5 min read

In my next life, may I be a well cared for hedgehog

I've been playing around with the idea of reincarnation lately. I'm not a scientist or a philosopher and I'm sure there are all kinds of problems with everything I'm going to write, but let's go with it because it's interesting from an academic sense.
A cute hedgehog held up by a human hand against fall foliage and berries
Photo by Sierra NiCole Narvaeth / Unsplash

I've been playing around with the idea of reincarnation lately. I'm not a scientist or a philosopher and I'm sure there are all kinds of problems with everything I'm going to write, but let's go with it because it's interesting from an academic sense.

For example, what does the idea of reincarnation look like against other ideas we know, like the first law of thermodynamics? This law basically says that in a closed system (like our universe), energy cannot be created or destroyed. This planet we live on is full of all kinds of energy. And it seems to get recycled a lot, where every part of the system dies and is reborn all the time.

For example, I spent a lot of my holiday burning leaves and firewood, where energy is released with fire, and these physical substances change into something else. You see it in nature, in religion, in humanity. When we die, the energy leaves, and no one knows what happens to that energy after it leaves our mortal coil. We just see the body changed, lifeless and still.

Christians don't believe in physical reincarnation, but rather a spiritual reincarnation. You move from this life to the next life, which according to them, is in "heaven" or "hell". These concepts mean very specific things to the Christian, and their religion has just defined and redefined these concepts to suit their purposes over the last 2,000 years. These concepts don't mean anything to me. And I think the television series The Good Place did a really good job of bringing to light how ridiculous these concepts really are. Other religions believe different ideas. Some believe in reincarnation. Some don't. Humanity has been looking for answers to these questions for a long, long time.

Eleanor from The Good Place series sitting on a couch facing a wall telling her everything is fine
A screenshot from The Good Place

I think about the Christian perspective concerning life after death a lot because I was raised in that culture. I've since let this perspective go to make room for different ideas and I find that a lot of things I took for granted change. For example, Christians believe that you are judged based on the decisions you've made in this one life, specifically the single decision of whether you accepted Jesus as Lord. If you did, great. If you didn't, well bud, I'm sorry, but your soul has to burn forever in a "lake of fire".

This is very fucked up to admit, but I didn't realize until I was 35-ish that such a pronounced sentence far, far outweighs the crime. And in hindsight, I am flabbergasted that I ever believed this malarkey to be true. Such a god would be insane and frankly, unfuckingqualified to be God.

If I was born in someplace like the Congo, with different circumstances and opportunities, would I be the same person as the one I am now? No. Absolutely not. Would Donald Trump be the same person if he had been born outside all of his privilege? Had a different father that loved him and taught him better? No. He would be a very different person. We don't get to choose the circumstances of our entrance into this world. Who our parents are or their economic status or how they're going to raise us.

Now we move further down this idea of reincarnation to think about a different question. What is justice for a life of horrible decisions? It's not the Christian concept of hell, obviously. So what is justice? Is it another life tailored-made with suffering that will help the energy or soul achieve enlightenment? Is it another life built to pay reparations for a previous life? Is it both? Something else entirely? Is it nothing at all?

We really don't know anything.

I've often wondered why I was born to the parents I had, to live the traumatic childhood I had. In the Christian perspective, there are no answers for this. My parents should have never had kids they couldn't afford, but Jesus is supposed to bless you financially if you believe. And why was I so abused if my parents carried water for the faith that supposedly offers "victory in Jesus"? There was no victory. No peace. It doesn't make any fucking sense.

Reincarnation though, for the purposes of this exercise, makes sense to me.

The next paragraph comes with a content warning around slavery and rape, so please do what's best for you.

I found out this last year that my ancestors captured emancipated slaves, raped them, and then sent them back South. I have a whole Twitter thread about it if you want the horrible details. What if my soul or energy had something to do with that? What if my previous life and all its decisions was in a different part of the world, or in a different family, but still horrible? What if I've had thousands of lives with horrible decisions?

What I will admit is that the circumstances and path of this life have led me to learn ideas about reparations and justice and de-centering myself from conversations about race and equality and privilege. The path of this life has led me to do work around detoxing myself from ideas I've been given about masculinity and capitalism and the morality of billionaires (hint: there is no such thing as a moral billionaire). And if I had to suffer to know these things, to achieve this kind of enlightenment for my consciousness, then I think the punishment of my traumatic childhood was just.

I was having a conversation with my mother-in-law about karma, and I remember coming to the realization while we were talking that we may never see justice for a single person's actions and decisions and harm they've put in the world. I would argue (now) that we probably won't see this justice. But that doesn't mean justice won't happen. You or me getting to witness this justice is really nothing more than our desire for schadenfreude. It's not ours to witness. We can only help ourselves, work on ourselves, better ourselves. That's all the water we're capable of carrying.

In my next life, I hope that I'm a well cared for hedgehog. I feel like I need a break after this one. A life of 3-6 years, full of love and tummy rubs and tasty snacks. Honestly, I'd settle for just less suffering. But I don't know how the universe works. None of us really do. The energy we hold could go back into a star for all we know. The only thing I know for sure is that I need to do the best I can with what I've been given for the time I've been allotted.

We can have a better world if we want it. Systems are merely the results of decisions we have made. I hope you'll join me in making the best decisions you can, not just for yourself, but for others–the marginalized, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged. If we all strive to be better, I honestly believe this world (and humanity itself), through the long arc of time, can be a world of justice and repentance and love. Never perfect...but constantly better.

Maybe we won't see the results of our labor in this lifetime, but maybe we will in the next one.

Before you go

On the way back home from the holidays, I was listening to the last 10-15 songs I "liked" in Spotify during the last year. I like to do this because there's usually a vibe, maybe a subconscious one, but this is the first year I've moved them to a separate playlist. Maybe you'll like the vibe too.

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