So I'm reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was first published in 1927. It is purported to have been written in the 8th century AD by a Buddhist master.
The book is meant to ease the transition of a newly disembodied soul from earth to the realm of the hereafter. It speaks of three bardos or planes. These are the moment of death, the dream-state intervening between two lives, and the prenascent period, prior to rebirth in human form.
The book's purpose is also to help the dead avoid reincarnation on earth, and the suffering, sin and misery that this world often dishes out. True, life's ultimate purpose may be enjoyment, as transcendental meditator and writer/director of the Twin Peaks reboot David Lynch claims, but so often the effect of our daily affairs is joy's opposite. Life can sometimes suck.
The three periods together comprise the afterlife/prelife period and endure about 49 days, meaning that from the time you breathe your last until the time you're back in the womb is less than two lunar months. But in interdimensional existence the perception of time may be quite different.
So where is the afterlife? Can we locate it on a map? No, because like the dreams that you have between your waking days, it all goes on in your mind. As the book enjoins: "May I (the recently deceased) recognize whatever visions appear as reflections of my own consciousness."
And so the souls of long-deceased loved ones that the deceased-to-be sees prior to breathing his last - as many books, such as David Kessler's Crowded Rooms contend - may not be actual visitations but hallucinated visions. But then again, maybe everything we experience, whether dreaming or waking or dying or dead, may at bottom be simply a product of our mind. A figment of the imagination. A vision. And as such, ultimately unreal.
In any event, the life well lived can be said to be preparation for a good death. This is why we meditate, why we practice self-control. Why we seek to root out vices and cravings. So that at the moment of death, when we are besieged by figments of our imagination tugging us back into bodily existence, we can easily overcome these temptations and merge once again with the Oneness, source of all that is. Though you may lose your individuality, it is a small price to pay when in return what you get is totality. Or continued existence as a spirit. And a life spent going anywhere and creating anything on a whim seems pretty cool.
Really if you are fastidious in your living, you do not need a guide or guru or loved one to recite to you from the Bardol Thodol, as the book is also called. You will have done your due diligence to stamp out desire, live selflessly and "love all, serve all" while in life, and are thereby assured of a smooth transition to the afterlife. No more rebirth for you. I think my brother and my mother, both deceased, have decided not to return to physical life. Since long after the 49 days elapsed they have continued to visit me in my sleep. Maybe now they have earned the right to be spirit guides. Or the afterlife's time frame needs updating. It's just a book. The author just a man who trusted his experiences and visions. If you plunge into your own heart, you can do the same, and truth awaits you.
However, since we are on the subject of hearsay, the legal term for an any experience which is "out of court," that is to say not your own and which is therefore inadmissible, this is why book knowledge is inferior to personal experience, personal experience being your go-to yardstick of truth. But when we consider the widely held notion that many spirit guides who appear to lead the deceased into the supernatural realms have never themselves been human, it makes one wonder about the other realms. I imagine that being human would allow one to relate much better with the plight of physical existence. How can a teacher be great without first being a student?
Some even go so far as to say that there are two types of individuals who are born on earth. The first come to fulfill selfish desires (for fame, money and the like). Others come to serve: that is, if these noble souls can be said to have desires, they are selfless, to help others. And both types can learn lessons during the brief sojourn on the earth plane, which as one philosopher calls it is "but an infinitesimal speck between two infinities." How you choose to spend your second is up to you.
Or is it? If you believe that the entire history of the universe was determined at the moment that matter sprang into existence, then you are free to live at ease, take a load off, and let life be lived. Yes, try your best, but know that ultimately the results are out of your hands. Life will not be controlled. So be like water, which assumes the shape of its receptacle, and always seeks the lowest level, but which all told is powerful enough to pulverize rock - be like water and FLOW.
How best to prepare yourself for your own death? Live in the now. Watch your thoughts. Fix yourself in the role of detached observer of events including your own words and actions. How best to stay present? Put down your freakin' phone!
When I was a small boy my mother used to give me baths. She'd sit on a chair by the tub and read back issues of style magazines. I'd always ask her to please put her reading material away and focus her attention on me. I'm not so starved for attention anymore, but that dynamic is at play whenever your awareness is fixated on your device rather than on the person in whose company you find yourself - be she a lover, friend, coworker or enemy. I hope you have no enemies, but if you stay distracted for long enough, you will lose more than a few friends.
We cannot be in two places at once, unless while dreaming we leave our body and enter the ethereal realms, but those realms exist in the mind which is attached to the body, and the body is not really you. So you're always where you are. And a person in your physical presence is more important, in the sense of NOW, than your twitter feed or inbox. Living in the moment requires that you be precisely where you are, not in some virtual space or lost in your thoughts. We are all children who crave the attention of those we care about. And just as you wouldn't enjoy it very much if I glue myself to my Samsung surfing naked selfies while you're trying to reveal to me your heart's desire, put your shit away when we're hanging out. Sure, if we need a cab, or a reservation, or directions, or to look up the meaning of words like hearsay, whip it out, but otherwise leave that bad boy in your jeans. Or else I swear to God I'll change the WiFi password before you have time to text your next naked selfie, even if you're texting it to me. So consider yourself warned. Now you can send me that selfie.