It’s something I think a lot about and I know most people would find that odd or morbid which actually goes perfectly hand in hand with our culture’s thoughts around death.
We as a culture cannot stand the idea of death. We don’t like what we are confronted with when some aspect of it is presented to us. I am not referring to actual physical death yet that’s what our avoidance is based on; our fear of our own immortality. We welcome new beginnings but run away from the end yet cannot happen without the other.
We literally do anything in our power to avoid it, the most obvious form of this avoidance being the oversaturated market of “how to look younger” products and procedures. From gels to creams to lasers, we know no limits to how far we will go to try to stop time. Ironically, with the more extreme surgeries, some end up losing their lives and confronting death quite literally which is the one thing they were ultimately trying to avoid in the first place.
In a far less dramatic but still very familiar context we can also experience death in the form of breakups, romantic or otherwise. We hang on when something deep down within us, that’s not anxiety speaking, tells us we need to let go. Yet we hold on, fearful of what it will mean to not have this person / relationship in our lives. And when we do manage to finally end it, most of us do not treat it for what it actually is, which is a death. It is the physical and emotional end to something significant in our lives. It is traumatic for many of us yet we try to rush through the motions “to get to the other side”, never truly honoring the grief of the transition.
Instead we carry that pain around within us until there is another transition that will open the portal to a new opportunity to heal our previous and current pains; or alternatively, never allowing ourselves to be open to these various portals, thus keeping our hearts closed and skewing our filter of life.
But our resistance to death is not always so obvious; in fact most of the time it happens in far more subtle ways and on much more of a consistent basis.
In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron quotes Trungpa Rinpoche in his lecture titled ‘Death in Everyday Life’:
“We are raised in a culture that fears death and hides it from us. Nevertheless, we experience it all the time. We experience it in the form of disappointment, in the form of things not working out. We experience it in the form of things always being in a process of change. When the day ends, when the second ends, when we breathe out, that’s death in everyday life…”
In something I am currently experiencing in my own life, we also experience death when we decide to put ourselves out there in the world in a big way and must see and feel the old parts of ourselves die. We do this so that who we are meant to be can rise forth from those ashes and we can take the steps to fulfill our purpose in this short time that we have on Earth.The old and new can only exist in the same place for so long until we decide that we can no longer hold on to the old as it is exhausting and no longer serving us. But we avoid letting go of who we were because not only is it terrifying but it gets us present to the uncertainty of where this “new” will take us.
We as humans do not like change so we try to keep a death grip on keeping things the same, including ourselves. We also fear what others will think about this change so we hold on, not wanting to experience the possible repercussions of not having others’ approval. Yet, by not allowing the “old” within us to have the death it is meant to have, we are inadvertently experiencing a different kind of death; a more sinister kind of death which is one of unlived dreams and the unfulfillment of the next stage of our evolution; the denial of our full, true and authentic version of ourselves.
But this is all part of the natural cycle of life, this constant process of beginnings and endings; of life and death…….death of course being the one we try to avoid. This is one of the core principles behind mindfulness. Most of us see it as bringing present-moment awareness, increasing focus and helping with anxiety but rooted underneath all of that is this acceptance of death. We watch the breath and we let it go. We experience the beginning of a moment and the end of a moment, its death, and we learn to not grasp so tightly.
If we allow ourselves to release this struggle with death, to reverse this fear and not only allow it in but actually welcome it, our lives will begin to change. We will not cling as tightly and when we loosen that grip, we begin to release our struggle. We let go of the control we think we have and so desperately try to hold on to. We actually allow ourselves to be in the flow of life; the natural flow of our own evolution. We ultimately give ourselves and the world the gift of being all we can be and making the impact that we want and can make.