So, I’m normally somewhat underqualified to answer these questions, but for reasons that should be fairly obvious, this one takes the biscuit.
I do not know what it feels like when we die.
I have fears, I have hopes, and I there’s even one thing I suspect to be true. There are myths, there are lies and there are guesses.
The truth is, of course, that they are all guesses.
There’s a reason it remains an undiscovered country. A reason it is so scary and fascinating.
It is utterly unknown to us.
And there’s no road back, at least not without supping on the waters of lethe. (Mythology has a great tendency to provide complex and romantic explanations to things that are quite simple and straightforward, that’s kind of what it’s there for. So some people (the Greeks?) posited that someone could only come back from the land of the dead by drinking from a river that made you forget all about it. Hence nobody knows what it is like to die, because when they come back from the dead (!) the can’t remember. Very necessary story that.)
Anyway. What probably happens is that you stop existing and have no ability to feel.
Even if some other mystical occurence happens, it probably doesn’t ‘feel’ like anything, as no material nerve endings would be involved. But then, there I am, trying to provide a scientific rationale to a mystical experience.
I don’t know. Anything’s possible.
I imagine dying to be a little horrible.
I’ve had experiences, fueled by hallucinogens and drug abuse, that I have imagined felt like a death of sorts. The world faded away, but actually rippled into a recurring pattern of throbbing waves. In those waves I could see all past moments in my life as a reflection of that instant then. The moment now was overlaid with everything else, and it was all the same.
And it slowed down. Pulsing to a halt, becoming more distant and lost. Everything froze and wound down, like a record player with the power turned down. The repetition continued, but slowed and distorted and damaged. Everything was far away.
And it slowly faded back in. And I wasn’t dead.
So it was fine.
But that’s probably just going crazy for a little bit. Dying may not be like that (though lots of my more pharmo-friendly psychonaut friends insist that a substance analagous to DMT, an incredibly powerful hallucinogen is released into the brain as it dies…so perhaps there is some truth).
I don’t know. And nor do you. Or anyone else.
That’s scary. Especially when certain types of people like to make up dramatic, judgemental stories about it for the purpose of controlling people.
I prefer imagery to reality or belief. The Mayan’s have a tradition of planting a seed in the grave of those they bury (possibly in the heart) so that a tree made of that person grows out.
Their creation myth has this playing out writ large.
Illustration by Adam.