Death Is What Happens To Someone Else

August 27, 2009 at 10:43 am Leave a comment

I have been reading Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker. Ironically, Becker was dying of cancer as the book came out in 1997. The matter of Life and Death as the Zen masters say, is the most important subject  we can engage in. Without unflinchingly facing our own death, as Becker did, we are not able to engage fully with life. To deny death or seek oblivion from it, means that we cheat ourselves of the fullness of life.

Becker’s book is in part an examination of our fear of death, a fear that he claims is almost primal, one that we become aware of when we are still quite young. Freud thought that the unconscious had no sense of time or death, so that it is our conscious mind that becomes aware that one day we will die. Our unconscious continues to act as a carefree teenager, assuming that our existence will never come to an end. This is why soldiers going into battle assume that it will be the guy next to them who will be hurt and that they will emerge unscathed. Death is what happens to someone else.

Our conscious fear of death Becker calls a terror of death, and it is because of this terror that we try to hide from it, seeking oblivion and diversions of all kinds, from religion to drugs, to sex, to work, to TV. We try to put death out of our minds and to a large part we succeed, but the cost of doing this is high. We repress the idea of death and put it into our ‘shadow’, the dark side of existence that we don’t want to acknowledge.

But the things we relegate to our ‘Shadow’, the parts of ourselves that we don’t accept, need energy to keep them in their place, and this energy can only come from the total energy that we have available. Anyone who has had any dealings with batteries knows that a constant trickle of energy soon runs down a battery. We use some of our valuable life force, our chi or prana, to keep the Shadow secure, and this means we have less energy for the rest of our activities. This is why Becker says that denying death leads to a lessening of life. The total energy that we ccould apply to our  life has been diminished by the Shadow’s call on our resources.

It’s often said that we use only 10% of our brain power. Clearly it would be good to access the 0ther 90% but how do we do that ? I think meditation can help to release some of this power. When we meditate we go into a state of deep relaxation. This relaxed state can be the ground from which new possibilities can open up, new awareness and perspectives can be discovered, and a wider more expanded consciousness can be  created. This expansion of awareness can lead to insights about new ways of thinking and acting, so that people with problems or stress can find ways to accept or solve or survive the anxieties that life currently poses for them.

Fear, anxiety and stress all cause contraction of the body and the mind, leading to a kind of paralysis of will, a hopeless passsivity that creates a victim mentality. Meditation can help reverse this by expanding the mind, which really means expanding the universe, since each person’s mind is its own universe. This expansion can lead to movement and growth, creating a new positive situation where previously only negativity reigned. With more space created in the brain, there is the possibility of finding new ideas and solutions, and at worst there is the choice of accepting the dire situation you are in and trying to find the best way out of it.

To do nothing is not a solution.

Entry filed under: Thoughts.

DISTRACTIONS R Buckminster Fuller’s Experiment in Living

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.


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