These are the big questions to which I hear many answers. Some answers are very fervent, as if the respondent truly believes they know and can control the process. Or maybe are afraid they can't? Honestly this is nothing we can prove or claim to know, we can only do our best to discover an understanding that feels meaningful. Here is mine.
I believe we are here to learn and evolve, to shed the limiting skin of our fearful puffed up ego self. I believe that death walks at our side always, not as a threat but as a teacher. Every time death touches us, with aging, sickness and the death of loved ones, we are given an opportunity to release our small protective self and see something bigger. Teaching us to live bigger, kinder, and from a more loving heart.
I believe life here on earth is about death and resurrection, heaven and hell. Every loss we suffer is a small death, teaching us to let go. And we rise up, again and again, often much stronger. This continual death and resurrection allows us to feel the grace and delight in those moments of letting go, when there is no feeling of control. Man creates a lot of hell here on earth trying to protect and enrich the self, some is in every life. Hell = anger, abuse, blame, selfishness, greed, pride, murder, jealousy, addiction, hatred... We all feel and contribute to hell but it is not who we are. It is here for us to witness and learn from the ugliness and suffering it brings. We all get lost in the selfishness of me versus you, feeling we are right, that we have the answers, touting a big sense of important self. This doesn't seem to move us forward, only into more judgment, hatred, wars and division. Not evolving. Heaven is here, always, to show us another way. Reminding us that when we are small, like a drop of water on the mill wheel, when we live in the God-flow, we are more balanced and content. Life simply seems to flow better from this place. Heaven is all around us, but sometimes hard to see. Heaven exists in the immensity of sunsets and ocean waves, in the depth of spontaneous joy in a child's eyes, it's blooming in the trees and flowers of Spring, and holds the dignity of the dying as they transition. None of these things can we control, none of them last, but they continually grace us and remain there for us if we choose to open our heart. Living the life of death and resurrection, heaven and hell gives us a choice, it points a path, and I do see hearts learning to open. This is not a lesson learned in a single lifetime, but one we all share and will discover as a people. That's OK with me, I accept my small role gladly, and understand I am still a useful drop on the mill wheel. Together we make it turn.