Living on earth is bound up with a great deal of illusion, of Maya. William Blake puts it forcibly: “Do what you will, this life’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.”
As we have seen, such a state of affairs by no means disappears at death. Since humans bring many of their former illusions with them, their insight into the events which now present themselves must be expected also to be tangled up with their limitations. Nevertheless, we are able on earth, even when prey to a good deal of such illusion, to achieve a degree of spiritual growth. After death, as we shall see in later chapters, the situation is similar.
Meanwhile, in the early stages, the traveller faces experiences which gradually enable him to become fully related to the new life around him. The adjustments needed are both of an outward and an inward kind, the latter being by far the more important. He will have to learn about his environment (including incidentally that highly localised part of it, his clothing) and about the present make up of his own being.
The key to understanding discarnate life is that we are concerned with a number of different levels of consciousness, and that what is true at one level is not necessarily true in the same way at deeper levels. It is often considered necessary for the sake of clarity to describe post-mortem experiences as if they take place in separate areas or ‘spheres’, and as if these areas are sharply divided off from one another. The real difference, however, has to be seen in terms of expanding consciousness. Discarnate experiences represent an adventure in growth. Like other forms of growth this does not take place in an even and uniform way. Such growth can contain temporarily neglected areas, which must be made good at a later period. A man can advance or retreat within his own consciousness with a motion like a wave or a beach. He can also take byways from which for a long while he can refuse to disentangle himself.
The general direction of his experiences, however, can be stated fairly simply. During earth life men know comparatively little of their true nature. This is partly because they imprison themselves in various illusions, and partly because hey succeed in expressing only a comparatively small part of their full being. Many sense that this is so whilst they are still on earth. The purposes of the early, or comparatively early, stages of the next life are first to enable a man to recognise and shake off his illusions, often by continuing to live within them until their illusion becomes clear to him; second, to come to recognise himself in a far more objective way; and third, to discover how to reach and live more fully within those parts of his nature which he had not expressed whilst on earth.
These three stages can roughly be equated with (1) the illusory state known as the Summerland, (2) the judgement, and (3) life in the First, Second and Third Heavens.
On earth a great deal of effort has to be expended in order to make an impact upon its material density, rather as the mountaineer can only slowly cut each step before him as he makes his way up the ice slopes. The traveller now has to learn (as Helen Salter’s parents had long since done) how he can transform the ideoplastic and malleable material he now encounters. Whilst some continue to take it that the physical appearances they observe are much as of old, others are more alert and recognise readily that the ‘matter’ now surrounding them is different.
There are things… of the same kind as you see on earth, only somehow different. They are real, but you have a sense that they are only temporary, that they just belong to that first waking stage.
Then you find, and it seems very curious and fascinating, that you can change those things by wishing them to change. You can only do it with quite small and unimportant things, but for instance - you can look at a pine needle on the ground where you are sitting, and begin to think of it as a real needle, a steel needle, and then it is an ordinary sewing needle and you can pick it up.
You can’t change big things; you can’t change the whole scene around you. That is because it is not only your scene, it belongs to lots of other spirits too, but also you can change any little thing, when the change won’t affect anybody else. Then you begin to realise that all the things around you are really thought forms, and that it is arranged like that so as to make the transition easy from material life to spirit life. You learn a great deal simply by finding out what you can change by changing your own thought about it, and what remains unaltered however you think about it.
That makes you understand how little belongs to you alone so that you can do exactly what you like with it individually and how much belongs to the whole concourse of spirits of which you are a part.
Thus the Joe of these scripts can alter matter, which has been thought into a pine needle, and convert it into another shape, but he cannot alter anything which is held in a stronger pattern of thought than his own. More experienced beings, like Helen Salter’s parents, give to the environment of new arrivals a stability which it needs in order to make them feel they are in some place not too different from what they have been used to.
This is recognised in his own way by a Cockney character who says: “In the distance we see mountains, guv’nor, but they are thought mountains, and however far you walk, you never come up to them.”
The ‘mountains’ set a limit beyond which the Cockney and those with him cannot stray for the time being. It represents a limit of consciousness, for what lies beyond this pictured barrier is what is beyond their understanding.
You must remember that his surroundings hereafter are limited by his mental and spiritual development up to date. He himself is the same as he was when he was here because that is the conception of himself that he holds in his mind.
Mind controls all things.
The present margin of the mental consciousness limits the present capacity for perception.
It is admittedly hard to visualise a world which has the appearance of being a physical world; which, as all accounts agree, has substance of a kind; and yet which also has the property of reflecting and representing inner thoughts and feelings. It is through refusing to face this difficulty that pictures of the next world are taken to be more materialistic than the accounts themselves say.
Although it is very necessary to emphasise the malleability and ideoplastic nature of this substance, we then run the risk of giving it too Berkeleyan a character. This overemphasis is hard to avoid because as yet we have certainly not received any satisfactory account of how this substance is made up.
The more these records are studied, in fact, the more perplexing sensory matters become. They are continually baffling.
Thus, communicators speak of a ‘soul-body’. Rationalists dismiss this phrase as no more than a contradiction in terms. Professor Anthony Flew amusingly calls it a non-tauride bull. If one regards ‘soul-body’ as a term denoting a centre of consciousness, this too can be said to beg all the questions, for it tells us nothing of how such a centre operates, nor of how far something sensory is involved. And yet it may be a starting place, a finger post pointing us in the right direction.
If we make earth experiences the standard by which to judge whether sensory references in the narratives are acceptable, this amounts to requiring post-mortem existence to obey much the same rules as those of our earth body.
This would then make subsequent existence after all much like life on earth; yet this is the very thing other critics condemn. If such a standard is imposed, is this really akin to looking through the wrong end of the telescope? Why should bodily laws as we know them prevail after death, when the absence of a physical body is the one certain thing which makes it different? If we turn the telescope round, we can then at least ponder on whether post-mortem experiences show our physical make up to have been a limitation, and not belonging to our essence. Mystical experiences on earth transcend the everyday limitations of the senses in just this way Mystics and post mortem teachers sometimes tell a strikingly similar story.
Here is a post-mortem account (there are other similar ones):
... You are part of the tree, in tune with it; it feeds you and you respond to it in that you recognise it as a reflection of God’s love as you are a reflection of God’s love. It emits a sound like a beautiful tiny bell, again quite impossible to describe, but you hear it within yourself and respond spiritually. The flowers can dance and sing in their own particular way… everything gives you of itself in a conscious overwhelming generosity of joy and you reciprocate, sharing everything around you with this giving and taking.
And here are two experiences on earth:
I was walking on the lawn looking at the masses of flowers in the herbaceous border. As a gardener I was interested in what was coming up into flower; as an artist I was enjoying the combination of colour, light and shade. Suddenly… I was ‘lifted’ into another world. I did not seem to be inside myself though I was still looking normally at the flower border. Everything had become a thousand times more brilliant. Everything had also become transparent. But what was so amazing was ... that I was not only seeing the colours, I was hearing the colours! Every colour was an indescribably exquisite musical sound, the whole making a harmony that no instruments could produce. I do not know how long this illumination lasted, perhaps not more than a second or two, but as I came back to earth, so to speak, I knew I had been in Reality.
The memory of it has remained vivid and real ever since, and has brought me the greatest happiness and understanding. Now I know.
I was on the Downs… and felt the conditions change. I became aware of faculties which normally I have not at all. I could hear each little blade of grass vibrating and there was harmony in every note. I could see an aura to every flower… I seemed to be conscious of being in a quite new world; my material body was forgotten. I felt an inward world of colour, music and scent, and perfect peace and happiness ... I am sure there is something there with movement, colour and sound, which give happiness… I am really rather an active sort of person… All my friends call me extremely practical.
Are these mystical experiences on earth anticipatory, showing by a temporary transcending of physical sensory limitations something of what we shall all experience when we shed these limitations permanently?
Clothes form a very good illustration of how outer things can both express and be obedient to an inner thought creation. The process can be very swift.
Some speak of finding themselves naked on arrival after death, but when a stranger approaches they immediately think of clothes, and then as quickly find themselves clothed in a familiar way. Their ‘surround’ of clothes is produced by their own mind. Wait Whitman will have clothed himself mentally in a garb his old friend just before death was bound to recognise. Are these clothes, one must ask, real enough to be taken off, folded away, and resumed later on? The probable answer is that they become as ‘real’ as this only if the wearer believes they are and wishes to make them so. By his need, or imagined need, he takes a share both in their creation and their temporary preservation.
A Swiss, in re-experiencing the keen faculties he had known in his early earth life, with their accompanying sense of wellbeing, finds himself instantaneously wearing the familiar army uniform which had been his at the time. The uniform will disappear when he alters his consciousness, to be replaced as easily by whatever new garment he imagines. This might become, for instance, a Grecian robe, representing the philosophic and idealistic side of his nature. The ‘surround’ of clothes is produced by the wearer’s own sense of what is fit. It can provide a shelter from what might be thought to be unwelcome scrutiny, as a crab lives in its shell; or it can express an ideal, as in an account of John Ruskin choosing to wear in the next world a beautiful, long sky-blue robe with a girdle; or it can reproduce an illusion as in the finery which some feel is their personal due; or it can be merely a memory habit, the wearing of the form of a garment familiar from earth and felt to be appropriate; or a working tool, as Frances Banks made of her nun’s robe.
The nature of man’s own substance after death is a more difficult matter. Although many accounts broadly agree, they speak largely in terms of analogy, as in the following account.
I was a doctor on earth . . . but I had no use for religion or faith healing, or any of those sentimental emotions. . . . I woke up in a hospital. I had died at home and could not think how I’d got there. But it was a most wonderful place…. A doctor came over to me. “We shall be glad to teach you all we know”… He sat down beside me, and out of nowhere a diagram appeared showing the organs and arteries of my new body . . . similar in shape to the one I knew, but with ... digestive organs and so on, of a much simpler kind . . . The digestive organs seemed to be on a rotary system. It looked like one large fly-wheel that drew in from all sides the white and coloured rays, transforming them into energy and life such as I am now experiencing.
Man’s substance might be expected to be adapted to, and possess something of, the ‘material’ of the new environment, just as formerly it was adapted to and possessed something of the substance, the ‘clay’, of earth. After a man sheds his physical body he appears to possess, according to many accounts, a more subtle ‘etheric’ shape - his ‘feeling stuff’ or vehicle of consciousness. This shape or pattern, it is said, was also his when on earth, where it played a highly important, though less obvious part behind the scenes. For on this more subtle shape the thoughts and feelings of his earth life gradually impressed themselves, forming his own private think-tank and feeling-tank. Now that the physical body has dropped off, it becomes in turn his outer shape and forms a continuing vehicle in which he lives. However indefinite and speculative these concepts are - a mere label, some will say - the accounts unfailingly point to man still having a shape and one which, for a while at least, enables old friends to recognise him.
The posthumous T. E. Lawrence feels his way to a concept of this solidity:
...There has been an unreal quality in my surroundings, and in myself a feeling of shadowy and unsubstantial being. I still miss the weight of my earth body, I suppose, although I should be sorry now to have to drag it about ... my present body, solid as it seems, is now really composed of a kind of matter which on earth I thought of as ‘emotion’. This ‘feeling stuff’ is now exterior to the real me and has no physical drag to slow down its activity. Hence the frightening release of emotional energy and the impossibility of masking it.
Consciousness, it is clear, does not expand at an even rate; it can intensify and then diminish again. Those who have a degree of spiritual maturity, who quickly accept the fact of their death, and are at once eager to learn, can experience such a temporary intensification very quickly.
Remarkable is the impression of time, which is not measured in the same way as on earth. Thus it seemed to me that I had spent at least several months in the ‘Elysian Fields’ - or what I took for them. It was a state of serene bliss, of complete relaxation.
In the beginning I was more or less conscious of the presence of loved and familiar faces . . . it seemed to me, as though all around me there were large and fresh fields covered with flowers. I was constantly surrounded by this golden haze. But I rather felt things, than actually saw them . . . I saw a great many things that were new to me. I walked about, met many an old friend and some new ones.
So that I had the impression of having lived here already for a long time.
Gradually I was overcome by weariness. I wanted a regenerating bath…
When my attention turned towards you again, I realized that this lapse of time, so long and full, corresponded to three or four terrestial days.
This vista of Pauchard’s can perhaps be compared with wandering around a college or university when joining the other students, before the hard work of term time begins.
Pauchard’s intense nature was very soon ready for work again. Many others need a much longer and more gradual period of adjustment, average people who are slower to discover the depth of experience open to them. At an early stage of this new life these usually declare that they are in what is often named the Summerland.
Here an ordinary, decent man begins to feel at home on finding an environment seemingly similar to that which he knew on earth, where he meets friends and relatives and even finds a replica of the house he desires. All this presses his present, if only temporary, inner need. A communication from F. W. H. Myers describes it thus:
Nearly every soul lives for a time in the state of illusion. The large majority of human beings when they die are dominated by the conception that substance is reality, that their particular experience of substance is the only reality. They are not prepared for an immediate and complete change of outlook. They passionately yearn for familiar though idealised surroundings. Their will to live is merely to live, therefore, in the past. So they enter that dream I call illusion-land. For instance, Tom Jones, who represents the unthinking man in the street, will desire a glorified brick villa in a glorified Brighton . . . He naturally gravitates towards his acquaintances, all those who were of a like mind. But he is merely dreaming all the time, or, rather, living within the fantasy created by his strongest desires on earth.
Such persons have no very severe defects to overcome as a result of their life on earth. In the main they will have accepted with little question the habits and customs around them. To them, moral standards were largely a form of respectability and of easy comfort; they did not have the stature to face great issues, and passed through life largely as satisfactory citizens, but asleep in part of their being.
It is perfectly possible for a man to imprison himself just as firmly to his Summerland environment as he formerly did to his earth environment. For this continuing existence forms the world of himself, writ just a little larger, and, since men resemble one another very much, only a very small portion of it will be unique to himself. The greater part of what the ordinary man seeks around him represents a commonality existence, shared with others at the same level of awareness.
In the Summerland many declare that they find that their new ‘body’ or vehicle of consciousness gradually comes to resemble the one which was theirs on earth when in their youthful prime. This too is a condition of mind. They find that they need no longer carry around with them the concept of an old, tired and imperfect body - the illusion of age. When they claim to be growing younger every day, and to be growing back to their prime, this must not be looked upon as some sort of physiological miracle. It is simply a change of consciousness to which the feeling-self adapts.
But on earth different people feel in their prime at different times. To some, youth is the prime, to be ever after looked back upon with regret for its loss; to most, maturity; to a comparative few it is old age which brings ease and contentment. At certain stages of their life some will have met with wounding experiences or felt ill at ease and inadequate; they now for a while continue to associate this private experience with the particular age when it occurred. Therefore some prefer to wear a mask of age, rather than the cloak of youth or maturity assumed by others, because they cling to the time which brought them most happiness. To such, acclimatisation proves slow. Eventually such blockages become removed as earth discomfitures fade and their consequences upon the individual nature are overcome. There will then be no need to cling to a certain age.
Some people remain caught up in their old life pattern because of former skills. They find it possible to help people still on earth and learn how to do this.
. . . A doctor here ... has become so linked up with his work, that he cannot resist from exercising his profession.
He works chiefly through clairvoyants and is perfectly happy to see his treatments continued. It is now over fifty years that he carries on his work . . . he has not even taken the time to get interested in anything else. Once I asked him whether he had not had certain experiences - pleasant or disagreeable - very different to those on earth . . . He answered half-surprised, half absent-minded ‘No!’
This doctor’s unchanged attitude has more than one aspect and is probably not quite as admirable as it sounds. It may hide a deep inability to face up to other sides of his character, so that in choosing to confine himself to his better and perfectly sincere sides he is refusing to take the disciplinary path which alone will lead him to the wider future which will then become available to him. His work provides service to others, but could be as well a refuge from himself, and on that account a more limited service than need be. A respectable life is, in itself, no passport to spiritual advancement. The doctor, in spite of all his service, may yet lack one part of the root of the matter, which less laudable persons quickly gain.
An old man came over here after an earth life that was by no means exemplary. He was a thief who had killed a man during one of his expeditions, and as soon as he arrived here, he met his victim. He did not know how to express his sorrow, but the victim had no ill feeling and told him that he was grateful for his release from a wretched earth life . . . He set to work to teach the old man that he must atone for his bad life, but that the punishment was automatic and not vindictive. After a time, the murderer and his victim became fast friends, and made progress together. It is not always the apparently good people who get on quickly over here.
The Hunt tapes include interesting records of crude self-applied limitations, the majority of them in persons of comparatively slender mental and emotional substance. A character states that he lived in the eighteenth century, naming himself as Sir Rupert Benton. He then proceeds to give a description of this past life of his and of its aristocratic setting. Some time later, many weeks onward, he comes to confess that on earth he had in truth only been the servant, the very envious servant, of the real Sir Rupert Benton. We see him finding his very slow way towards reality through this impersonation enjoyed and paraded before others. But why has it taken from the eighteenth century for this casting-off to be completed? Why do not others, kindly in purpose, disillusion him? It is because his fantasy, and this is important, remains his to accept as long as he wills to; if he prefers to believe it - even if in one part of his being he knows it is otherwise - no one can make him step outside it. Similarly the doctor can continue his ministrations just as long as it suits him. The two things certain about such illusions are their ultimate disappearance and their owner’s inalienable right to continue them meanwhile.
Others support very different illusions from that of ‘Sir Rupert Benton’. A group of brothers of the Celtic Church of the ninth century, former monks of Lindisfarne, speak of their life in the ‘etheric’ world.
They too have been caught in a dream of their own, and for a very much longer period than ‘Sir Rupert Benton’; it is a comparatively harmless dream, very much a continuation of their old earth life, which after all was the life they then chose and for which they renounced much else. They tell of the abbey, a duplicate of the one they knew on earth; they tell; even, of the flocks they believe they still tend, and theirs must be almost the only account where money is spoken of as still in active circulation after death. These brethren look on their life as a loyal and patient waiting for the second coming of Christ on earth. When some of their members leave them, the remainder sorrow at this infidelity, but of course the absentees are really the brethren who have made progress, casting off this enclosing illusion and going on to a wider life.
These are instances of persons who have chosen to step apart an isolate themselves, in various ways, from the forward-going processes, which others face up to earlier, whether eagerly or reluctantly.
Each can refuse help; he is free to do so, but the result inevitably will be to chain himself a little more firmly to his past. This is what ‘Sir Rupert Benton’ did; and so, if we believe it, does the figure of Henry VIII in A Tudor Story, displaying what to his earth listener, Canon Pakenham-Walsh, is a truly terrible temper, still claiming that his monarchy must be accepted by all around him and refusing to throw it off and accept plain manhood. To use the metaphor of a prison suggests an iron necessity, and so it is in the case of rebellious and wilfully selfish persons. For the ordinary, decent, willing person the bars of necessity, though equally effective, are more of silk than of iron, but will hold him just as fast.
Very unpleasant conditions - what might be called the Winterland -, which are also illusory, though in a different way, surround those whose life was one of coldly selfish feelings and of self-imposed isolation. After death - and also before it, as many enlightened persons have found - experience is not to be sought because it is pleasant, nor shortened because painful. Each needs to be accepted for what it teaches. In the lower areas - it is almost impossible to avoid these geographical concepts - men discover their actual self to which on earth they preferred to remain largely blind. Now they can no longer avoid their real selves; it is unpleasant where they are, because they are unpleasant. Whilst deploring their surroundings, they often insist upon remaining there, for many were headstrong on earth; having refused to face up to themselves then, it is the harder to learn to do so now. A very selfish man is often depicted as finding himself in a rocky landscape, surrounded by a grey, dark mist. How, then, it may be asked, is this a representation of familiar places on earth, for many selfish men used their life to acquire a rich and splendid house and a staff to surround them. This former earth setting is not now reproduced because it does not represent the reality of such a man’s internal state. The ordinary man who led a pleasant if unadventurous life finds largely familiar looking surroundings because these do, in their way, still represent him and his limitations. The outer and the inner man were not too different so he is able to ease himself gradually into more demanding realities. But what a selfish man built around him on earth and believed to be his is so different from what his real character now reflects in his surroundings that an extremely unpleasant shock faces him.
But it will be asked, how can it be possible for only one environment to represent fully and accurately a state of being which, in every man, will be a blend of good and bad? To a degree a man can indeed move around from one level of consciousness to another; each level will seem like a separate ‘landscape’; he can have a foot in several, if he will, provided, but only provided, that part of him is attuned to each. However, his own nature may make him almost completely bound to a particular landscape for a while. If a man’s nature was mild and pleasant, inertia is likely to keep him in his illusionland. Others have to remain in Winterland, unpleasant though it is, because they are unable even temporarily to leave off being driven by the passions, which placed them there. They cannot register a more pleasant landscape if their own character lacks response to the human qualities, which such a landscape reflects; they are at present, as it were, tone deaf to it.
Frances Banks thus describes the Winterland:
There are also Hells though certainly differing from the physical hells and everlasting fiery torments of man’s warped imagination. There are . . . confining states of misery; dark, repressing and as real as the tortured consciousness of the dweller therein makes them. Yet these hells are not eternal. The man (or woman) in these mental torments need stay there no longer than his desires keep him. He is free to resist the hatreds, cruelties, lusts of his lower nature which he has retained from his earth life and which are keeping him in dark dungeons amid like-minded inhabitants. He can always choose to follow the Light of Love, Forgiveness and Harmony and always there are souls ready to help, to guide, to comfort and to assist.
No soul is ever left comfortless unless he wishes it.
That sounds like a paradox, but then much that we learn here is very different from the teachings of man, even good men who are limited in their ideas. Existence on earth is a state of living in a thought world, illusory and much more restricted and enclosed by the glamorous web of matter. Beyond physical death the thought world is more apparent and certainly far more potent in its effects. Cause and Effect is still the Law on this plane of astral matter, as it is on earth.
The Shadow Land is a very real place indeed; a gloomy murk covers it to which one has to become accustomed; squalid dwellings inhabited by unhappy, tormented beings who jeer and mock and pursue their warped existences. Sometimes these poor souls live in hatred and rebellion, sometimes in apathy and sometimes with a fierce denial that there is any other state of existence possible.
The temporary self-induced tragedy of these people lies in the deep hold their selfish qualities have taken upon them. The result is a spiritual isolation; the traveller hides from his fellow beings because he hates them or fears them or is selfishly uncaring. They are repellent to him as he also is to them, because their qualities of selfishness are similar.
The miser, the misanthrope, the unending critic, the cold intellectual, the selfish aristocrat, the ruthless tycoon - these put around themselves an encrustation, bringing about a self-imposed isolation which prevents true contact with other beings. These are the people who in their lives have moved backwards, and the slopes of recovery they now face is correspondingly steep. Later on they will encounter the heavy extra burden of remorse, and of being obliged to secure forgiveness from every person they have wronged. The burden is heavy, as many accounts of their extrications declare.
Sin is in part error or ignorance, a diversion, a misunderstanding of truth, undeveloped good. Selfishness, pride, and independence of God are the roots of all evil and the beginnings of sin. Thence come dissension, strife, and conflict… If hell is simply a mental condition within one’s self, if it is self-exclusion from God, from the Father’s heart and home, then men make their own hell. How long will it last?
As long as they exclude God and his infinite grace from their lives. It is not God’s will that any should perish.
No exile lasts a day beyond the term the prisoner himself chooses to put upon it. Once he truly wishes no longer to continue thus, simultaneously the fringes of the next area of consciousness begin to present themselves to him. The landscape to which he then finds his way is not quite so dark, rocky, and stony. The mist lightens, perhaps grass appears underfoot instead of rock, a few flowers may show and after a while a shaft of sunshine. Literal descriptions of such landscapes, though they truly describe what such unfortunate souls see and experience, do not always stress the important part of the story; that the outer represents the inner. These seemingly objective obstacles and hateful surroundings are the prisoner’s own mind made objective. In a kind of way, they can be said to be waking dreams. The dream, as with important dreams on earth, gives information about his inner self which the outer being has refused and censored. It is certainly not easy to understand this process of life being turned, as it were, inside out, the familiar balance of earth life reversed. But this is the basic situation always described.
If, then, such landscapes reflect the minds of those who inhabit them, does the landscape remain when they have left it? It remains as long as minds of similar cast come along with a similar inner landscape for it to reflect. If there were no such minds, there would be no such landscapes; the inner world met after death is subjective enough for that. Once these prisoners have departed, its basic plasticity of substance would be available to reflect minds of different quality.
If the self-imposed isolation is deliberately continued, and with it the delaying of any remorse, then those who are in this same sorry condition remain grouped together, unable to help one another, each in the same prison without bars. Here they may continue for long periods, refusing help, sometimes with anger and contempt towards those who in their self-won freedom attempt to reach and rescue them.
To enter these areas fills rescuers with a deep sense of distress; these helpers, sensitive men and women, can themselves become affected and drawn into some of the purblind emotions they seek to lift from others, and if they remain too long in this area they declare they can, to some extent, be temporarily overcome by them. For the price to be paid in order to reach these minds is to lower their own consciousness and concepts to a level acceptable to, and capable of being understood by, those they hope to rescue. Evil is powerful at its own level, and clearly a rescuer needs sterner qualities than those of the self-congratulatory do-gooder. To compassion, insight must be added, and a ready power of wit to negotiate and to find some chink in the armour of isolation of these prisoners: some area of good - and of course there always is such an area - in the most depraved, where they can find a response and then attempt to help their self-growth, however slight.
Eventually, the self-obstacles will be overcome, but in some cases it takes the equivalent of what on earth would be a very long time indeed.
Time, however, does not matter, nor that some delays, like that which Henry VIII imposed on himself, can apparently last the equivalent of hundreds of years. The most difficult cases are said to be when a person either disbelieves completely any possibility of life after death, or accepts it but believes that it will only come about after the last trump has sounded. Both types of self-victim are described as being in a form of sleep, refusing, in some strange part of their being, to allow their consciousness to function. Surely, we ask, there must be some mode of access to whatever part of the mind has made this choice and imposed upon itself insensibility to all that is around it? It is like a coma, but a self-chosen one which for long refuses to respond to any external pressures. Absolute respect for the law of free will is observed and somehow the coma has to be penetrated to bring about a change, Those who would help say this can be extremely difficult. It is, however, a striking instance both of the respect for free will and of how deep subjectivity can go.
To return to the ordinary, decent person in the Summerland. We have seen that really, in spite of the lyrical descriptions sometimes given, it is an area of limitation. Myers calls it Lotus land, or Illusion land, because it is based upon a reconstruction of earth memories of enjoyment and upon an expectation of reward. If a symbol is sought which will describe the state of a man who thinks he has already arrived in heaven, and at such easy cost, an armchair in front of one’s own porch would not be a bad image.
Woven into this, however, is another, somewhat deeper aspect, not based on earth memories but upon the hopes, longings and ideals which had lain deep in the traveller’s heart but which he had never been able to express in his outer life; the parts of his nature to which life had brought no fulfilment. This too must now come to expression, and its precise worth will be shown to him in this new, kindly environment in which old earth obstacles do not exist. There is now nothing to stop him, and everything to help him, to give to his ideals the expression which had eluded him on earth. But this second phase of the Summerland also falls short of reality. If this is accepted, some of the difficulties in the concept of the Summerland disappear, including the perfectly sound and correct view held by many sceptics that the felicity seemingly described is too easy, has not been earned.
So now a man’s interior dreams are put to the test by being granted to him. All his earth wishes come true, or so it seems. At first, all is wonder and delight. It seems he has indeed found himself. But, this easy conquest made, there is an aftermath of a kind not quite expected. What he has now drawn around him in an idealised form, and shares with others, is limited, in this mental world, to the actual extent of reality his imagination can impart to it. In his uncritical way, he delights in it. After a while, like his own earth nature, it proves to be insufficient. There is more to the human spirit than the possession of such enjoyments. As the post-mortem Myers says, there is one greater misfortune than the non-realisation of the heart’s desire, and that is its realisation. It is a cloud-cuckoo-land of the well-meaning man, and is no more than this because nearly all of it is fundamentally selfish. Even the pleasure of his relationships revolves around his own well-being. It is the land of heart’s desire; but the heart of man, as Kipling says, is small. Allowed to create his idea of heaven, would not his creation be expected to be as limited as is the man himself?
The purpose of this phase is to bring to an end all these personal emotions and thoughts which were wasted because out of them no spiritual harvest was garnered on earth. He will not be able to carry them with him later on into the more demanding subsequent phases of living where, at last, he will be concerned with his true spiritual harvest, those qualities he did fulfil and so built into a permanent part of his own being. So in the end the self-created enjoyments which he has been experiencing lose their meaning and savour. What at first seemed so desirable and satisfying (and of which meanwhile he may have given descriptions to friends on earth through a medium) now proves to be an illusion. A sense of stagnation descends upon him, he tires of his own felicity, for something is stirring within him which tells him that he is not satisfied, that there are hidden areas of life ahead of him.
You will find that the gratification of your desires quickly palls, but at least you have the pleasure of it before this happens . . . No, it does not last. It is not meant to. But you will have it as long as you want it. Nobody will hurry you. . . You yourself will be sated with it first.
Once the traveller accepts that these pleasures have no further meaning for him, he becomes willing to let them go. Now he is ready to move on, for in the afterlife every step that is taken must be a step earned even if, as in these early stages, the earning comes about through a casting-off. It is a clearing of the decks to enable him to grow into the deeper part of his nature. He comes to see his own complacency. ‘Eternal progress open to all’ is a principle of the Spiritualist religion, where it is apt to be considered as a right, like social security. But of course it has to be earned. No one content with such terms is going to get himself very far in the lands after death - no moving staircase is provided to carry him upward!
Except possibly for a brief space for readjustment, the easy going enjoyment of Summerland is not for eager souls of sterner temperament because its experiences would already be worthless to them.
They bypass it or, to put it more accurately, they come to the next life having already lived on earth at a level of consciousness beyond that at which such an existence could ensnare them. It holds no necessity for them; hence they do not meet the experience. It is not for those who, in Milton’s phrase, ‘scorn delight and live laborious days’. Others of more easy going and unchallenging character need it as a comparatively gentle way of becoming shorn of their illusions of what makes up bliss. The Summerland, then, far from being the heaven with which some equate it, represents a comparatively lowly experience, but one necessary to the majority of people.
It would not be wise, however, to take everything in the Summerland as empty illusion. It is real in the exhilaration the traveller feels in living without the heaviness of a physical body, his ‘gross and muddy vesture of decay’. This absence of physical illness and deterioration brings a degree of freedom. He is beginning to discover that his interior self, his vehicle of consciousness, is far more important than the physical body into which it had been confined. He has access to his thoughts and feelings in a much more unimpeded way and in an environment much less clogging and resistant.
The Summerland is also real enough in providing early lessons in the use of the creative powers which lie in his thoughts and emotions, as evidenced in the malleable nature of his new environment. He is educating himself in powers he will learn to control in due time. And of course there is truth in the whole process of casting off veils in his nature which will later on lead to the discovery of his true inner being.
The Summerland is also a foreshadowing of later surroundings. It is described as a land of sunlight. Here it must be said that the sunlight, the water, the landscape, the moving stream, the woods and hills which are described must not be regarded too literally. Myers found them to be brought about by those he calls the Wise Ones, who create an environment appropriate to their charges but more skilfully than these could do it for themselves. The environment resembles a pictorial representation, an artist’s composition - like Helen Salter’s drawing room but on a vaster scale. These landscape-like surroundings are meaningful images, as an artist’s design is meaningful. It is like a less obdurate form of nature, one not heartless, witless, as Housman declares, but somehow imbued with intelligent purpose. Water there is said to bring a sense of deeply vivifying refreshment. Fruits, too, unusual fruits, are described, which can in some way be imbibed and which, too, produce this sense of vivification.
There is no need to eat, because there is no physical body which needs food, though old habits may bring about a sensation of needing food. But this error is used for teaching, for, even when thought of as physical food, the vivification it brings represents a momentary participation in what, in essence, is a slightly higher level of consciousness. It is this which the Summerland apple or peach is likely to produce and of which it is a symbol.
When you first arrive here, however, the routines of eating and drinking and sleeping are too firmly established to be eliminated at one fell swoop. So if you think you need to sleep ... you sleep for as long as you want. If you think you need to eat, then you eat your fill. There are no excretory organs in our bodies . . . When I drink water it just diffuses itself throughout my system, and that’s that! In other words, it’s converted into energy. If I see a beautiful apple tree with bright red apples on it, I can reach up and pick one off . . . It has the effect of recharging our batteries.
It is as if these representations bear within them in a living way a message from the deeper consciousness which created them. Thus man in the Summerland can learn from these things; he is surrounded by events which point to a larger reality. There is a gradual overlapping into his consciousness, a gentle infiltration and preparation. He is learning to throw off some illusions, but meanwhile he is also learning something for use in his own future.
In time his complacence is shaken in another way for he finds that, though he is happy with his companions, certain of these disappear. They have removed themselves from his layer of consciousness. They have gone on, for they realise their life now needs to be lived more strenuously.
It must be emphasised that a great deal of this post-mortem experience is often very gradual, resembling the process of growth and change on earth and in humans themselves. Sojourn in the Summerland need not end through a sudden step, but as its necessity gradually recedes. It is probable that there is an overlapping of experiences some of which are a preparation for life in the first heaven. On earth some of us meet decisive experiences, when the face of life changes overnight. But much more, quite as decisively in the end, takes place almost insensibly, so gradual is it, the changes, for instance, which come about in long and intimate relationships, and in our own growing and ageing. So after death many move gradually from one experience to another and grow in the process, move up from one level of consciousness to the next, but also give attention, as on earth, to more than one task at a time, for growth of consciousness is often uneven, strong in one area, hesitant in another.
With this in mind it becomes easier to see how individual idiosyncrasies can continue to exist, how experiences which all must eventually undergo can come to different people, or be chosen by them, in quite different order; and how even after death many remain within some psychological hang-up or refusal, and baulk at experiences perfectly open to them.
People who don’t like change find it somewhat bewildering at first and so avoid experiencing much that they could enjoy. ‘The small cage habit’ applies even here. Probably the most obvious ‘cages’ are those created by narrow sectarian beliefs.
That is where the Artist has the pull over the conventional religionist - there are no barriers to be overcome. The negative approach, the perpetual ‘thou shalt not’, is very hampering.
Once he has put the Summerland behind him, the traveller, as we have seen, has thereby made himself more ready to meet experience at a deeper level. What he next finds is likely to bring him certain surprises.
“The Illusion of the Summerland” is an extract from Living On: How Consciousness Continues and Evolves After Death by Paul Beard.