While technically dead, I floated out of my body and went shopping for washing powder at the Tesco Metro in Covent Garden

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Last week, I was musing on what life meant, and this inevitably set me to thinking about the other side of the coin - Death. I used to be like the man the poet and essayist FWH. Myers asked at a dinner table what he thought would happen to him when he died. The man tried to ignore the question but on being pressed replied, "Oh well, I suppose I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't talk about such unpleasant subjects." I was content to let the subject rest there and, as I've always been rather slow on the uptake, it wasn't until my mid-thirties that it struck me there was a very strong chance that there was no afterlife after death - there was just blank oblivion. The extrapolation from this is that life has no meaning at all, that it is just random cruelty with no order or significance.

I found the shocking implication of this too terrible to take in so I decided to resort to what humans have done for thousands of years. I decided to lie to myself. Some people rush to embrace a religion that reassures them that there is life after death, but rather than get religion, I put all my shaky faith into the phenomenon of so-called Near Death Experiences as proof of an afterlife. Near Death Experiences occur when people's hearts stop on the operating table or as a result of an accident but are then revived after a short period of time. In the periods between the heart stopping and then restarting, however, many of these people who've been technically dead report experiencing a most blissful sensation. They tell of a bright benign light summoning them upwards and of dimly seeing all their departed friends and relatives waiting to welcome them. "That's it," I thought, "there is an afterlife which these people have experienced and it's very nice, so there's no need to worry about anything lah lah lah lah lah, shall I have some toast for lunch? lah lah lah." However, recently I have started to lose faith in Near Death Experiences. Partly this is because some bastard scientists have conducted a series of experiments wherein they deprived volunteers of oxygen for short periods. After being revived, many of the subjects reported experiencing blissful scenes almost identical to those witnessed by the people who had nearly died. The conclusion was that it wasn't an ecstatic glimpse of heaven but merely the brain not getting enough air. Presumably, these scientists who so single-mindedly set about destroying my desperate hopes of some sense in the universe work for the same Ministry of Killjoy as those experts who are always trying to deny the existence of transcending genius by proving that El Greco painted like that because he'd got a wonky pair of specs from the opticians or that Keats only wrote sublime poetry because he had consumption, which gave him visions, or Giacometti only sculpted like that because of an allergic reaction to boiled sweets.

But even if these scientists hadn't called the whole heavenly experience into question, I would have still been put out by reports I've read that recently several people whose hearts have stopped etc have said on their return to life that they didn't go to a happy-happy heaven-type place but instead went to what can only be called a nasty unpleasant hell-style environment. One girl (who admittedly had mental problems) told of being met by a load of aggressive bad-tempered, self-obsessed motorbike gang members. So even if there is an afterlife, it might be an unpleasant one, so now I definitely don't want to die. Even more than I didn't before. Mind you, even if I did conk out dead and there was a bright light and all my friends and relatives were waiting for me and I carried on doing all the things I do now, just as before, I wouldn't be able to honestly say whether I was in heaven or in hell anyway. The nearest I have come to any kind of transcendental experience was when I received a blow on the head and my heart stopped beating so for a while I was technically dead and while I was in that state I had a Near Life Experience - I floated out of my body and went shopping for washing powder at the Tesco Metro in Covent Garden.

For some time after my loss of faith in the existence of an afterlife, I invested my hopes in the Buddhist notion of reincarnation, but then it occurred to me that if I died, with my luck I'd probably be reincarnated as me! So I gave that one up. My only conclusion now is to try and grimly hang on to this life for as long as possible. "Live Slow, Die Old" - that's my motto. Come out with me one night and we'll have a walk on the tame side.