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11:22 am
Fri October 20, 2006

KERA's This I Believe: Morality, Heaven and Hell, and Reincarnation

Dallas, TX –

First, I believe in morality.

Of course, the meaning of this hinges on the question of how I choose to define morality. But in defining morality, I am aware of others nearby who have chosen differently. And I lack the luxury of demonizing them as heathens from another land. They are friends next door, family members, professional mentors, and cultural heroes. Acknowledging this choice influences the kind of moral definition I can afford to own.

Defining morality came slowly for me. Years of training as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist yielded a parade of brilliant academics, sensitive clinicians, and haunted clients across the threshhold of my daily existence. Years of practice as a psychologist, and of training others, have honed a conception of morality that embraces the lauded professional as well as the hallucinating patient.

I believe that morality is the act of intentionally accessing the internal experience of non-difference between myself and another human being.

I believe that some rare persons make a life of morality. When I have noticed such persons, I have found that we call them names such as saints, fools, parents, and teachers.

I believe that when I act morally, I risk growing, changing. In that way, morality is a particular kind of bravery.

I believe in heaven and hell. If heaven is a place, I have never been there nor have I ever met anyone I would trust who claimed to have visited. If hell is a place, I have never been there either. They say that hell-dwellers never leave, so I suppose meeting a witness would be unreasonable.

But if heaven is an experience, I have been there and can describe the terrain in detail. I intend to get back there every now and then-when the kids are asleep, or in the arms of my wife, or at the feet of some teachers. Such experiences are eternal: they have nothing whatsoever to do with time. They are not everlasting, but certainly eternal.

If hell is an experience - a cage, a war, estrangement - I am not sure I have ever been there; but I know many people who have. Friends have wept on my chest in the pain of bereavement; clients have wept on my couch in the pain of a fist, a bomb, a knowledge of their own actions. Hell is surely eternal. Even in heaven.

I believe in reincarnation of a sort. If reincarnation puts full souls back into full bodies, then my soul is either brand new or senile and demented. But if reincarnation means that we live not only through our own bodies, but through others' as well, then my soul is both brand new and senile (but not at all demented). It lives, is lived within and through, and will continue to live in my boys, in theirs, in friends and in readers (and in theirs), in enemies, infinitum. With all these adventures, I run head-long into the belief that stays most present on my mind each day: I believe I am a lucky man.

Kenneth Sewell is a full-time psychologist and part-time poet living in Denton, Texas.

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