It should come as no surprise to discover that you are a believer, skeptic, or agnostic. Yet when you look at where other people fall, which could be very far outside your belief system, it may be disturbing to consider that you might all be right.
Believers may go to the heaven (or hell) that matches their religious background. In the afterlife they will meet their most cherished version of God–or gods. They will find themselves surrounded by angels or bodhisattvas. The emotional tone of that afterlife could be one of total bliss, if that is the tone they anticipate, or it could feel more ambiguous, even sad.
The experience could even feel like nothing. Skeptics may find that the afterlife is a blank, devoid of conscious sensation. For them, dying could lead to a long sleep without any perception of the self. The question is how long this state will last or what it might become.
For agnostic the afterlife is problematic. They may perceive that they remain themselves, occupying a kind of limbo where good and bad deeds form a hazy cloud that never resolves decisively. In this kind of afterlife the same worries and ambiguities that reside at the center of the agnostic worldview may persist.
And the undecided or open-minded people? They may be in for the biggest surprise, because someone who is truly open-minded dies without any expectations. If your approach to life is to take it one day at a time, the very last day won’t be any different.
In short, the ability of consciousness to shape our lives is the most permanent thing about us, the one aspect of the mind we can expect to continue.
Adapted from Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2006).