Letters from a Living Dead Man: LETTER XVI

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Letters from a Living Dead Man



I WANT to say a word to those who are about to die. I want to beg them to forget their bodies as soon as possible after the change which they call death.
Oh, the terrible curiosity to go back and look upon that thing which we once believed to be ourselves! The thought comes to us now and then so powerfully that it acts in a way against our will and draws us back to it. With some it is a morbid obsession, and many cannot get free from it while there remains a shred of flesh on the bones which they once leaned upon.
Tell them to forget it altogether, to force the thought away, to go out into the other life free. Looking back upon the past is sometimes good, but not upon this relic of the past.
It is so easy to look into the coffin, because the body which we wear now is itself a light in a dark place, and it can penetrate grosser matter. I have been back myself a few times, but am determined to go back no more. Yet some day the thought may come to me again with compelling insistence to see how it is getting on.

I do not want to shock or pain you—only to warn you. It is sad to see the sight which inevitably meets one in the grave. That may be the reason why many souls who have not been here long are so melancholy. They return again and again to the place which they should not visit.
You know that out here if we think intently of a place we are apt to find ourselves there. The body which we use is so light that it can follow thought almost without effort. Tell them not to do it.
One day while walking down an avenue of trees—for we have trees here—I met a tall woman in a long black garment. She was weeping—for we have tears here also. I asked her why she wept, and she turned to me eyes of unutterable sadness.
I have been back to it," she said.
My heart ached for her, because I knew how she felt. The shock of the first visit is repeated each time, as the thing one sees is less and less what we like to think of ourselves as being.
Often I remember that tall woman in black, walking down the avenue of trees and weeping. It is partly curiosity that draws one back, partly magnetic attraction; but it can do no good. It is better to forget it.

I have sometimes longed, from sheer scientific interest, to ask my boy Lionel if he had been back to his body; but I have not asked him for fear of putting the idea into his mind. He has such a restless curiosity. Perhaps those who go out as children have less of that morbid instinct than we have.
If we could only remember in life that the form which we call ourselves is not our real immortal self at all, we would not give it such an exaggerated importance, though we would nevertheless take needful care of it.
As a rule, those who say that they have been long here do not seem old. I asked the Teacher why, and he said that after a time an old person forgets that he is old, that the tendency is to grow young in thought and therefore young in appearance, that the body tends to take the form which we hold of it in our minds, that the law of rhythm works here as elsewhere.
Children grow up out here, and they may even go on to a sort of old age if that is the expectation of the mind; but the tendency is to keep the prime, to go forward or back towards the best period, and then to hold that until the irresistible attraction of the earth asserts itself again.

Most of the men and women here do not know that they have lived many times in flesh. They remember their latest life more or less vividly, but all before that seems like a dream. One should always keep the memory of the past as clear as possible. It helps one to construct the future.
Those people who think of their departed friends as being all-wise, how disappointed they would be if they could know that the life on this side is only an extension of the life on earth! If the thoughts and desires there have been only for material pleasures, the thoughts and desires here are likely to be the same. I have met veritable saints since coming out; but they have been men and women who held in earth life the saintly ideal, and who now are free to live it.
Life can be so free here! There is none of that machinery of living which makes people on earth such slaves. In our world a man is held only by his thoughts. If they are free, he is free.
Few, though, are of my philosophic spirit. There are more saints here than philosophers, as the highest ideal of most persons, when intensely active, has been towards the religious rather than the philosophic life.

I think the happiest people I have met on this side have been the painters. Our matter is so light and subtle, and so easily handled, that it falls readily into the forms of the imagination. There are beautiful pictures here. Some of our artists try to impress their pictures upon the mental eyes of the artists of earth, and they often succeed in doing so.
There is joy in the heart of one of our real artists when a fellow craftsman on your side catches an idea from him and puts it into execution. He may not always be able to see clearly how well the second man works out the idea, for it requires a special gift or a special training to see from one form of matter into the other; but the inspiring spirit catches the thought in the inspired one's mind, and knows that a conception of his own is being executed upon the earth.
With poets it is the same. There are lovely lyrics composed out here and impressed upon the receptive minds of earthly poets. A poet told me that it was easier to do that with a short lyric than with an epic or a drama, where a long-continued effort was necessary.

It is much the same with musicians. Whenever you go to a concert where beautiful music is being played, there is probably all round you a crowd of music-loving spirits, drinking in the harmonies. Music on earth is much enjoyed on this side. It can be heard. But no sensitive spirit likes to go near a place where bad strumming is going on. We prefer the music of stringed instruments. Of all earthly things, sound reaches most directly into this plane of life. Tell that to the musicians.
If they could only hear our music! I did not understand music on earth, but now my ears are becoming adjusted. It seems sometimes as if you must hear our music over there, as we hear yours.

You may have wondered how I spend my time and where I go. There is a lovely spot in the country which I never tire of visiting. It is on the side of a mountain, not far from my own city. There is a little road winding round a hill, and just above the road is a hut, a roofed enclosure with the lower side open. Sometimes I stay there for hours and listen to the rippling of the brook which runs beside the road. The tall slender trees have become like brothers to me. At first I cannot see the material trees very clearly; but I go into the little hut which is made of fresh clean boards with a sweet smell, and I lie down on the shelf or bunk along the wall; then I close my eyes and by an effort—or no, it is not what I would call an effort, but by a sort of drifting—I can see the beautiful place. But you must know that this is in the night time there, and I see it by the light of myself. That is why we travel in the dark part of the twenty-four hours, for in the bright sunlight we cannot see at all. Our light is put out by the cruder light of the sun.

One night I took the boy Lionel there with me, leaving him in the hut while I went a little distance away. Looking back, I saw the whole hut illuminated by a lovely radiance—the radiance of Lionel himself. The little building, which has a peaked roof, looked like a pearl lighted from within. It was a beautiful experience.
I then went to Lionel and told him to go in his turn a little distance away, while I took his place in the hut. I was curious to know if he would see the same phenomenon when I lay there, if I could shed such a light through dense matter—the boards of the building. When I called him to me afterwards and asked if he had seen anything strange, he said:
"What a wonderful man you are, Father! How did you make that hut seem to be on fire?"
Then I knew that he had seen the same thing I had seen.
But I am tired now and can write no more. Good night, and may you have pleasant dreams.