After-Death experience of the Divine by William James
“Nowhere have I encountered the furnishings of a conventional heaven, or glimpsed the face of God. On the other hand, certainly I dwell in a psychological heaven by earth’s standards, for everywhere I sense a presence, or atmosphere, or atmospheric presence that is well-intentioned, gentle yet powerful, and all-knowing. This seems to be a psychological presence of such stunning parts, however, that I can point to no one place and identify it as being there in contrast to being someplace else. At the risk of understating, this presence seems more like a loving condition that permeates existence, and from which all existence springs.
The feeling of safety mentioned earlier is definitely connected here, in that I know that no evil or harm can befall me, that each of my choices will yield benefits, and that this loving condition upholds me in all of my ways. As in life I was always aware of an underlying melancholy, I am here always delightfully conscious of an extraordinary sense of safety that leads, say, to heroic acts and courage—naturally. There is the constant feeling that the universe is with me, for me, and with and for all others at the same time. Not only does it not conspire against me, but it ever lends its active support.
This willingness to help is everywhere apparent and promotes, of course, a sense of ease that, at the same time, stimulates the personality’s abilities in ways most difficult to describe. While I mention this presence as itself so thoroughly does it pervade everything that attempts to isolate it are useless. All theological and intellectual theories are beside the point in the reality of this phenomenon. I know that this presence or loving condition forms itself into me, and into all other personalities; that it lends itself actively to seek my good in the most particular and individual ways; yet that my good is in no way contrary to the good of anyone else, but beneficial.
Each person living or dead is somehow a unique materialization or actualization, psychologically “perfect,” of this basic loving condition or psychological, atmospheric presence. Each person is himself or herself, and an agent for the universe at the same time. The universe leans in each individual’s direction, gives, and is compliant, for each person is part of that psychological fabric, coming to life. It is as if the universe were a multidimensional cloth with infinite patterns, and figures which did not remain flat but sprang alive, lived, moved, and died and came alive again, while the fabric of which they were made never wore out but miraculously revitalized itself and rewove its parts.
The patterns and figures are constantly changing, and the very stitches with which they are made are composed of the basic fabric also, so that there is everywhere communication between all of the parts at that level. Each figure changes the quality of the fabric, however, adding immeasurably to it through experience, for each life multiplies the actions possible to all of the others, on this common level.
Yet this is not known to me without evidence. That evidence is a kind of direct, built-in-knowing—self-evident— and I realize that I possessed it as a child and let it go, on purpose, so that I could discover it again from a different angle. This somehow puts me in a new position with regard to the universe than I was in before, adding to what I can only call my psychological “thickness.”
Each living person goes through that process to some degree, and what is discovered is not the same truth that was momentarily discarded, but involves a new comprehension of the self from a different angle of reality. Each time we take on a new identity this process is one by which the universe realizes itself anew—as us and as itself–and in which the identity comes upon its invulnerability from a different standpoint. Obviously there is much here that I have not learned, but each new life is begun with the knowledge of basic safety, from a threshold of security large enough to sustain a physical existence.
There are, again, other groupings of consciousness, alliances in which identities group together psychologically, as people do on earth, physically, in nations. These consciousnesses retain individuality while joining together in joint purposes, pooling separate viewpoints into psychic composites that I do not pretend to understand.
The living often equate death with darkness, for how can the dead see? Even if the spirit hovers beside the body, the corpse’s eyes are closed. How can the spirit have vision, disconnected from the organs of sight? Yet here I am surrounded by illumination that emanates from every- where—colors more sparkling than any I knew on earth, a light of enchanting varieties, not even or monotonous but seemingly alive in its own fashion. It emanates from what I see, but also seems to be inherent all about me, whether or not there is anything to be perceived otherwise.
In life I saw brilliant lights sometimes with my eyes closed, and on occasion some small objects or shapes. This light is similar except that it is more mobile and possesses qualities not normally associated with light. I would say it was a knowing light, everywhere existing at the same time, at once; transparent in quality when it exists alone or independent of a visible object or shape. While I am tempted to say that it moves in waves because of its mobile nature, this is not true. Instead it appears out of itself, at each and every conceivable point in the universe. Physical perception “sees” only a small hint of this light, and from it spring all of the lights and colors physically visible.
I suspect that there are other forms of this light, or made from it, that I do not perceive myself, and I am sometimes aware of shapes or sounds just out of my range, like a world just out of reach. But all of this, from my standpoint, may be confusing to you. I hear, but since in your terms I have no physical mechanisms, the sounds must be different in nature or range from those I was familiar with on earth.
I think of a similar experience, when I was alive, of mentally hearing a voice, hearing it surely, even while I knew that my physical ears were not involved. So it seems to me that regardless of the physical properties assigned to sound, sound itself has nothing to do with the physical version. The sounds here are distinct, bell-clear, separate, and each tone if it were visible would be like a crystal. Yet in your terms this would be called mental hearing, and I am sure that the body I possess is a kind of mental convention for my own benefit.
I forget it, then remember it again. When I forget my body I am operating without it; my consciousness is in no way hampered but follows my pursuits. Then suddenly, like an absentminded professor, I realize that not my mind but my body has been absent, and without any transition I have it again. So most likely it is created unconsciously, out of habit. Nor am I frightened, only momentarily disconcerted, when I discover its absence; I reattain it automatically, as on earth I might pause at the door, ready to go out, and remember my hat, putting it on without a thought. I no longer identify with my body, and of course it is not flesh and blood, though it seems to be when I want it to.
I understand that some of the dead identify with the body for longer periods than I, and that different personalities vary in the easiness with which they learn the afterlife conditions.
These conditions themselves vary, accounting no doubt for the many misconceptions about death and the dying that are often encountered in life through those communications that do take place.
I connect the knowing light with the well-intentioned atmospheric presence mentioned earlier, since both have been a constant in my afterdeath experience thus far, and I study this phenomenon rather steadily at times, reminding myself of a caveman or other prehistoric man looking up at the sun and trying to understand its properties. Specifically, I have not called this knowing light an entity, in terms of personhood. Yet I am sure that it possesses a psychology far divorced from any with which I have ever been acquainted; that it knows of my curiosity and examination; and is not annoyed, but invites it.
This presence must be termed atmospheric. Again, I can think of no better word, and it (the presence) cannot be pinpointed as existing in any “here” as separate from there, but coexists in all places. Searches for an analogy do not particularly help either. The closest idea I have is to compare this atmospheric presence with the quality that exists on the most ideal summer day: the delightful, enchanting scent and touch of the air itself seems to be imparted everywhere, so that flowers, trees, grass, people, mountains, valleys—all seem to lie in its enchantment and add to it. So this atmospheric presence with its knowing light has the same effect, both psychologically and in my experience of everything else that exists outside of me.
Surely such a summer day seems benevolent, alive, and has a buoyancy that is added on to the other seasons. That is, an extra-appealing aura seems to be imparted to earth on such a day. No doubt this is the reason that many spiritualists referred to afterdeath as Summerland, but as a psychologist I am fascinated by something else: I know that this atmospheric presence does not have what I refer to as human characteristics, yet it does possess characteristics of an emotional nature, and it is this exuberance, this well-intentioned quality, that psychologically supplies my feeling of complete safety. It is as if I bask in the light of a psychological atmosphere that corresponds to the physical atmosphere of an ideal summer day.”
Above excepts from: The Afterdeath Journal of an American Philosopher – The World View of William James by Jane Roberts (bold emphasis mine)