- We need to confront the inevitable
We will all die eventually, and we need to talk about that.
If you’ve ever been to a therapist, they’ll tell you that the best way to manage anxiety is to confront it, instead of trying to distract yourself from it. Anxiety, as I describe it, is the uncomfortable feeling that someone’s following you as you walk home after dark. You may try and distract yourself by listening to music, focusing on other things around you, or forcing your stream of thoughts to bend away from the strange entity following you. The feeling, like the entitity, will continue to follow you and affect whatever you do.
A far better way to deal with the situation, is to slow down for just a moment look over your shoulder. There are two likely consequences of doing this. First, is that you might learn that there’s nobody following you, and that you were getting worried about nothing. The second, is that there is indeed someone following you, but that this person intends you no harm. This may result in a moment of awkwardness in which the person either picks up speed and walked by you, or switches to a different path. It is unlikely but still possible that the follower poses a real threat. But even if this is the case, it’s still far more reasonable to address this threat than to distract yourself from it.
I may not exist forever as individual, but I will always be there as a small sentence in the human story, which is itself a chapter of the story of the universe. Without me– living or dead–- the story would be incomplete. Everything ends, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to talk death with your friends and family, regardless of your age or state of health. Share your concerns, spiritual or worldly. Look back at the inseparable companion that follows you, and it might just smile and nod reassuringly
Death is the dark stranger that follows us wherever we go. It can catch up with us at any age, often unexpectedly. Humankind has struggled with death anxiety for as long as it has existed, and we often cope by ignoring it entirely. Death is not there at the grocery store as you decide the right air-freshner to buy for your TV lounge. Death will not happen between now and next Wednesday when you’re required to give a major presentation at the office. Death is not here, not even close, as I write this column.
Ignoring anxiety does not keep it from existing in the back of our minds, influencing our everyday decisions. A lot of our anxiety surrounding marriage, children, religious activities, wealth, and “legacy” drips directly from the fear of our eventual death.
Humans are notoriously bad at conceiving ‘nothingness’, and therefore bad at comprehending how something like life can just cease to exist. For example, most of us think that blind see nothing but pitch-black. This is untrue. Blind people do not see the color black, which is itself a visual signal. Blind people see nothing. If you’re having trouble imagining this, ask yourself what color you see at the back of your head. Is it black? Or is it nothing?
People cope with death anxiety in various ways. Some focus on religion, which offers assurance that our consciousness is eternal. Death is not a full stop, but a semi-colon that merely guides you into a different segment of existence. Religion not only assures us that consciousness is permanent, it adds another layer of comfort through the idea of ‘heaven’ . Not only are you going to exist forever, you will exist in a state so majestic it will exceed your wildest expectation. The unintended consequence, at times, is the believer beginning to undervalue life itself, which is the only thing whose existence we can scientifically prove.
We are naturally inclined towards the preservation of self, which makes death the ultimate yet inescapable villain in the human experience. What if I were to argue that it isn’t? What happens if I decide that there’s nothing particularly special about my individual consciouness that I need to exist eternally? What if I were to rebel against my natural instincts, and decide that my genes stop with me; and that my genetic predisposition for diabetes doesn’t need to be passed on indefinitely from one unsuspecting generation to the next?
Confronting death anxiety is essentially about acknowledging the finality of things. Consider the fact that a person who experiences traumatic loss is at an increased risk of developing a ‘hoarding disorder’. One refuses to discard objects around the house, however useless, because they’re afraid of ‘letting go’ of things.
The great time you’re having with your friends will eventually come to an end. And never again in future will these moments replicate themselves with the exact same variables. ‘Finality’ is not a singular moment awaiting you in the distant future. Finality follows you closely, eating up the moments you’ve just lived, making sure you never see them again. If this thought causes discomfort, I hope what I write next puts you at ease.
Consider the sentence I’m about to write, which I encourage you to read out loud. This sentence was born at a capital T and will die at the next full-stop. The sentence you just uttered is now gone and you cannot bring it back. If you attempt to say it again, it’ll be at a different time with many other variations. Although the sentence has died, it has left its imprint in the air and in the minds of its listeners. The sentence you spoke is now dead, but it still exists as part of a larger narrative. If you could turn back time and remove it from this paragraph, this theory would be insensible.
I may not exist forever as individual, but I will always be there as a small sentence in the human story, which is itself a chapter of the story of the universe. Without me– living or dead–- the story would be incomplete.
Everything ends, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to talk death with your friends and family, regardless of your age or state of health. Share your concerns, spiritual or worldly. Look back at the inseparable companion that follows you, and it might just smile and nod reassuringly.