A Final Embrace
“Who’s Douglas?” I don’t know. I know some small part of who Douglas was. I’m also somewhat aware of many of the projected roles that he played out for me and for others over the years. But once Doug “gave up the ghost,” as the saying goes, and returned his tired body to the Earth, then the question really starts driving us—who is Douglas, where is Douglas, what is Douglas, now?
Doug always had an uncanny knack for pushing me to the far edge of my stretch zone. (I’m probably not alone in having experienced him in this way.) His departure on Good Friday, however, was almost too much. He was quite familiar, of course, with my Good Friday syndrome. And since neither of us had much use for the word “coincidence,” preferring the more evocative term “synchronicity,” I can only view Douglas’ Good Friday leave-taking as a final mischievous gesture. A trickster’s last prank. An exquisite final embrace. “Here’s a little something to remember me by, Robert. You can add it to your collection.”
And he “happened” to die while I was in the midst of an intense meditation course, wrestling with deeply conflicted beliefs about whether there is any self, any soul that survives death. Doug certainly found a way to make this question searingly relevant for me. (Or “revelant” as Doug would say. He always did tend to trip over that word.)
The Buddha (the Awakened One) teaches that there is no self, no soul, no God. Nothing but illusion, on either side of the grave. Nothing but “anicca”—arising and passing away, arising and passing away. The fundamental, bed-rock principle of impermanence.
Seth, on the other hand, whose teachings were at the core of both Douglas’ and my emerging world views, and who was himself a black sheep and a mischief-maker, would no doubt laugh tolerantly and remind us of the title of his first book, Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul.
So Buddha says there’s no soul. And Seth proclaims the eternal validity of the soul. But Doug had no real interest in the Buddhist philosophy. He was a Sethian. And that’s why, on what turned out to be our last evening together, I was reading a Seth book to him.
The book is called The Nature of the Psyche: Its Human Expression, and I’d like to share a portion of the final passage that I read to him, just before I hugged him and kissed him, told him I loved him, and said goodbye. It’s how the book opens. (And once again, how do we know what we know before we know it?)
You come into the condition you call life, and pass out of it. In between you encounter a lifetime. Suspended—or so it certainly seems—between birth and death, you wonder at the nature of your own being. You search your experience and study official histories of the past, hoping to find there clues as to the nature of your own reality.
Your life seems synonymous with your consciousness. Therefore it appears that your knowledge of yourself grows gradually, as your self-consciousness develops from your birth. It appears, furthermore, that your consciousness will meet a death beyond which your self-consciousness will not survive.
You may think longingly, and with an almost hopeful nostalgia of the religion of your childhood, and remember a system of belief that ensured you of immortality. Yet most of you, my readers, yearn for some private and intimate assurances, and seek for some inner certainty that your own individuality is not curtly dismissed at death. (page 9)
So who, or where, or what is Douglas now? I don’t know. But perhaps the exploration of this question will open yet another chapter in our long friendship.