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The Drama of Love and Death Edward Carpenter

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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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II. Psychical / Mind Side of Death

We may now discuss the subject in hand somewhat more from the psychical side. Not that in these matters the physical and the psychical can ever be completely dissociated, but that having in the preceding section leaned more to the physical side it may be convenient now to lean rather to the psychical.

And there is certainly an advantage here—namely, that from this side we may not unreasonably say that the art of dying can be practised: it is really possible to approach or even perhaps to pass through Death on the mental plane, by voluntary effort. Most people regard the loss of ordinary consciousness (apart from sleep) with something like terror and horror. The best way to dispel that fear is to walk through the gate oneself every day—to divest oneself of that consciousness, and, mentally speaking, to die from time to time. Then one may get accustomed to it.

Of all the hard facts of Science: as that fire will burn, that water will freeze, that the earth spins on its axis, and so forth, I know of none more solid and fundamental than the fact that if you inhibit thought (and persevere) you come at length to a region of consciousness below or behind thought, and different from ordinary thought in its nature and character—a consciousness of quasi-universal quality, and a realization of an altogether vaster self than that to which 80 we are accustomed. And since the ordinary consciousness, with which we are concerned in ordinary life, is before all things founded on the little local self, and is in fact self-consciousness in the little local sense, it follows that to pass out of that is to die to the ordinary self and the ordinary world.

It is to die in the ordinary sense, but in another sense it is to wake up and find that the ‘I,’ one’s real, most intimate self, pervades the universe and all other beings—that the mountains and the sea and the stars are a part of one’s body and that one’s soul is in touch with the souls of all creatures. Yes, far closer than before. It is to be assured of an indestructible immortal life and of a joy immense and inexpressible—“to drink of the deep well of rest and joy, and sit with all the Gods in Paradise.?

So great, so splendid is this experience, that it may be said that all minor questions and doubts fall away in face of it; and certain it is that in thousands and thousands of cases the fact of its having come even once to a man has completely revolutionized his subsequent life and outlook on the world.

Of exactly how this inhibition of Thought may be practised, and of all its collateral results and implications it would be out of place to speak now.[40] Sufficient at present to say that with the 81 completion of this inhibition, and the realization of the consequent change of consciousness—even if it be only for a time—the ordinary mental self, with all its worries, cares, limitations, imperfections, and so forth, falls completely off, and lies (for the time) like a thing dead; while the real man practically passes onward into another state of being.

To experience all this with any degree of fulness, is to know that you have passed through Death; because whatever destruction physical death may bring to your local senses and faculties, you know that it will not affect that deeper Self. I mean that having already become aware of your real self as pervading the life of other creatures, and moving in other bodies than your so-called own, it clearly does not so very much matter whether the one body remains or passes. It may make a difference certainly, but not a fatal or insuperable difference. The vast ocean of the consciousness into which you have been admitted will not be profoundly affected, even by the abstraction of a pearl-shell from its shore.

We have spoken of the Protozoa more than once in these connections; and it has been said that the Protozoa have been considered immortal because, though they divide into separate cells or organisms, the life remains continuous; and 82 because though some of the descendant cells may die yet the life goes on—so that even in the hundredth generation the self or ego of a particular cell may be identical with that of the first parent. And in the case we are considering we have something similar, for when the common life of souls is once recognized and experienced, it is clear that nothing can destroy it. It simply passes from one form to another. And we may perhaps say that as the Protozoa attain to a kind of immortality below death, or prior to its appearance in the world, so the emancipated or freed soul attains to immortality above and beyond death—passing over death, in fact, as a mere detail in its career.

I say, this heart and kernel of a great and immortal self, this consciousness of a powerful and continuing life within, is there—however deeply it may be buried—within each person; and its discovery is open to everyone who will truly and persistently seek for it. And I say that I regard the discovery of this experience—with its accompanying sense of rest, content, expansion, power, joy, and even omniscience and immensity—as the most fundamental and important fact hitherto of human knowledge and scientific inquiry, and one verified and corroborated by thousands and even millions of human kind. Doubtless, as already suggested, questions may arise and will arise as to the exact nature of this continuing life, its exact relation to the local personal consciousness, as well as to what 83 is called the sublimal self—how far definite personality and memory go with it, and so forth. These questions we may return to later. At present let us simply rest on the experience itself.

When Death is at hand, or its oncoming cannot long be delayed, there is still that to remember, to revert to, to cling to. And the more often we have made the experience our very own, in life, the easier will it be to hold on to at the close. Whatever physical death may bring—in the way of pain or distress or dislocation of faculty—there still remains that indefeasible fact, the certainty of the survival of the deepest, most universal portion of our natures. In some cases this deepest consciousness does itself remain so clear, so strong that—even through all the obscurations of illness and bodily weakness—death practically brings no break; the body is shed off, more or less like a husk or chrysalis (with effort and struggle perhaps, but without anguish and despair); and the human being passes on to realize under some other form the divine life which he has already partially entered into. I think it evident that this is the state of affairs which we ought to put before ourselves as the goal of our endeavor. It would seem the only condition which secures a sense of continuity in death, or which does not carry with it some threat of failure or extinction. And it suggests to us that our persistent and unremitted effort during ordinary life should be to realize and lay hold of this immortal 84 Thing, to conquer and make our own this very Heart of the universe. It suggests that every magnanimous deed, every self-forgetting enthusiasm, every great and passionate love, every determined effort to get down into the heart and truth of things and below the conventional crust, does really bring us nearer to that attainment, and hasten the day when mankind at large shall indeed finally obtain the victory; and the passage into and through death shall appear natural and simple and clear of obstruction, and even in its due time desirable.

It is clear, however, that in a great number of cases this deepest consciousness, even if it has occasionally during life been reached by the person concerned, has not been sufficiently firmly established to endure through times of sickness, bodily weakness, and mental decay; while again, perhaps in the vast majority of cases, the previous realizations have been almost nil, or at most have been too few or too slight to count for much. What are we to say in such cases as these? Even if with the eye of faith or philosophy the bystander may seem to see the immortal spark shining, what consolation or assistance is that to the sufferer himself, who does not perceive or feel it? What is likely to be his experience of dissolution? and what may he fairly expect or look to as any sort of solution of the obscure problem?

To get any kind of answer to these questions and any clear idea of what really happens in 85 the great majority of cases—when the break-up which we call dissolution arrives—it will be necessary to analyze roughly the nature of Man. We shall then see what are the various elements of that nature, and what their probable destination, respectively. And for the purpose in hand I think we may divide the complete human being into four sections—though remembering of course that the classification proposed, or any such classification, can only be very rough and tentative—namely, into (1) the eternal and immortal Self, of which we have already spoken; (2) the inner personal ego or human soul; (3) the outer personality or animal self; and (4) the actual body. Of these, (1), the eternal Self, is the germ or root of the whole human being; and I think we may even say that all the sections and elements of our human nature are really manifestations or outgrowths from this root (though of course in most cases unconscious of their real belonging or their real source). Then (2), the inner personal self or human soul, includes the finer and subtler elements of ‘character’—which we know so well in our friends, yet find so difficult to describe, but which are roughly denoted by such words as affection, courage, wit, sympathy, love of beauty, sense of equality, freedom, self-reliance, determination, and so forth; while (3), the outer personality or animal soul (not at all of course to be despised), is concerned with the more terrestrial desires and passions like pride, ambition, love of possession, jealousy, and 86 especially those that relate themselves directly to the body, e.g. desires of food, drink, sex, ease, sleep, and so forth; and finally, (4), the body, includes all the material organs and parts. Other and intermediate subdivisions may be and sometimes are made, but these four will probably suffice for the present—remembering, as already said, that they have only a rough value: hard and fast lines and divisions in such matters being impossible, and the nature of man being really continuous and not built in sections; remembering, too, with regard to all four divisions, that the elements of them are not at all times present in consciousness, but to a large degree remain conscious or hidden or subliminal.

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