As an artist I have experimented with the notion that human evolution actually occurs as a personal epiphany, one heart at a time. With this understanding, I’ve tried to transform areas of injustice through inspiring awareness of our shared humanity. In my portraits, plays and stories I’ve invited personal openings and heart connections, in the belief that our human connection is what will bring us through these deeply challenging times. I’ve recently been experimenting with a new and somewhat surprising approach to evolving beyond war: the possibility that transforming our fear of death may be a pathway to peace.
We begin with the assumption that in warfare, fear is the currency of power and domination. That is: The nation or power that has the biggest, scariest arsenal holds the cards. What is the underlying message here? Death is the ultimate fear, and the power that controls the means of death is Top Gun. I believe we can do better than that, and the change is overdue.
Conversion may begin with a deeper look at our personal fears and struggles with death. My own transformation began through my father, a decorated World War II veteran and spiritual seeker who, near the end of his life, was searching for information about the next phase of his journey, the one after his death. In answer to my fears and doubts, he began sending me books by Dr. Raymond Moody and others who chronicled hundreds of accounts of “near death experiences,” which described strikingly similar phenomena: Light at the end of a tunnel, the welcoming of friends, and a Presence embodying unconditional love.
The greatest revelations came just after my father’s death. I had boarded a flight to his home in California and was drifting off to sleep when my father’s voice quite distinctly began speaking into my thoughts. Though astonished, I took out my pen and journal to record his feelings of elation in this state where he could “travel anywhere just by thinking about it” and could “hear the song of everything.” Clearly, he was excited within an environment that surpassed his greatest hopes. For nine months, he continued to speak into my thoughts, and I recorded pages and pages of beautiful descriptions and such loving affirmations that I have shared them in a book.
The interesting thing is that since my own story has been published, many people have shared with me their own accounts of extraordinary events surrounding the death of friends and family members. Often they’ve kept these stories to themselves, fearing that such precious memories would be met with ridicule. But imagine what peace we might experience and provide to others in sharing these secrets about the journey through death: Not just the peace of knowing that loved ones never truly leave us, but also the peace of living our lives as if we had eternity to expand, experience and grow.
I’m beginning to think that life after death is not only the best kept secret around, but also a new angle on the evolution of human behavior beyond war. How does the power currency change when we realize that the moral decisions we make now are part of an eternal journey? Haven’t the great and courageous ones been privy to that? “You can do what you want to my body: The spirit of my life will endure.”
One of the keys to transforming war addiction may lie, after all, at the level of personal conversion, shifting our attention from a fear of death to confidence in the power of the eternal spirit. Then the emphasis is not on saving my body’s life at all costs, but rather on living this life with all my heart, and well enough that I may feel pride and hope for whatever future awaits me.
It’s going to require a stretch to get there from here. But I truly believe that we can make this evolutionary leap, as we have evolved through earlier stages of human barbarism. On a personal level it may require a bit of courage, a leap of faith, and a regular shift from negativity to optimism. It won’t be easy, but the fruit is sweet, and infinitely better than the alternatives.
Jane Smith Bernhardt is an artist, performer and writer. She is a graduate of the interfaith Guild for Spiritual Guidance. Her book, WE ARE HERE: Love Never Dies, chronicles an extraordinary period of three family deaths and many miracles of joy and forgiveness. Her website is www.janebernhardt.com