What would it feel like… to live a life without fearing death? It’s not that we want to be a daredevil, or tempt death, or are tired of living. It’s not that we don’t value life, or that we wouldn’t defend life. It’s not that we wouldn’t seek healing if we get sick. No, the question is much more ordinary than that. What would it be like to just live a normal life and not be afraid of dying? It would be a very natural way of living, and one of true freedom. That might sound surprising but remember, there is no life without death and there is no death without life. Just look at nature. Life and death are intrinsically linked, and therefore perfectly natural. Well actually, to delve really deep, there is no death – there is only movement between various dimensions of life but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
People fear death because of their permanent fixation on a temporary state. “We come into this human life…” people say those words, but they forget to ask, well, from where? But let’s stay with the thread. We come into this human life and we latch onto it. From the formation of a personal identity throughout our adolescent years, we tack on more and more identifications like gender, body image, family, nationality, religion, politics, accomplishments, states of health or illness, and personal narratives. None of these things were there in us when we were born – we were just wide-eyed babies with hearts fully open. Were we any less of a life? No, perhaps more! All of these things are added on later, so how can they be the core of who we are? They feel more like accessories.
This human life is so fragile, we don’t like to admit it, but our next inhalation determines whether we live or die. Death is a possibility in every breath. But we push death away, pretend like it will never happen to us. We see death as morbid and run from it at every opportunity. Fear of death is the ultimate existential fear, but it usually shows up in lesser fears subconsciously, veiled as such and without our realization. Therapy can reveal the tentacles of the fear of death and how it manifests in our lives.
Fear of death might feel overwhelming but just like any other fear, it’s simply a matter of perspective. The wider our perspective, the less we fear the unknown. We fear death because it is unknown. We fear it because we don’t want to lose what we have attached ourselves to: our personality, our mind and body, our wealth, our associations, and relationships. But again, all of these things are add-ons; we are far beyond these things. What we are is unimaginable by this mind whirling away in our heads. Some religions promise eternal life if a certain path of faith is followed, and certain deeds done. Well, here’s the bombshell: you are already eternal. It’s just that your idea of “you” is too small.
When we awaken to the truth of existence, death is not a threat. Thoughts are already fleeting, and the cells in this body cycle out every 7 to 10 years… we simply own this mind and this body for a time, but they are not what we are. When this realization comes, as it has for millions of people throughout history, suddenly death loses its power over us. Life opens up with possibility and there is a profound sense of freedom. We realize that living with a fear of death is what is morbid, not looking at death honestly within ourselves. Mark Twain is quoted often, but one of his gems is, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
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