what she in fact means is that in the terms of how we effect those around us, we can't measure ourselves based on how we perceive ourselves but rather we must measure our effect on others based on how we are perceived by the people around us.
Our existence, and hence our influence upon others, is limited to the perceptions others have of us.
If I wish to lighten the load on others by helping them overcome the challenges I have faced in my life, I don't need to have a soul which I pass on to others, what I need to make sure is that the imprint I have upon these people is strong enough to give them the tools, and the inspiration, to face their challenges head on.
They must face them themselves, I can't do it for them, but perhaps I can make sure they are better prepared for the path ahead of them?
With that spirit in mind I would hope that my imprint upon any of you has helped lighten the load.
If it hasn't I appologize, for I too, am only human.