Frequently, I’m put into an uncomfortable situation concerning death.
A friend of a friend will die, and this person who I’m talking to will be understandably upset. They’ve been conditioned to believe that death is simply the worst fate imaginable and that the veil of darkness they’re now experiencing will never lift.
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I won’t ever try to tell you to suppress your feelings about death, or pretend that it’s not a big deal.
But what I WILL do is explain how death is one of the greatest things we have in this life.
It allows us to see what’s really important, and shut out all that mostly meaningless minutia. If we can hold in our awareness that we’re going to die, it forces us to live urgently in the present moment.
It persuades us to treat each person we meet as if it were their last day. Because it may as well be.
See, a lot of people are afraid. They think that when they die, they’re going to be locked up in a dark room forever, and sort of “undergo” that.
But you can’t have an experience of nothingness because nothingness is not an experience.
Death means the end of suffering.
If you can’t suffer, then there’s nothing to worry about. You’ll be alright.
DEATH AND RELIGION
You may or may not be a religious person. It’s all the same to me. I care for you, just like I care for each and every other person who breathes the same air as I do.
Any God worth following is going to accept you after your death and He/She/It is going to welcome you with open arms because you are their creation.
But often, religion is a crutch for people who can’t stand on their own. It’s a psychological projection by which people place all their individual productive powers in the hands of another being outside of them. They’re not strong enough to face death, and so they need to believe in some sort of father-figure to protect them.
In existential psychotherapy, they might refer to this as a masochistic dependency.
For most people, religion fulfills a psychological need that they have. It’s useful, because it distracts them from the subconscious fear of death.
Where it gets troublesome is that the fear is so strong that in order to prove that they’re right, and therefore uphold their beliefs that are protecting them, religious violence often results.
You don’t need to be a part of this.
Believe what you want to believe, treat others with kindness, and know that you all come from the same place. Our one universe that is home to us all.
We are more interconnected than sometimes it’s possible to believe. What you are basically, is simply the fabric and structure of the universe experiencing itself.
You are something that the universe is “doing”, in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing.
Doesn’t this just make everything melt away?
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Unfortunately, I don’t usually have time to explain this to bereaved friends, because they’re hurting and are only looking for shallow condolences.
Well I refuse to oblige.
Instead, I offer the following sentiment:
“While it’s natural for a friend to grieve over the loss of another friend, or any other loved one, gratitude is important here. Instead of thinking about how you’re never going to see that person again, open yourself up to the gratitude that comes from the realization of all the time that you already had together.”
That sounds dumb when I re-read it just now, but it accurately conveys what I’m trying to say. Essentially, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
“Death, twitches my ear. ‘Live’, he says, ‘I am coming'” – VIRGIL
I want to introduce you to my friend, Ernest Becker. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Denial of Death.
We’ve never met, but I’m grateful to have known about him. Apparently, when the university he was teaching at declined to extend his teaching contract, his students offered to pay his salary just to keep him.
He was that kind of guy.
He died shortly before receiving the Pulitzer, but his book was all about how the subconscious fear of death is ever-present in our lives, has a long and rich history, and leads us to almost every single action we take during our daily lives.
Join religions? Subconscious fear of death.
Join militaries? Subconscious fear of death.
Crave wealth and fame? Subconscious fear of death.
Becker was drawing on thousands of years of wisdom and experience concerning these ideas, and the same sentiments are expressed by such luminaries as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Otto Rank, Erich Fromm, Leo Tolstoy, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and on and on and on.
Basically, the fear of death drives us…
…IN EVERYTHING WE DO.
I cannot overstate that enough.
So it’s not surprising that most people have some pretty misguided notions about it.
Their feelings aren’t “wrong”, as I don’t believe that any feelings can be wrong.
But they are stopping us from leading bright, intentional lives.
They keep us mired in fear and self-loathing.
They keep us killing each other and blowing each other up, and tearing each other down.
They keep us in relentless pursuit of goals like wealth and fame that can never bring true protection against death.
Again, in existential psychotherapy this would be referred to as “symbolic immortality”.
So let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about something that society goes to great lengths to keep from our sight.
(The comment section is an excellent place to do this)
We need to reach an age of emotional and intellectual maturity where we can talk about death and our feelings about death, without going to pieces, and without taking out our inner frustrations on our fellow human beings.
Marcus Aurelius said that only children are afraid of death. We need to grow up and actualize our potential as human beings and as individuals. Throw off the comforts of violent religious beliefs, ditch the protection of wealth and fame, and live for just one day.
Too few of us have.
All the best,
Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, and human rights activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.