What happens as we die?

I have been reading about the recent research into how people experience death (see “The New Science of Death” from The Guardian), and this video with some of the highlights just showed up in my YouTube recommendations.

Their findings fit what has been previously reported, including from people who have had near-death experiences. People dying often report deep relaxation, light, a review of their life, a sense of coming home, and a few more things.

THE WORLDVIEW CURRENT SCIENCE OPERATES WITHIN

Our current science operates within a strictly materialistic worldview, so scientists are expected to interpret this as more or less random things that happen in the brain because of the dying process.

That’s understandable and it has some upsides. It’s grounded in verifiable data, which is important, and it’s a good starting point for exploring other possible explanations.

If these experiences are random results of a dying brain, I have to say that some of what people report seems surprisingly fitting and meaningful, including the life review and a sense of coming home.

THE POSSIBILITY OF CONTINUING BEYOND THIS LIFE

The findings from this research can also be understood within the context of other worldviews.

For instance, the consciousness we are may continue beyond this life.

Research into apparent past life memories is interesting and may be interpreted in that way, although other explanations also fit the data.

Some people seem to have memories from between lives. I am one of those. When I was little, I had vivid and visceral flashbacks to a time before this life: All was consciousness and golden light, and there was a profound sense of all-encompassing love and of being home. I had a longing back to that place throughout my childhood. This too fits with consciousness continuing, although it can be interpreted in other ways too.

CHANGING WORLDVIEWS

Does the consciousness we are continue beyond this life? For me, that’s a question for science, and it has mostly been taboo in Western science because it doesn’t fit the accepted worldview.

Worldviews change. The one we have now will be replaced by another that makes more sense to future generations, and may better fit the data.

It may well be with a future context of worldview for science is more open to the possibility of consciousness continuing beyond this life. It may be seen as one of several possible explanations, and perhaps one that fits the data well.

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Flashbacks to before this life and oneness

When I was little, I had flashbacks to the time before this life. It was a profound sense of belonging and love. All was consciousness. I was disembodied. I saw it all as a kind of golden light. It was mostly timeless, with time seeming very faint and distant. And so on.

I didn’t think about it or try to make sense of it. Probably because I was little, and also because I didn’t have any mental frameworks to put it into. It just happened, and I was briefly transported back to how it was. I also didn’t connect it with anything relating to religion or spirituality, because I was little, because what I heard about religion seemed to have no connection with it, and because I grew up in a family and culture where religion and spirituality didn’t play much of a role.

FLASHBACKS, LONGING, SIMPLE DUALITY, ONENESS

This all happened before school age. Later in childhood, I had a deep sense of longing with me. This was a longing I couldn’t satisfy with anything, and I didn’t consciously connect it with the flashbacks.

When the oneness shift happened in my mid-teens, I realized that this is what the longing had been about, and it was also closely related to the flashbacks.

In my memory from before this life, there was a kind of oneness. It was a oneness that wasn’t aware of itself, locally through and as me, as oneness.

THE ONENESS I AM EXPERIENCING ITSELF IN DIFFERENT WAYS

Looking back, this is all somewhat interesting.

It does seem that the time between lives was a time in and as oneness, but without being conscious of it as that. Then, it became a memory and longing.

Then, there was a simple duality of observer and observed. (This happened at age 15. The world and any and all content of experience seemed very distant and I thought something was profoundly wrong.)

At age 16, there was a oneness shift with the oneness I am consciously aware of itself as that.

And since then, an exploration from within and as that oneness.

MEMORIES

Of course, I know that memories are unreliable. Memories are here and now. They are the mind’s way to construct an apparent past. They are constructed and accurate and inaccurate to varying degrees. We may even have images about a past that never happened, even if our mind tells us it’s a memory.

At the same time, there are things that suggests that this was a real memory. It happened spontaneously in early childhood. I later learned that it mirrors what some describe from a near-death experience (NDE). And it does also fit what some religious and spiritual traditions describe.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter so much. What matters is the oneness.

TWO FORMS OF ONENESS

Since I write about oneness here, it may be worth mentioning that there are two kinds of oneness.

One is the oneness inherent in all of existence. It’s all a seamless whole. We and everything are expressions of this oneness. To us, that oneness happens within the story level.

The other oneness is the oneness I am, and I assume we all are to ourselves. To myself, I am fundamentally consciousness, and as consciousness, I am one. To me, the world happens within and as the consciousness I am. It appears like a dream to me since it happens within and as consciousness, just like night dreams and any experience.

In this sense, all conscious beings are a oneness. We are all, to ourselves, consciousness, even if the bodies and psychology we operate through are unique in each case. In this sense, there are multiple onenesses in the world.

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What releases us from the reincarnation cycle?

A monk asked a Zen master, “What happens when you die?” The Zen master replied, I don’t know.” The monk said, “What do you mean. Aren’t you a Zen master?” And the Zen Master replied, “Yes, but I’m not a dead one.”

– this is a classic Zen story and I am unsure of the origin. I got this version of the quote from Zenkei Blanche Hartman.

Some folks are invested in ideas about reincarnation and what would release us from the reincarnation cycle.

As with any topic, this one is as complex or simple as we make it.

I DON’T KNOW

The simple answer is that I don’t know.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as reincarnation. Or how it works. Or if there is a release from it. Or what would lead to such a release. Or if any of it is really important.

I cannot know.

I know what some folks say about it. That’s, at best, second-hand or X-hand info, and at worst speculation.

I know that there is some research into it and I know some of the findings and some of the ways to interpret the findings. (Reincarnation is just one possibility). That’s very interesting research, but it’s provisional and not by any means conclusive. No research is ever conclusive. There is always more to discover, and new contexts to understand it within which may turn it all upside-down and inside-out for us.

I can know that I, personally, have what seems like memories of the time between lives and some past lives. Here too, I cannot know for certain if this is accurate or not.

I can only find reincarnation and my personal memories as ideas here and now. They happen within my mental field. I cannot find them any other place.

What’s most honest for me is that I cannot know. And for that reason, it’s also the most peaceful. It’s most aligned with my reality, with my world.

EXPLORING IT AS PROJECTIONS

Also as with anything else, I can explore my ideas of reincarnation as a projection. And I can do that in two general ways.

One is to use the stories as a mirror for what’s already here.

Can I find what these stories point to in my direct noticing?

When I look, I find reincarnation here. I find that what’s here is always fresh and different. I find that any ideas of who or what I am is recreated here and now. Any sense of continuity is created by my mental field, it’s a story tying mental images together to create a sense of continuity, time, past, future, and present, and so on. Basic meditation (notice and allow) is good for noticing this, especially when combined with inquiry.

This helps me ground it in my direct noticing.

The other is to notice it as a mental overlay I put on the world.

I can find any and all ideas I have about reincarnation in my mental field. Any ideas of a self reincarnation, or specific incarnations, or release from the cycle, is here in my mental field. I cannot find it any other place.

This helps me hold it more lightly.

EXAMINE THE STORIES

I can also explore the stories more in detail, and how my mind creates its experience related to reincarnation. Here are two of my favorite ways to do this:

I can examine the stories I have.

What is a stressful story I have about reincarnation? (Hopeful and fearful stories are both stressful.) What happens when I hold it as true? How would it be to not have it? What’s the genuine validity in the reversals? (Including when I turn it back to myself.) (The Work of Byron Katie.)

I can explore it in my sense fields.

How does reincarnation show up in my mental field? Can I find it outside of my mental field?

What sensations are connected with it? Where do I feel it?

What happens when my mind associates certain sensations with these stories? Do they seem more solid and real? What happens when I rest with respectively the mental representations (mental images and words) and the sensations? What happens when I recognize the sensations as sensations, and the mental representations as mental representations? Does the “glue” soften? (The Kiloby Inquiries, based on traditional Buddhist inquiry.)

WHAT AM I TRYING TO ESCAPE? HOW WOULD IT BE TO MEET IT INSTEAD?

If I am invested in ideas about reincarnation and a wish to escape the cycle, that points to something I wish to escape here and now.

Which experience am I trying to escape here and now? What stressful story? What uncomfortable physical sensation?

How would it be to meet it instead?

To identify and examine the scary story?

To notice and feel the physical sensation?

How would it be to befriend the scared part of me? What does it have to tell me? How would it like me to relate to it? What would help it relax a little more?

And so on. The Work of Byron Katie and the Kiloby Inquiries are very helpful here, as is any form of befriending or heart-centered approach (toglen, ho’oponopono). Basic Meditation can also be helpful, especially when combined with inquiry.

TAKING CARE OF IT NOW

Here is a more general angle to the wanting-to-escape dynamic.

If we seek release from the reincarnation cycle, it may be because we imagine it as a release from any suffering we experience now. It’s a kind of get-out-of-jail card.

But can I know that’s the case?

To me, it makes more sense to assume that my hangups and struggles will be with me beyond this life. (If there is a beyond.) Why wouldn’t they? So why not find that resolution now?

GIVE IT TO MYSELF NOW

Here is another simple inquiry that can be helpful:

What do I hope to get out of a release from the reincarnation cycle? And what do I hope to get out of that? And that? (Continue until you find the essence. Usually, the essence is something simple and universal like love, contentment, peace, understanding, support, and so on.)

Is it true that’s not already here? How would it be to notice it?

How would it be to give it to myself now? (Yes, I know that giving it to myself seems unnecessary if it’s already here, but I find the two go hand in hand.)

FIND OUR NATURE

As with anything else, there is also an invitation for us to find our nature here.

Reincarnation is a story of change. It’s a story of taking on different selves and roles in the world. It’s a story of different words.

Everything related to this is a story of change.

If it all changes, none of it can be what I more fundamentally am.

I an have an idea of something within content of experience that doesn’t change. But that’ an idea. Here too, it’s not something I can find outside of my mental field.

So what am I more fundamentally?

The Big Mind process and the Headless experiments are the most direct and efficient supports I have found to explore this, along with the slower Basic Meditation.

FIND THE TWO AS THE SAME

If I was to guess what would release us from a reincarnation cycle, I imagine it would be this:

To find the two as the same.

To find the essential sameness in our incarnated and disincarnated life. And to not only see it but viscerally get it. To taste it.

So what is the sameness of the two?

This is something I have had a strong incentive to explore. In my childhood, I had flashbacks to the time between lives, to a disincarnate state, and I had a deep longing for it. So one of my genjo koans (life koans) is to find that here and now.

The most fundamental sameness is that it’s all – any experience whether its in the context of an incarnate life or a disincarnate existence – happens within and as what I am. I am capacity for it all. It all happens within and as the consciousness I am.

And there is more. I can find the same timelessness independent of the content of experience. I can find my nature as love.

LILA

Lila means the play of the divine. All of existence is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

And we can find that too here and now.

All our experience is the play of the consciousness we are.

It’s the consciousness we are expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

That includes our ideas of reincarnation.

And it includes any changing content of our experience – whether that changing content is waking life or night dreams, this human self changing over time, a disincarnate time between incarnations, new incarnations, and so on.

It’s all the play of the consciousness we are. It’s all lila.

It’s all the existence we are expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

MAKING USE OF IT

We can pretend to believe stories about reincarnation, and that may be comforting for a while and to some extent. But it’s also stressful, especially since we know we cannot know for certain.

So why not make practical use of our ideas about reincarnation?

Why not find what the stories point to here and now? Why not examine our stories about it? Why not meet the discomfort we wish to escape? Why not give to ourselves what we imagine we would get out of it? Why not use it to find what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience?

This grounds what’s otherwise speculation in something that’s already here and now.

We use speculation to find what’s already here and now.

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My memories from between lives, how it has colored my life, and similarity to near-death experiences (NDEs)

When I was little, I had flashbacks – spontaneous memories – of what seemed to be the time before this life. The time between lives. All was golden light, consciousness, and love. There was a profound – infinite – sense of being home. It was timeless and time seemed infinitely far away. And there were (non-physical) beings guiding me. These flashbacks lasted until about school age.

I didn’t put words on it at the time, and I didn’t mention it to anyone. It didn’t seem necessary. The flashbacks were just something that happened. Especially when I was outside and the sunlight was filtered through the leaves of the trees.

So how did this color my life? I cannot know for certain, but here is how it appears to me looking back.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – REJECTING RELIGION

Later in childhood, I sometimes experienced a deep sense of longing. I didn’t know for what, but I would often wake up with this deep sense of longing, and nothing I did satisfied it. I suspect this deep longing was to the infinite love and sense of home I had flashbacks to earlier in childhood.

I rejected religion early in elementary school. It didn’t make any sense to me. Why should I pretend to believe that something was true just because someone told me? I also saw no connection between what they talked about in Christianity and the flashbacks, it didn’t even occur to me that there was a connection between the abstractions I heard about and the alive experience I remembered.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – FASCINATION WITH THE PARANORMAL

At about the same time, sometime early in elementary school, I became fascinated with parapsychology – ESP, telekinesis, ghosts, past lives, and so on. I loved Jack London’s story “The Star Rover” and a book my brother had called “Det Beste: Utrolig men sant (1975)” (“Unbelievable but true”) which had chapters on ESP, telekinesis, ghosts, reincarnation, and so on. I even did my own ESP experiments using the standard ESP cards and symbols.

When I was fifteen, I got into Erik Damman’s “Bak tid og rom” and Fritjof Capra’s “The Turning Point“. Both had a profound impact on me, I read both several times, and I sought out the books they referenced for continued reading.

My family had some interest in these things. My mother had Dalai Lama’s autobiography, which I loved. My father had J. Allen Hynek’s main book on UFOs. My brother had the “Unbelievable but true” book. For them, it was a peripheral interest. And for me, it was a profound fascination. I suspect that this interest had to do with the memories from between lives. Somewhere in me, I knew we are consciousness and that something exists beyond the physical world.

MID-TEENS – AWAKENING SHIFT

The initial major awakening shift then happened when I was sixteen, which colored everything from then on. Here, it was undeniable that I am consciousness and everything is consciousness. All of existence is Spirit. Everything is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as that.

Here, I also realized what my earlier longing was for. It was for this. It was for coming home to recognize all as Spirit. It was for recognizing myself as Spirit taking this form. (I later nuanced this into the small and big interpretation of awakening but that’s another topic.)

FINDING IT HERE AND NOW

As part of this, I realized that anything I longed for from these memories was here now. My invitation was to find it here and now. It won’t look the same, obviously, since I then didn’t have a body and now I have one, and my human psyche is much more in the foreground now than it was back then. But the essence is the same. I can find the essence here and now.

What is this essence? It’s finding myself and all experiences as consciousness. It’s finding myself as Big Mind, as what has no beginning or end or limits. As what any and all experience, and the world to me, happens within and as. It’s finding myself as that infinite love. It’s giving to myself the support I experienced then.

Anything I see “out there” – in the past, future, or in others or the world – is already here and I can find it here. I can find the mental representations telling me about it. I can find the characteristics these mental representations point to. I can find myself as what all of it happens within and as.

And so also with these apparent memories from between lives, and before this life.

HOW IT HAS COLORED MY LIFE

How did these memories color my life?

I cannot know for certain, but I can come up with my best guesses.

As a child, it likely opened me up to something beyond a purely materialistic worldview. It may have given me a fascination for those topics.

It’s also likely that it has something to do with me rejecting Christianity and religions in general since they seem abstract and dry, and something we are supposed to pretend to believe without having the possibility to check it for ourselves. In comparison with the experience between lives, they are not much.

I do have fear of strong suffering, pain, and so on. But I am not sure how much fear I have of death. Of course, I may be unaware of it now, and then it comes up later.

When I was close to dying from septic shock last summer, I initially had fear come up since I had no idea what was happening. When I knew, the fear went away and was replaced with curiosity about death. There was still a chance I would die (my kidneys and other organs had collapsed), and I had a curiosity about that next adventure. I noticed I was even looking forward to it a bit, whether it would come now or in several decades.

SIMILAR TO NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES

My apparent memory from before this incarnation is similar to what many describe during a Near-Death Experience (NDE). All is consciousness and love, there are beings and guides I communicate with, and so on. (Minus the floating up from the body, the tunnel, etc.)

And my Before-Incarnation Experience (BIE) seems to have impacted me in a similar way to how NDEs often impact people. Our views, interests, priorities, and lives are transformed. We appreciate life more, and especially our connections with others and the simple and daily things. Our fear of death is reduced or goes away. We value what’s non-material. We become interested in protecting nature and Earth. And so on.

Here is what the Wikipedia article on NDEs says:

NDEs are associated with changes in personality and outlook on life. Ring has identified a consistent set of value and belief changes associated with people who have had a near-death experience. Among these changes, he found a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, less concern for acquiring material wealth, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, a feeling of being more intuitive, no longer worrying about death, and claiming to have witnessed an afterlife. While people who had experienced NDEs become more spiritual, it doesn’t mean they become necessarily more religious. However, not all after-effects are beneficial and Greyson describes circumstances where changes in attitudes and behavior can lead to psychosocial and psychospiritual problems.

HOW COMMON IS IT?

I have no idea how common it is to remember the time before this incarnation. I have almost never mentioned this to anyone. It doesn’t seem necessary. Although it is a bit interesting to me how this before-incarnation experience seems similar to NDEs, and the effects may also be very similar.

WHAT TO CALL IT?

I am not sure what to call it. I usually think of it as a Before-Life experience (BLE) or Before-Incarnation Experience (BIE). The latter is perhaps more accurate since the life between lives is still a life.

DO I KNOW IT’S FROM BETWEEN LIVES?

Do I know it’s an actual memory? And that it’s a memory from the time between lives?

No, I cannot know for certain. That’s the honest answer.

At the time, I did experience it as actual flashbacks to the time before this life, and the experience was spontaneous, clear, and strong.

It happened very early in life, before I was very influenced by anything. Also, my parents were not religious and religion was not a topic one way or another in the house. And when I later was exposed to religion, I made no connection between these flashbacks and what people talked about. It didn’t even occur to me there was a connection since what they talked about seemed so dry, abstract, distant, and not relevant to anything in my life.

It does match what many describe in a Near Death Experience. That means it either points to what it seems to point to, on the surface, or it’s a product of some universal psychological/biological dynamic.

So I cannot know for certain. If I had to put money on something, it would be that they are actual memories, but if they are not, that would be equally interesting. And for me, personally, it’s not so important. What’s important is that they point to something I can find here and now.

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Before life experience, awakening, and finding it here and now

As I have written about a few times before, as a kid I remembered life before this incarnation.

FLASHBACKS TO THE TIME BEFORE INCARNATION

I would have flashbacks, often when I was outside and saw the light filtering through leaves, and I was brought back to the time before this life and also experienced a longing for it. It was a time with no physical body, where everything was light, and there was a profound and infinite sense of love and being home. There was also a sense of timelessness with a slight sense of time since some things did happen. At times, there were also other beings there with wordless communication and a sense of infinite wisdom.

I didn’t talk about this to anyone and didn’t really have any labels for this or thoughts about it. These flashbacks happened only in the years before school age.

During this time and later, I would sometimes wake up with a deep sense of longing which couldn’t be satisfied with anything around me – family, friends, favorite activities, and so on.

AWAKENING SHIFT IN TEENS

When I was sixteen, there was a shift into oneness and a profound immediate sense of all – all of existence – as the divine. When this happened, I realized that this was what the flashbacks were about. All as the divine. All as God. All as Spirit. Everything, without exception, is God.

Even this human self and any sense of fundamentally being a separate self is God taking on that form and having that experience for itself.

This obviously turned my life upside-down and inside-out, and it’s been the context for my life since.

FINDING IT HERE AND NOW INDEPENDENT OF STATES

There is a third phase or aspect to this.

The essence of the flashbacks and the awakening shift is the same, and it’s available here and now.

The invitation is to find this here and now, independent of any particular states or content of experience.

I can find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. I can notice that all my experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happen within and as my sense fields. I can notice that all my experiences happen within and as what I am.

FLASHBACKS, AWAKENING, FINDING IT HERE AND NOW

For me, these three are aspects of the same.

The flashbacks point to an existence before this life, and perhaps between lives, where all is the divine.

The initial awakening shift revealed all as the divine.

And through inquiry and noticing, I find that the world and everything happens within and as what I more fundamentally am, and appears as consciousness and what we can label the divine.

My “Near Death Experience” was really a Before Life Experience

In my early childhood, I had flashbacks to the time before incarnation – or between lives. The content of these flashbacks was very similar to many Near-Death Experiences. This lasted until about school-age when my mind probably became preoccupied with other things and trying to be as normal as possible.

The flashbacks brought me back to…. Being without a body and disincarnate. A sense of oneness – although there was also a sense of being a self as well. All of existence as infinite light, love and wisdom. A profound sense of being home. Timelessness with some vague sense of the passage of time (decades and perhaps centuries). There was also a sense of communication with infinitely wise and similarly disincarnate beings.

These flashbacks typically happened when I was outside and saw the sunlight on the ground filtered through moving leaves. I know this sounds very specific but it’s what I remember.

At the time, I didn’t have any particular thoughts about this, and I most likely didn’t mention it to anyone. I wouldn’t have known how to put it into words, and maybe I thought it was something everyone experienced. Most likely, I didn’t think about it one way or another. It wasn’t until the awakening in my mid-teens that I made the connection between this and the more typical near-death experiences.

My sense is that these flashbacks created a deep longing in me. During my later childhood, I didn’t know what the longing was about. But when the awakening happened in my teens, it was clear what it was about. The longing was about coming “home” to all as the divine, as it had been before this life.

For the next phase in my life, part of my process has been to notice that this is already here. What I longed for is already here. It’s what I am. And I can notice that independent of any particular content of experience. More accurately, it can notice itself through the changing content of experience.

Memory from between lives

Since it seems slightly unusual, I thought I would mention it here. (I have written about it briefly before.)

As a child, I sometimes had vivid flashbacks. It seems they were often triggered by a sunny day and sunlight filtered through the moving leaves of a tree. The flashbacks felt like memories from before this life.

I feel profoundly at home, living in and as a golden light, living in and as profound wisdom and love. There are formless beings here and wordless communication and knowing. All is happening within and as an infinite sense of being home, a gentle bliss, and infinite wisdom and love.

All is Oneness filled with a golden light, infinite wisdom and love, and some formless beings I can wordlessly communicate with. All is happening as timelessness although with a slight sense of time.

The words don’t nearly do it justice. And I didn’t have those words back then, of course.

I had these vivid flashbacks up until about school age.

From then on, I would sometimes wake up in the morning with a deep longing that nothing could satisfy. I tried all my favorite things – spending time with my parents, eating strawberry jam sandwich, drinking hot cocoa, reading Carl Barks stories, playing with friends – and nothing could satisfy the longing.

When the initial awakening later happened (age sixteen) and everything without exception was revealed as God – I realized what the longing had been for. The longing had been for all as the divine. For home.

The home I had flashbacks to as a kid and that was revealed to me as always here when I was sixteen.

About the same time, I also realized that the flashbacks – and the initial awakening – in some ways were similar to near-death experiences. I have always felt a kinship with people who have had near-death experiences although I haven’t had any myself. The effects on my life seems similar to how people describe the effects of near-death experiences.

There is a second (and third) part to this which I may write about later. I have also included the initial draft which includes a few paragraphs about it.

In short: In the initial awakening (which never went away), there was a more clear memory of the time between the lives. Specifically, I remembered being “told” by about a dozen formless beings that it was time for my next incarnation. I was shown some general things about this life. (Mainly, that it was important for me to incarnate now because humanity was going to go through challenges and a transformation and I could help.)

I was also asked if I wanted to incarnate into this life. I said “yes” although parts of me meant “no”. It seems to have created some trauma in me and this lack of clear communication reflects a pattern in my life that has been painful. When I have gone back and replayed it differently, I found that I could say “I know it’s right and good, and yet I don’t want to leave”. I would be met with deep understanding and love, and felt I could do it from a more wholehearted yes.

Note: When I say “formless beings” I mean that they were beings without physical body or any body with a form. I assume they must have had energetic bodies. And they and everything else happened within and as Oneness, within and as the divine.

Note II: This was initially written March 20, 2017 but I didn’t publish it for whatever reason. I decided to rewrite it slightly and publish it today, April 6, 2020.

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