We as human beings are profoundly disoriented with respect to death. We burn and bury our corpses. But if you take a closer look at the different ways humans dispose their bodies, a common pattern tends to emerge.
We try to eat up everything, but want to give back nothing.
So, whether it’s people incinerating the dead bodies of their loved ones directly, or it’s morticians in the business of making corpses unpalatable to worms, we try to eat up everything and want to give back nothing. Now, I’m not criticizing any culture or death ritual in particular, but what if death isn’t as nasty as it first seems?
So, let me begin on this by asking a really simple question. I ask you to imagine a situation in which death comes off as a welcome release. And you can probably think of one or two. Now, Alan Watts illustrates this with a really beautiful example. So, let me just quote him.
“On a bright morning, after a good night’s rest, we do not want to go to sleep. But after a hard day’s work, the sensation of dropping into unconsciousness is extraordinarily pleasant.”
See, here’s the thing.
1.We don’t long for permanence, but fulfillment.
And more specifically, fulfillment in the present. How long would you like to live if you could live as long as you wanted?
It would be a lot of fun initially, but I would probably get bored after the first , years or so, even with all the vastness, bountifulness, and abundance of sights, sounds, and sensations the natural world and technology have to offer.
See, and quoting Alan Watts again,
“Even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”
And to test this assumption, all you have to do is ask yourself the question I put forth a while ago. Imagine a scenario where death is a welcome outcome. And you’ll realize that staying connected to the present, being fulfilled in this moment, is all you ever really care about. And not the guarantee of an everlasting future.
And this is true of even the most profound experiences a human being has in life. And this leads me to the next secret of death.
2. That the problem isn’t death itself, but our consciousness of it.
See, you can’t have an experience of ‘nothing’. So, here’s what you do.
“Imagine what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Then, try to imagine what it would be like to wake up after having never gone to sleep. And you realize that that was when you were born.”
So, if you aren’t to be born in the first place, you wouldn’t know life. So, in this way, death has to be there if there has to be life. In fact, without death you wouldn’t know life, just as without black you wouldn’t know white.
But our frustration with death continues because we mistake ‘nothing’ for something. We tacitly assume that we can have an experience of ‘nothing’. But we fail to realize that we can only have the experience of something- which is life- assuming death equals the experience of nothingness. And this leads me to the third important secret of death.
3. Death is the source of life.
“Life and death are not two opposed forces. They are simply two ways of looking at the same force, for the movement of change is as much the builder as the destroyer.”
See, old leaves are shed to make space for new ones. We all know very well that death makes space for new and fresh life by clearing the old one. But death is important in yet another sense. And for which it is helpful to draw the music analogy.
The silence between the notes and chords is just as integral to the music as the notes and chords themselves.
Imagine what it would be like to prolong a note or chord indefinitely. How about even slightly, than usual? In order to shorten the period of silence.
That would kill the music. And so too with life. Life and death are related just as the music and the silence between its notes.
4. And lastly, death is an irreplaceable teacher.
And other than its being the greatest reminder of the value of time, here’s what I mean by that.
“Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that “I” cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed. When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life. By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting it go, he finds it.”