It’s quite a natural thing to be fearful of death. It’s nature’s way of keeping us alive of course and having a strong survival instinct means our genes get passed down and evolution can carry on doing what it does best.
After all, the survival of the fittest process would soon go to pot if we didn’t have a basic primal urge to stay alive.
But what about when the fear of death becomes pervasive and stops us enjoying our life?
I’ve heard it said (and I can’t remember where or by whom) that we can never be truly alive until we come to terms with the inevitable reality of our own death.
So is it ever a good thing to put the thought of death to the back of your mind and concentrate on the day to day matter of life instead?
It can help for a while – ignorance can be bliss after all – but we can only do that for so long. Sooner or later we’re all faced with the reality of death, either our own or someone else’s.
So how do we prepare ourselves? How do we accept the knowledge that death creeps ever nearer, stalking us and those we love. How can we become so comfortable with it’s inevitability that we destroy its power to haunt our thoughts and dreams?
If it’s true that we’re most afraid of those things we do not understand, maybe it would help to become familiar with the idea of death, to build a relationship with that great unknown.
And so I had a thought, – what better way to do that than to sit down at the table and have a good old heart to heart? After all, as they say – better the devil you know.
But before I could do that I needed to have an idea of who (or what) death is. And as I thought about that a picture came to mind.
At first it is was rather like the clichéd, hooded figure whose face we never see, wielding his scythe, ready to strike down his next victim. A terrible figure to be avoided at all costs and for as long as possible.
And then I thought about the skeletal flag-waving-horse-mounted figure of Death who sits fearsome in my Rider-Waite pack of tarot cards?
But I had to wonder, do either of these symbolic figures really mean anything to me personally? Do they present a useful representation (for me) of the meaning of death?
Death is a very personal experience and so it’s important that we each develop our own personal way of dealing with our feelings about it.
It’s possible for all of us to symbolically represent any experience in any way that’s right for us individually. We don’t have to stick with the metaphors that have been presented to us from birth. We can change our metaphors to ones that are meaningful on a personal level and helpful to us as individuals.
So we can choose to represent death in whichever way we like. It can be a place (a wasteland, a summer land or anywhere else we would like to imagine). It can be an event (a battle or a homecoming, an adventure or whatever feels right). And if we do choose to represent death as a figure, must he (or she) be dark and surreptitious and cloaked?
So I’ve been thinking about this all week.
‘Death. Who are you? What are you?’
Death is all-pervasive at all times and even when we feel at our most alive, death continues it’s existence at a cellular, molecular level.
Our bodily cells constantly die and renew and they continue to do so until at some moment a tipping point is reached and the renewal process cannot keep up with that of the dying.
So, although I know I’m very much alive, death is also very much a part of who I am. Of what I am. I am as much death as I am life.
Therefore, if I were to have a conversation with death, I will be speaking to a part of myself.
And in that case what shall I say?
‘Death – I acknowledge you. I acknowledge the fundamental necessity of you.’
Life and death are two sides of the same coin and one cannot exist without the other.
The two are entwined together, God-like and pervasive.
‘Do I fear you death? Sometimes, and yet again, sometimes not.’
And anyway, it’s only my conscious mind that is concerned with such abstract matters. The greater part of me carries on the process of life (and death) on an unconscious level, concerned only with the bigger picture – with matters of greater evolutionary concern than the survival of this solitary organism that I’ve been taught to call ‘me’.
And maybe that makes some kind of sense – because if it’s true that matter cannot be destroyed – only converted – then why would my physical self have anything to fear – it will carry on – reincarnate into who knows what – but still remain in existence.
Yet my conscious mind, – that elusive part of me that has no matter – the ghost in the machine – can it still exist at all when death transforms the rest of me?
That is the real unknown – and as we already know, the unknown is what we fear the most.
‘Death – at times it’s felt as though you have stolen from me. How dare you do that Death? Oh how I begrudge you my losses.’
At least, on a conscious, emotional level, I do. My consciousness and my emotions are an integral part of my human, biological existence, a necessary by-product of being alive and I’m unable to transcend these aspects of myself and nor do I want to – as yet.
‘So Death, again I acknowledge you. At times I do fear you and it’s almost too easy to bear illogical grudges against you, unfairly I know, because after all you’re only doing you’re job.
But when’s all said and done – you are me and I am you and so, if I am to have any level of real self acceptance, I must learn to wholeheartedly accept you too.
And maybe one day, on that last inevitable day, when you loom unavoidably larger than life – I’ll have enough self acceptance to embrace you.
And then, when that metaphorical mist engulfs me, I’ll find myself – able to thank you, – for the life that you’ve allowed me – and I’ll become you, completely.