For some time now I have been haunted in the evenings, in the quiet spaces of the night, by the inescapable truth that we are fleeting. Dread washes over me and only my physical body’s wisdom can break through the fear. With conscious breath and a firm connection to the weight of my body on my feet or on the bed I can calm myself. But every night I do the same.
My fear of death, not just mine but yours and the critters we share this world with, has been a very strong experience that has shadowed the vast majority of years of my life. It started when I was a child, I would become so scared about inevitable nothingness that I would not know what to do. My dad’s heartbeat always helped but as you get older that’s not so accessible, practical or portable. Sometimes it would bubble up only once every little while, mildly so that I could easily let it pass. A year ago it was as bad as distressing panic attacks that made it impossible to hide from my beloved. At that time it would bubble up during work. Sitting in the lunch room eating, I would school my features to hide the saturation of fear from the people sharing the room as they talked about light every-day stuff. The truth is not that I have this fear. I have always known it. The truth is that I know how to alleviate it.
I understand that this is not a welcome topic in many circles. Who wants to sit with the discomfort thinking about your mortality creates? If we broaden our scope outside of Western culture what will we find? Death is removed from our reality with our “it won’t happen to me” attitudes and societal expectation that when someone you love passes you get over it “quick march” while the world cruelly pushes on. Once upon a time our dead stayed in our homes for weeks before burial. Nowadays our loved ones are whisked away, we might see them briefly but in a blur of ceremony they are truly gone. It never occurs to us that we might lose them, or that we ourselves are not going to be here forever.
Some of the happiest and most peaceful people in the world are aware every moment that the next might be their last. They make peace with the angel of death and make compassion their modus operandi. I am of course referring to buddhists and the toltec. I am sure there are many others, but these come to the forefront of my mind. Traditions such as these give thanks for the presence of life, they work at not letting the world humans have created get them down, and they treat each creature with kindness, recognising that we all share the same fate.
How does this help me with my scary-arsed panic attacks? There is a magic in this world and when I am able to see and hear it, I do not suffer. And I suppose in truth this is where work, as I have previously discussed it, plays it’s part. When I am constantly busy with no time to sit quietly, to observe the world and connect with it, then I do struggle. When I neglect my spirituality then I do suffer. When I fail to spend time around the people who matter most then I do struggle. It makes sense that these are the places I must look to reduce the impact of this shadow that has shared my journey thus far. If Tibetan monks can be so sure they won’t see tomorrow and yet be happy, I am sure it can be overcome.
I need to ensure I have a strong spiritual connection. Surely there are methods beyond measure to achieve this. For a person who believes in something greater, but not the man-made doctrines that make so many cultures spin, I will begin in nature and in being present. I am reading a book (because that’s how I roll) on shamanism to help me be present in this moment. I want to always be able to feel connected with the energies of nature and to know where my own are going. I have started a garden in my new house because having natural colour and birds around is important to me. I’m going to light more candles, burn more incense, go for nature hikes. I am going to lay on the beach facing the sky and let the heat of the sun light up every cell in my body, starting with the ones behind my eyelids that glow red when my face is directed at the sun.
To further connect with my spirit I am going to make more time to spend quality moments with my loved ones. It is the connections that we make, the ways we love, contribute and connect that make us who we are. Our loved ones are our community, they are the people we were born to, choose to spend time with, met in a fleeting moment and recognised from another place we can’t put words to. The people with whom we feel that everything makes sense. They are our training ground, our play yard, our reward for all that we express in the world. Knowing them, being connected to them, contributing to their lives and opening our lives to them makes everyhing worthwhile.
I am going to be grateful every day for the small and great things in my life. I am going to look for ways that I can be helpful. I am going to hold compassion as my first attitude whether it be for another human being or other creature because we are all the same. I am going to hold myself lightly and respond to the demands of life with curiosity before stress and anxiety. We each have the right to live well, to be ourselves, to not be persecuted nor persecute ourselves. We live, we die, we can’t take our gadgets or our wealth with us. We can leave a loving legacy. I am going to live each day as if it was my last chance to contribute something good, be that a smile to a sad passerby, an extra warm hug for a loved one, or taking a risk to make a big difference.
My journey right now is to make peace with death and the inevitability of dying so that I can truly live. Freely. Fully. With my whole being engaged in the cycle of death feeding life and life feeding death. I do not expect this to be a smooth or easy task, but it is a worthwihle one. I expect that each time a bubble of panic rises to close my throat it will be less intense and more brief than the last one. It is time to embrace the little deaths of change and be at peace with the greater. I will make the angel of death my friend and advisor so as to not waste a single moment.
“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” ~John Muir