“So… where exactly did all the hours go?!”
It seems that time never runs as fast as when we’re happy, in love, having Prosecco with wonderful people, or merely feeling really well-entertained.
But the hours can also pass slower than a snail on a honey trail. Just think about the last time you lay awake with a toothache, spending what seemed like an eternity tossing and turning, only to notice that a mere 30 minutes of “real time” had passed since the last time you looked at your alarm clock. Then, think about those horribly slow minutes the next day, when your dentist drilled without anesthesia. (You still hear the noise of that drill, don’t you?)
Interestingly, the same thing happens precisely when we’re not suffering from insomnia, namely in our dreams. As visualized by Christopher Nolan in his 2010 movie, Inception, dream-time is slower (or faster, depending on your viewpoint) than “real time”. Consequently, we can spend what feels like days of action in just a single night of sleep. This feels even more amazing when we experience epic stories in a mere 5-minute afternoon nap.
Now, you’ve possibly read or heard about near-death experiences (NDEs) at some point. NDEs are like dream-time on steroids: During these experiences – the tunnel, the light, maybe some spiritual entity calling you – people will often wander through their whole life again.
Even though the “real time” length of such an experience is a mere couple of minutes at most, people will revisit their most stunning successes and their most disturbing failures during this time: “What I have thought and felt in these five to ten seconds, it’s not possible to express in ten times as many minutes,” as one person remembers.
During NDEs, people will confront their angels and demons, remember people and places, and re-live childhood memories they almost had forgotten.1
Heaven and Hell
So this is the near-death experience.
What comes after it, we cannot know. So far, no-one has returned from anything later to tell the story.2 So where do all the stories of Purgatory, Heaven and Hell come from?
If we die, chances are that’s it.
Probably, it all ends there: No after-life, no paradise, no shaking hands with Saint Peter.
Actually, this is nowadays the most popular hypothesis.
But maybe, at the same time, all the religious, spiritual and mystical traditions telling stories about the after-life, crossing the river of Death, Heaven, Hell and Judgment Day are still right!
Maybe, this last moment of heightened awareness, of illuminated super-consciousness we hear about from the people coming back from near-death experiences is precisely that: Heaven, Hell, or anything in between. And: An eternity. An eternity that’s not graspable for any of us mortals who are still on “this side”, living in “real time.”
An eternity that is, nonetheless, as real as it gets for the person taking the ride.
If that’s true, Hell is a second.
And, no pun intended, it’s a hell of a second: It’s the second where we get the bill for everything we did or did not do in our lives – regrets and happiness and worries and feasts and mistakes and all.
The bill for all the lose ends.
The bill for all the questions never asked. For all the answers we didn’t want to recognize. For following our bliss, or for ignoring it. The bill for confronting our fears, or for trying to bury them.
In this second, anything could happen. And, probably, everything we could imagine will happen: All the thoughts, all the questions, all the matters unsolved.
- Why did you stay in that job?
- Why did you beat your wife?
- Why didn’t you have the guts to publish that novel?
- Why didn’t you convince your husband to visit Paris?
- Why didn’t you explore the rabbit hole the universe had prepared for you?
What looks for an outsider like a single last breath could as well be a thousand times a thousand years of agony for the person who’s living it.
If nothing else, Hell is a second.
But – and of course you were thinking about this all the time – so is Heaven.
Heaven is a second.
Paradise is a second.
Eternity is a second.
And again, anything could happen:
- Yay for building that house!
- Yay for giving love to that person!
- Yay for daring to take that trip!
- Yay for not freaking out about small beer!
- Yay for not getting lost in distractions!
If there has ever been a good reason to confront our demons, embrace our angels, tackle our problems, put our lives into order, and make our dreams real, maybe it’s this: Make that last second count! It could last longer than we think.
- In fact, they might just have buried them under a bunch of other stuff. Brain scientists and mystics alike suggest we might never really “forget” anything at all – we just lose the keys to access it. [↩]
- Good old J.C. probably did, but he wasn’t really talking time philosophy and stuff. And maybe even all of us keep coming back for karmatic reasons, but we generally don’t seem to remember the details of our past lives – and much less so of our past deaths. [↩]