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J Asked Tessa: "How can we know what's next after we die?

...It is not enough to follow a religious definition - heaven, reincarnation or ?"


Dear J,

Thank you for submitting your question, at once deeply personal and profound.

I sense a tenderness in your inquiry, and perhaps some urgency. I can relate to contemplating this question throughout life––as a child gazing up at the stars, a teenager talking late on the phone, and an adult facing uncertainty and loss... and I wonder about what circumstances you might be in now, leading you to submit your question to me, a relative stranger.

The story my mind first makes up about you, is that you're experiencing a health scare, illness, or advanced age. Perhaps you've recently had something frightening happen, bringing death into the forefront of your mind. Or maybe some variation of these have occurred with someone close to you, leading you to contemplate what comes next.

Either way and in any other case, I will do my best to answer you.

First, I want to acknowledge how you included a kind of loophole/catch 22 in your question. Your words, "It is not enough to follow a religious definition" suggests to me that no ones else's explanation of what comes next will suffice nor satisfy your desire to know; and that would naturally, intelligently, include mine.

I also noticed you prefaced your question with, "How can we know?" rather than asking simply, "What happens next...?". This makes me want to explore the matter of knowing more than that of what happens after we die, but maybe just this is all just me making excuses...

I'll be as blunt as I can with you here (which isn't necessarily my strong suit, as you've probably picked up), because I don't want to disappoint you or lead you astray. I don't believe we can know what happens after we die, until, well... after we die. Like any experience, universal or otherwise, that we haven't had yet–skydiving, psychedelics, sex, giving/witnessing birth–there is no way to truly know it until we've been there. This is especially true if we want to "know for ourselves," as the saying goes, and if I'm hearing you right, you do.

That being said, there are always ways to become more informed about what something yet unknown might be like. We can do research/collect knowledge about the event, be present when one occurs, and ask others who have been through such a thing to learn more about what it might be like, for us.

I want to honor you with this point specifically, J, because it's clear that's what you're doing here now, asking me what I know about death and the beyond. And perhaps you've asked others, too? And/or read books, watched movies, listened to podcasts or albums or by other means.

I have some references for you along those lines (admittedly some are about dying and living, more than what happens after–but some are about what happens after, too! Links below). They've been popping up on my radar and mind ever since receiving your question a few weeks ago, like when shopping for a certain car you suddenly begin seeing them everywhere. It has also become increasingly clear that we're all walking around, living life, with this question on our minds, whether on the surface or buried deep.

Which brings me back to wanting to highlight your courage, J, for extending this question here to me! How awesome, not only that you are open and self-aware enough to know the answer matters to you, but to ask it out loud, along with that wise caveat, "How can we know...?"

I'll speak to "knowing" a bit, before finally landing on something akin to an actual answer of your question.

What seems most important to acknowledge about knowing is that it's an experience that goes well beyond the mind. Knowing is also emotional, like when we are moved to laughter or tears when something resonates, or feels true. We also know things with our bodies, which leads to using words/phrases like intuition, sixth-sense, and "gut feeling."

(Though some of these expressions may hint at being psychic or having premonitions–some people use "knowing" as a noun, as in "I had a knowing" before a certain outcome or event has occurred–but I want keep this conversation grounded in what can be known with all three "centers of intelligence," a phrase used in the Enneagram community: the mind, the heart and the body).

It occurs to me now that the most deeply known experiences are those that resonate on all three of those levels. And this leads me at last to the best answer to your question I can elicit for now: Q: How can we know what happens next after we die...?

A: By exploring all perspectives, experiences, and imaginings available on the topic, assessing and trying them each on with our minds, hearts, and bodies to determine whether they seem, feel, and resonate like TRUTH to YOU.

Because only your definition will be meaningful enough for you, dear J. Just like my definition will be most meaningful to me. That said, I will finally share a peak into my own actual perspective, so as not to remain too mysterious:

My sense is that what happens to "us" when we die (and what part of "us" that is becomes another conversation, but for the sake of this one I'll call it "consciousness" and hope that's clear enough) is something like what happens to drops of water in oceans, lakes, rivers and streams, as they warm up and evaporate, going back to the clouds to be sent down as rain, and on, and on, and on... much in the way our bodies break down, whether buried or burned, turned to ashes, or dust, and then become something altogether different with time, as the earth and her living organisms have their way with the parts that our life-force once inhabited. As for what that experience feels like, or is known as, J, phew! I don't know. But I do believe dreams, altered states, and deep experiences of relaxation and meditation give us some clue. And if the French are on to something, who call orgasms le petit mort or "the little death," well then, anything is possible!

J, let me thank you again for inviting this exploration, and I'd love to hear any insights you have. Since we're all clearly wondering, to some extent or another, what happens next after we die.

With all the warmth of another living human being,




Ram Dass by East Forest - a collaboration between spiritual teacher Ram Dass and musical artist East Forest offering perspective on the human experience of life and beyond


Grace & Grit, A Love Story - a deeply vulnerable and emotional exploration of love and loss by usually left-brain oriented, highly intellectual philosopher Ken Wilber

Leaving Time - a novel by best-selling author Jodi Picoult, about elephants, and grief

Life after Life,The Bestselling Original Investigation That Revealed "Near-Death Experiences - true stories about a peak into what comes next, told by Raymond Moody

Many Lives, Many Masters, The Transformational Healing Power of Past-Life Memories - Psychiatrist Brian Weiss's perspective on past lives

Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife - Dr. Eben Alexander's experience and explanation of a near-death experience

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead - by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner

Beyond Rain of Gold - a personal, non-fiction exploration of Mexican thought-leader Victor Villasenor (bestselling author of Rain of Gold)'s family roots and spirituality, written, as guided by the "Other Side"

Mind-altering states/therapies:

Holotropic breathwork, Hypnotherapy, Soul Regression therapy


The Emerald, episodes For the Intuitives Part I & Part II - a unique twist on history, inviting reverence for a different way of knowing–including acknowledgement of those who've gone before and remain available, to those who are open

Psychedelic/Hallucenogen medicines: Ayahuasca, DMT, Ketamine, LSD, Psilocyben (magic mushrooms)


"We're All in this Thing Together," Old Crow Medicine Show - a gentle reminder to be present; and that we are not alone

"We're All Gonna Die," Joy Oladokun with Noah Kahan - a light acknowledgement of the shared challenge of living and reality it won't last

"When I Go," Brett Dennen - and ode to living with reverence for death

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Feb 13
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

A thoughtful, earnest attempt at addressing an impossible question.

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