Meditations on Time, Part 1: My Childhood Fear of Living Forever

CB007962This is the first of a series of short posts entitled “Meditations on Time.” In this series I will explore some of my thoughts and experiences concerning time and the gospel.

Living forever hasn’t always been a pleasant thought for me.

I still remember when the notion of living forever first dawned on me. I was probably 4 or 5 years old. Prior to this time, I had believed in life after death, but I never had really thought about what that would be like. I remember having some kind of conversation with my older sister, and she said something about how in the next life time never ends. That idea was so foreign, I couldn’t even begin to fathom it. I asked my mom if this were really true, and she said it was. When I expressed that it sounded so weird to me, my mom replied, “Well, wouldn’t it be weirder if your life just suddenly ended?” I had to admit that I of course didn’t like that outcome either.

Therein was my dilemma. Both possible outcomes — living forever and ceasing to exist — frightened me.

I can still remember burying my head in the seat of my dad’s recliner and contemplating the deepness of eternity. “What would it be like to have one day … followed by another day … and another day … and another day … forever? I was going to go crazy!”

“Wouldn’t we get bored?” I protested. Mom answered by saying we’d be making worlds — how would that be boring?

Well, of course it won’t be boring at first. But forever? Even Disneyland would be boring forever!

Around this same time, the idea of having no beginning also began to sink in. This idea, of course, also made no sense. But — I could handle it because it was all in the past and I couldn’t remember it anyway.

Maybe that’s the key, I thought. Maybe there’s a way to live forever but without the dauntingness of forever before you. Maybe life is a continual series of reincarnations or something. Maybe after this life there will be another veil and future experiences like mortality with clearly defined ends. I think I could handle that.

But maybe there’s not. Probably not. The reincarnation idea didn’t really jive with what I knew about the plan of salvation.

I resolved that I just wasn’t going to think about it. I was just going to live in the present and wait until after this life to worry about the burden of eternity.

Let’s just hope I live a long time, I thought.

To be continued …

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29 Responses

  1. I remember having a similar experience when I was about 11. I remember being particularly bored one day and thinking, is this what forever is like?

  2. Ok, so this is where I reveal my long-held secret: I don’t want to live forever. Haven’t wanted to for the last two decades, during which time I’ve raised a family, held many church positions, and continued to develop my testimony. I have no doubt that there is an afterlife, I would just rather pass on existing after I’ve fulfilled my covenants and responsibilities here. I know I only have Brigham Young’s support on the possibility of the disassociation of my component “intelligences” back to the intelligence soup to later create other spirits, but I like the idea for me. I know, it’s creepy. A dissolving into Nirvana (Nibbana) would be cool too.

    In a fantasy series which ran for many years in Catalyst Magazine, the main character opines:

    “Today I feel powerfully dismantled. There’s a fuzzy high happening, a taking apart of the brain’s tendencies. Nothing could give more joy. I tire of the effort of “Jenny”, of the “I” jockeying for it’s place in things. What would it be, I imagine, to truly exist as an endless shifting configuration of possibilities? The personality, being dismantled, would float like happy little electron boats in a cloud of relative tangibilities. The concepts of survival and identity would float away like so much dead seaweed. What great pleasure, what intense and unbounded pleasure to imagine one’s complete and utter annihilation!

  3. Don’t be afraid of existing forever. You’re already doing it. Seems OK so far.

  4. larryco_,

    Well, I encourage you to stick with this series of posts.

    Maybe something I say might change your mind — or at least help you to see the idea of living forever differently …

  5. One of my favorite concepts, as illustrated by one of my favorite quotes from fiction, paraphrased:

    If anyone ever learns everything, it will be found that he is the Most High God, and always has been.

    From The Wizard by Gene Wolfe.

    A similar concept is discussed in The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (which is terribly underserved by the movie, by the way).

    As soon as we do anything that is sealed by eternal authority, it becomes eternal reality not only from that point forward, but backward as well. This is how Christ’s atonement is retroactive, as well as how eternal families and progression to Godhood work, in my opinion. It provides the paradoxical glue to many LDS doctrines. I also think it makes your idea of living one day at a time very, very relevant.

    I’m excited for the rest of this series, Dennis, because this is a topic that I love and feel strongly about.

  6. Dennis et al,

    You might enjoy reading Dreaming Beyond Death, a book about dreams during the period just before death.

    Out of stock, but used copies are available.

  7. […] Posts Meditations on Time, Part 2: Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and FutureMeditations on Time, Part 1: My Childhood Fear of Living ForeverPlease Don’t Hate (H8) Me Because I’m Mormon“Objective” Has to GoThe Election: Why I’m […]

  8. Wow, I thought I was the only one in the world to have this fear.

    When I was a child, this fear had a huge affect on me. But my way of dealing with it was by reading the Bible and realizing that God only has good plans for His children. He would never do something to harm them, such as make them live forever if it wasn’t beneficial. So basically, if God is good, then what He is doing, giving eternal life, must be good. Also, why would Jesus die on the cross and do everything He did to give us eternal life if it wasn’t meant to be something good for us?

  9. I see the last post was a few days ago so hopefully the thread will keep going as this is a fear I had contemplated, not for myself, but for the damned. I do not fear living forever. as we know God’s time is one great eternal round, however time as we know it is linear. When we die the ends of the linear time line we have sampled here on earth will be joined at the ends, as it should be and all things will be connected, past, present and future. God has slowed time for man to equal one thousand years to His one day. By doing this he placed the veil over our minds at a certain point in time (birth) and gave us a corresponding axis to refer to as “time”- that is the rotation of the planets around the sun. Before we came here we had no concept of day and night, a beginning and an end, but by providing a physical example of the sun rise and sunset we awere able to adjust to the new perception of time, one with a reliable beginning and end, like birth and death, and sunrises and sunsets. Therefore our “PERCEPTION” of time was changed with our birth, not the essence of eternity or eternal life. WE ARE ETERNAL/ SPIRITUAL BEINGS HAVING HUMAN EXPERIENCES, NOT HUMAN BEINGS HAVING SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES.
    The thing I have always wondered about is the state of the DAMNED, or those who are now and those who will be cast into outer darkness. As Jesus Christ has said it is better that they were never born at all- so I wonder how do they endure an eternity of torment? The only thing I have ever heard about it is that is is actually better for them to burn in the eternal flames of hell and the fiery knowledge of their sins, that to be in the presence of God, because the latter would be unbearable for them. Now that’s what I call DEEP!

  10. Michelle,

    I interpret the “it is better that they were never born” phrase to mean that of all of God’s creations, only the sons of perdition do not progress in relation to pre-mortality. All other beings, those who are consigned to any degree of glory, are better off (i.e., more progressed) than they were in pre-mortality.

  11. I don’t fear anything that I can think of. Trust me, I know how silly that sounds. But lately, the more I think about it, there is something I fear. I fear living this life I have now, forever. I know a lot of people have hard lives, but with my track record and the mental disorders I have such as OCD and depression and whatnot, I fear living this way forever.

    Living with constant fear, anger and depression. I refuse anti-depressants and therapy because they don’t work. The thought of living without help forever… Is unthinkable.

    Memories of pain are one thing, but when you let yourself live through it over and over again, thinking that it will never end is awful. Sad truth is I want to make goals and such, I try to change things but I fail. My only motivation is that if I suceed in my endeavors, maybe a new memory will over come the others. Maybe there will be a day I wake up with a smile instead of waking up crying or screaming for nightmares.

    I had to research this topic because I am a medical/science/ and math freak. I need an explaination to my terror. Unfortunatly, the only way I can seek help for it is through things like this, no worries of anyone seeking me out to discuss it, but finding a way to explain it in words and bettering myself if only for a moment before I hit rock bottom again.

  12. I definitely fear existing forever…and ever…and ever…and ever…….Well, you get the point.

    To me, non-existence is vastly preferable, no matter what the after-life may hold (good, bad, otherwise); if I am existing, and there is always a “tomorrow”–terrifying!

    Also, it has absolutely nothing to do with fear of death, as I do not fear dying. It is the idea of existing, on and on and on, that drives me literally to panic attacks!

    Maybe I just want closure???

  13. I totally agree witth the previous comments, I dont have any other fears, only this one. And just like blake it gives me panic attacks, to the point where i cant be alone in a room by myself. Also I dont know about anyone else but at night it is the worst. I cant seem to tell myself anything to stop the panic attacks.

  14. blake and kev,

    It sounds like the two of you might be experiencing symptoms of an existential dilemma (or perhaps crisis). I hope you don’t rule out visiting a therapist (if you haven’t done this already). In particular, you might consider an existential psychotherapist.

  15. wow kev I have the exact same problems, I guess it’s kinda comforting to know I’m not the only one going though this.

  16. My 9 yr old has been struggling with the fear of living forever for several years now and I haven’t found any way to ease this fear. We are christians and he is confidant he will go to heaven but infinity scares him and we spend many nights discussing this.

  17. I too, used to be (still am) deeply disturbed when I thought/think about the concept of living forever. I used to just sit in my bed and get lost in these time loops when I was a kid.

    I should mention now that I am no longer an active member of the LDS church (haven’t been in about 8 yrs) and have read a lot on the dimension of time
    and experimented with drugs that have truly changed my perspective of time.

    I don’t think any of us have the ability or tools to comprehend what eternal life will/would feel like. But I have a feeling that time is going to feel a lot different than it feels now.

  18. Old post i know but…Oh my goodness I’m not the only one :-)

    I think I have been blessed with an answer, but first a little background…

    I have been scaring myself into tears for 20+ years thinking about this. I have been told many times by well versed leaders that all will be well. I believe it will be but it somehow doesn’t stop me from panic attacks and extreme anxiety when thinking about it. My life took a turn for the worse when I was given anti anxiety medication and after the first day using it I slipped into a deep coma / hallucination.

    I dreamt I was dead and I could hear these voices telling me there was no god and tormenting me. That I would remain in this state forever. I have never been so scared in my life…this experience has left me a mental mess. I might add that I am a large bodybuilding man with relatively no fear a rough and tough type but this I have NOT been able to handle.

    I have a wife and 3 little kids and the only thing that has kept me from going mad is my responsibility to them. At times I have felt like I’m losing my mind. I’ve been forced to deal with this issue everyday for 3 months constantly (unlike before where I would get a scare a few times a year), the second I wake up till the second I fall asleep. So believe me I am well aware of what you folks are worked about.

    Sleeping pills got me to sleep and helped because the next day I was a zombie and had no higher brain function :-) but it wasn’t a permanent solution.

    I begged and pleaded yesterday with our father in heaven to ease my suffering.

    The next morning I realised hang on let me define who I am first. Am I, me, who is thinking now or my spirit thinking through my body or my brain with my spirit along for the ride. I came to the conclusion that the me that is worrying and panicky, the mortal me will die but the eternal me will live on. I haven’t perfected this logic yet but it has helped me hugely so far. Does this make any sense or help you guys?

    I believe that although this is not doctrine my prayers have been answered and a new understanding has come into my mind.Everything and every part of me that is scared, worried or can’t comprehend living forever won’t and will die with my body (the mortal part) but the eternal part of me who it all makes perfect sense too and has no problem with it will live on.

    A symbiotic relationship if you like? Through heavenly father my spirit has given me ( the mortal me) the chance to be alive and experience life. I am going to do everything to make sure the spirit me succeeds in obtaining exhalation as a thank you.

    This way of thinking seems to have helped me so far.

  19. help, please. it’s good to know i’m not the only one but i am freaking out. this fear is consuming my life. i am a college-age girl and i should be enjoying my youth, not spending my time with my thoughts going places that no mortal has business exploring. the past few days have been horrible and i can’t escape this.

  20. @Miriam

    When these thoughts get really bad and you start to panic etc just remember it will all make perfect sense. We cannot comprehend the hugeness of it all as mortals and trying only freaks you out. Remind yourself of your faith in our Saviour and heavenly father and believe in his plan, he knows best. It also sometimes helps to sing your favourite hymn or tune, for me its “Jesus loves me”, silly I know but it helps. Then think on heavenly father and believe it will all make sense.

    Also try remind yourself that you won’t live forever, your physical body and all the parts of you that cannot comprehend or that might not want to live forever won’t. It will all die with you. Whats left is the spirit to whom all of this will make perfect sense.

    Did you read my last comment above yours? Also have you read Betty J Eddies book “Embraced by the light”? That I found helped as well.

  21. i can’t though i need it to make sense now or for something to make sense because i feel like i am going crazy over it. i have no fear or death, i’m way beyond that at this point. i’m not scared of anything except for the way i seem to be losing my emotions. something needs to calm me down and nothing is working

  22. Have you considered talking to an LDS psychiatrist? Perhaps help put things into perspective for you? Give it a try, what else do you have to lose?

  23. I had the same thought at 7 and ten years later I’m still thinking at times in how’s gonna be life after life, and it makes me feel weird and creepy.

  24. don’t ever let yourself think too much about it you will go out of your mind

  25. @Miriam – are you feeling a little better now then? When you posted earlier this year it sounded as though you weren’t doing so well.

  26. @Jay- I’m feeling better although I did have to seek therapy but mostly I’ve just learned to block my mind from those thoughts. I can’t allow them or I lose control too easily.

  27. I am happy to hear you are doing a little better. Any chance you could let us all know what your therapist suggested? It might be useful to others reafing this.

  28. First, I had to seek a lot of support through PRAYER from friends and family. This was the hardest part because I felt very weak publicly discussing such a personal, mental issue, especially where I am from in farm country these types of issues are highly skepticized.
    Second, when I would feel my fear grow too strong, I would remind myself to STAY IN THE MOMENT. I would focus in a solid, concrete object–a wall, a lamp, my feet touching the ground, etc to help me stay “grounded”, and then I would think a phrase over and over (“here and now, here and now” was what I used). This helped my mind to not spin off into the abstract and scary places..
    I think that mental blocking is a very uinhealthy thing but it works better than the alternative. I still struggle but I now have some sort of control, and that is very comforting.

  29. Thank you so much for your further thoughts and comments. I really do wish you all the best Miriam. Stay strong…

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