. . . during a ritual and I want to capture it before it fades. The afterlife is a state of reciprocal experience and created expectation. Let me explain.
We spend our entire lives pondering what comes next to some extent; it comes up in all religions and at lots of dinner tables, not to mention bars, colleges, factories, hospitals, and all the other places that people are found. What we believe changes throughout our lives as we’re influenced by life experience, introspection, and the views and teachings of others.
We cultivate these expectations, and they form the foundation of what we discover after death. For most people, that means some variation of the teachings of their religion or culture. Diehard Odinists get Valhalla, born-again Christians get either Heaven or Hell, and so on.
But the afterlife isn’t solitary – there’s lot of dead people. Everyone you’ve encountered in life (or lives) is going to be there with you. Being that time and space won’t have the same meaning, you could experience very intimate moments with any number of people simultaneously, alone with each of them but very much experiencing them all. That’s going to make life interesting.
Experience might seem physical, but it will be much deeper than that. There’s a level of omniscience needed to experience lots of stuff all at once like that, and it should extend to seeing oneself in the eyes of other people, so to speak. If you don’t like me, I will see myself through your eyes as the unpleasant fellow you believe me to be.
Your soul will exist as a composite of how every other person you know experiences you, in addition to your own self-image. For most people, there’s a lot of pain in a lot of those images, so it’s probably going to hurt.
The path to salvation is in changing those images, which will take the cooperation of the people who view you poorly. You’re both experiencing pain and perhaps repulsion, but you need to work together to move past it and experience joy.
Joy with my fourth-grade teacher. Or my ex-wife. Joy with George W. Bush (he doesn’t know me, but I definitely was touched by him, and won’t he be surprised at how much he’s going to have to do). Joy with bullies and small-minded people and all the sorts of people I don’t much care to talk to anymore.
Of course, how much pain we experience (and work we have to do) is going to depend on where we leave those relationships when we die. It is about expectation, after all. Find ways to heal that pain in life, and you won’t experience it all over again afterwards.
If you’re a Christian, that would translate into being nice to people in order to get into Heaven. Wiccans might invoke the Threefold Law. Humanists might say, “Don’t be a dick.” (Well, the ones I know might put it that way, your mileage may vary.) The beauty of it is, we all get to have the afterlife we expect, and the punishment we deserve. How cool is that?