Where, Exactly, Is Death?

I read Scott Morrison’s piece on fear of death and it is reassuring. I agree it is the thinking that is distressing. But why am I more bothered by the subject than other people? Is it an individual problem or is it because I think too much? I guess because life is all I know and I love it so much, I rationally calculate that death is the end of that. But I get really terrified at the concept of not existing and I feel like running but you can’t run away – it is going to happen. This is preventing me fully enjoying my daily life and I want to accept death as a fact so I can live well. Help me stop looking at death as a problem that must be solved.

All beliefs, including beliefs about God, about life, about death, about consciousness, about existence, about heaven and hell, about reincarnation, about a cold, unfeeling universe that does not care about us, about anything at all, are an avoidance and an escape from what is. Beliefs are the separation. The fear comes not from love of life, but from clinging to thoughts about life and thoughts about losing that life. You are bothered by it because you take your thoughts to be the real thing. However, thoughts about eating are not eating. Thoughts about bathing are not the experience of warm, soapy water. Thoughts about being in love are not the exquisite and tender experience of affection, intimacy, and compassion you feel with another person. And in exactly the same way, thoughts about death are not the real thing. Thoughts about death, along with the enormous physical and emotional baggage that accompanies them, are made up entirely of memory, fantasy, and commentary, all of it reverberating throughout the entire organism. They have absolutely nothing to do with the real thing. The real thing is wide open and completely unknown.

You say, “I get really terrified at the concept of not existing and I feel like running, but you can’t run away – it is going to happen. This is preventing me fully enjoying my daily life… ” So I think I’ve figured it out, and I hide in terror of my own unquestioned, unexamined assumption. Do you really take your thoughts so seriously? Is what you “know” to be true today exactly the same as it was last year? Ten years ago? Twenty, thirty, perhaps forty years ago? Perhaps you assume that current fashions in scientific or academic thinking “proves” that it is true. But is what scientists or philosophers think today pretty much the same as what they thought twenty years ago?

We see and hear politicians and pundits on television, or we observe our friends and associates, and we think to ourselves, does that person know how much he is fooling himself? Does she have the slightest notion of how deluded she is? And yet most of us, most of the time, cannot imagine that we are playing the same game of confused arrogance with ourselves. We might even think, well I was ignorant last year, or in my youth, but now, finally, I really know how it is. What a joke we are playing on ourselves!!! Now that I’m a Buddhist, or now that I’ve woken up, or now that I am Self realized… I finally know. You just have to laugh.

So the invitation is to stop agreeing with what you read about thought being distressing, and actually begin to be honest with yourself. If you don’t honestly know, then you don’t honestly know. That’s all there is to it. So just stop. When you stop pretending that you know anything, absolutely and completely, then you discover the wonder, the beauty, the freedom, and the absolute confidence of what is.

-Your own Self-
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