Death, it is a funny thing and not something, in my experience, anyone enjoys talking or thinking about with sincerity. We keep death at a distance. It is known but always a known that will be “later.” It seems, for the most part, we avoid the reality that this thing called death is the one thing that is a for sure in life. We all will die. Everything dies. Moreover, as human beings, we tend to do everything we can to keep the thought of death at bay. Death is sometimes referred to as darkness, but lately, I have been spending some mind time wondering if it is indeed darkness as we perceive it to be. If death is inevitable, as it is today, it is therefore interwoven into life itself, yet we see them as separate; life and death.
When it comes to death, we tend to wrap it up with euphemisms, parodies, or even thoughtful quotes to encourage the mind that this death thing is OK. I see stuff like live the moment entirely, this moment is all you have, etc.… with the underlying tone that you could be hit by a bus in a second and have it all gone. When we grasp those present moment thoughts or when we have a traumatic event we get glimpses of the idea and feeling that this could be my last day on the planet. However, it is beginning to seem to me that death and the idea and understanding of death could have much more to offer.
There is the process of death itself which started the day we were born. Everyone around me saw it as growing up, but it was just another aspect of dying each day. It is curious from birth until somewhere around our late 30s, or early 40s life is going upwards. Then somewhere, and I know it is different for everyone, it seems the conversation and sense is that things head in the opposite direction. However, the scientific and informed reality is, since the day we were born we are dying every day, and the directional feel is more about community perceptions and ideas than anything to do with reality itself.
Death, being the end of me, doesn’t scare me. It is the process of death that leaves impressions of worry and dread. The idea that the process of what is to come is unknown. Lots of people talk about a “good” death, and that within itself is also so unique and individual to how we live our lives. For example, I tend to control, so I feel like there is some stability in my world. And yes, I know this behavior is not actually working, but my habitual tendency is to grasp and cling and solve problems to make sure I am safe. If I am experiencing something that feels unsettling, my instant reaction is to search out a solution. Those solution searches are in the forms of books, research, medical and psychological ideas, healing modalities, food sources, science, and sometimes talk with a close friend, just to name a few. I have had the joy of observing this tendency, and it is a child-like flailing that distracts the more wise eye that resides inside to turn away from the reality of what is in front of me. If I interrelate life and death, I can see very clearly how this well-worn path of reaction will not and does not serve me. If I think about what a “good” death looks like to me, I realize that I am creating yet another expectation of how something will need to be for me to be OK. The reality is and will be (as long as technology doesn’t make some crazy discovery) my reaction will not change the outcome of death itself. Upon my deathbed, books, research, and all the information I grasp for to find solutions will not be of any use to me. I will not be able to stop death from happening by uncovering the solution to rid myself of what is happening – death. When I think of it this way, it seems rather ridiculous to look for answers in my living days so I can rid myself of what feels uncomfortable.
I have been experiencing these thoughts about death and am noodling now and again the idea of how to incorporate life and death as one thing rather than separate events. I was having a weekly walk in the park with a friend of mine this week and was pondering these very same thoughts out loud. As kismet would have it, she forwarded me a podcast, Waking Up by Sam Harris and the episode THE LESSONS OF DEATH, A Conversation with Frank Ostaseski
One of the biggest things that struck me in this podcast was Frank asking the question, “how do we handle the endings in our lives today?” His example of “how we leave a party” got me curious about other endings – the kind of endings that are accompanied by heartbreak and sadness similar to the accompanying feelings and thoughts that death brings up.
For me, if something ends that hurts I think I failed. I also reach back into the past for things I could’ve done differently and beat myself up for being flawed, i.e., if it ended then I did something wrong. As mentioned earlier, I search frantically for answers to avoid an ending happening again. I do so many things that distract me from feeling the sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness that so often go with endings, ultimately avoiding reality.
It brought me to the realization that all of my fixing habits will be worthless at the time of death. It has brought me to his place of investigating how I can move beyond my mental capacity and embrace the reality of death within the heart of life, so they merge and support one another instead of being separated by good and bad. How can death can be a part of everyday life itself? If I explicitly see what serves me in the last days of breathing yet I lack the clarity about those same things when death is always “later,” and I am “living” is this a way they could serve one another?
I know the plethora of religious and spiritual beliefs support our ideas of death and offer different shades of how we think about and approach death, but I do not believe those beliefs and values interfere with the inquiry of death and its integration into life. It is not about what happens after you die, or whom you worship or if you worship at all, regardless of all of those things we will all still die. I have a deep sense a possibility exists where life and death can merge. I believe an opportunity exists where they inform each other to guide us closer to ourselves and our actions and reactions. Where we may discover and conclude the separateness of life and death is but a mental construct, and they are not separate events or “things” at all. But rather “they,” formally known as life and death, are one—and that one is ultimately life itself.