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In my first post on this series, “We Are All Going to Die, So Let’s Learn About It” I shared some of my early experiences with death, the fear I developed of death, along with the journey I started later in my life to learn more about death. In Part 2, I elaborated on these experiences and how they reshaped my understanding and view of death. Part 3 shared highlights of my time with Tom Sawyer, a near-death experiencer, which confirmed these new beliefs that there was indeed something to death. In this segment, we will consider the advantages of coming to grips with death as a part of life in contrast to the disadvantages of not. Let’s begin with an introduction to this topic from Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist who is known for his studies of epilepsy and end-of-life phenomena.
Peter began his TED talk as follows, showing this picture of the grim reaper. “All of you are going to die. Most of you are afraid. Why are you afraid? Because you don’t know what is going to happen.” He went on to talk about what we know about dying. It was when he met a client who had a NDE, that began to transform his thinking, and now that he has grappled with this topic and come to a deeper understanding, he now helps others to get there.
Okay, so here is the topic of death that many do not want to deal with, talk about, or learn about. Our fear creates this block supported by the fact that even when we are forced to deal with it, which we will experience, we run to get back to our normal life, whatever that may be, and focus on living.
I have no argument with the latter part, since our focus should be on what we do know for sure, that we have a life experience and at least at this point, that we woke up this morning to continue on this journey. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Les Brown, who states, “everyday I wake up without a chalk line around my body is a good day.” When I share this with others, people often tell me that this is a morbid way to look at life. I say, it is actually the opposite. It is the reminder that I am fortunate to have this day and to make the most of it. They shake their head as if the reply I made was as ridiculous.
What I have come to learn myself, is that by confronting the topic of death, and coming to grips with what it is, and not just based on what you were told to believe, is a life-changing experience. By this I mean, that once we accept our mortality, which can happen at any time, and have a firm belief that there is something to death and not just a blank void, we can put our focus more fully on living our life in a more meaningful and purposeful manner.
But I believe that it goes way beyond this! Before expanding on this let us first consider what the impact may be to human beings who avoid the topic of death? Let’s begin with a comment from Psychology Today.
Death can be terrifying. Recognizing that death is inescapable and unpredictable makes us incredibly vulnerable. This disrupts our instinct to remain a living, breathing organism. So what do we do? We try to manage this terror. Generally, when reminded of our mortality, when the potential to experience existential anxiety is heightened, we are extremely defensive. Like little kids who nearly suffocate under blanket protection to fend off the monster in the closet, the first thing we try to do is purge any death-related thoughts or feelings from our mind. We try to think about something else, stuff our face with Cheez Doodles, anything to gain some composure.Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/curious/201102/confronting-death-open-mindful-attitude
Despite efforts to avoid the topic of death and to distract ourselves from the fear and terror we feel within when we experience death around us, a monster lies largely dormant in our subconscious. Any reference or experience related to death causes our immune system to put up a guard so that we do not have to think about this. But can we bury our fears and thoughts in our subconscious without any impact? In my case buried deep within my subconscious was not only the fear of death, but all of the other unhealthy beliefs I formed during my childhood. Did this have an effect on my life? You bet it did. And as I learned while in counseling, it is what lies deep within our subconscious that forms our beliefs, values, and attitude, which is what drives our behaviors and ultimately the consequences we experience in our life. Fear was driving my life, even though I could not see it at first. I was conscious of the pain and suffering that I believed was normal and deserved. By retaining the victim mentality I could avoid having to deal with my own issues since it was easier to blame others.
So what is the impact specific to a fear of death? Are people more prone to negativity, crime, judgement, ego, materialism, unhappiness, anger, stress, and/or anxiety? Let me first address this by asking this in a different way. Those who have near death experiences, spiritual awakening or enlightenment in one way or another, what are they more prone to? Let me first answer this from my own experience. Prior to my gradual spiritual awakening, my life was a collection of all of the negative characteristics I mentioned above. I mentioned in a prior podcast that my Mom died when I was 16. I grew hateful of any concept of God, because what kind of tormented being would bring so much pain to my life. I was an angry person which would come out as my temperament at times, but mostly remain suppressed which became depression. My brother had the same response that led to his eventual suicide. There was no reason or motivation to turn my life around. Death instead represented the escape from my pain and suffering.
As I grew in awareness and a greater understanding of life and death, which is what I refer to as enlightenment, I began to experience true happiness and joy for the first time in my life. My own conclusions of death is that it is a transition back home, to a most wonderful place filled with the ultimate feeling of unconditional love. This drove me to ponder then why would our existence here be so filled with negativity and fear for so much of humanity. The accounts from near-death experiences, gurus, teachers helped me to hear others views on this. But it was mostly my own time in reflection, writing and contemplation that my own ah-ha was born. In effect, we are here to grow, along with every other aspect of our physical existence here on Earth. I will speak more about this in a future podcast.
Along with my enlightenment, grew the desire to help and inspire others to make their own journey beginning with personal growth, then self-discovery, and ultimately enlightenment. I could now see my depression, fear and anger as a vestige of my ego and with this gift of awareness, I no longer wanted to hurt anyone, but instead to help others. This is the transition I see with so many others that has come to grips with death, which is one of the key elements of becoming enlightened. The last paragraph in my book on Personal Growth and Self-Discovery characterized this as follows:
The benefit of personal growth and self-discovery is that we become better human beings with the strength to endure and carry on, and then we may experience something magical when we begin to reach out to other’s. We discover a feeling that is so rewarding and fulfilling: that fact that we can make a difference. Here is to your willingness to begin with making a difference with yourself.Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth and Self-Discovery
There are growing levels of conversation about death and dying. This comment from the BBC, I found quite interesting and exciting…
If death is the final taboo, it might not be for much longer. There has, in recent years, been increasing effort to promote conversations about death and dying, both in the home and in more public settings. For example, death cafes, first launched in Switzerland in 2004, have spread around the world, enabling people to speak about their fears over cake and coffee.Why contemplating death changes how you think, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20160208-why-contemplating-death-changes-how-you-think
I recall a key turning point in my life when I really wanted to make a change in my life. I had come to realize my fear of death and how this had paralyzed me. The idea of jumping out of a fully functioning airplane intrigued me, but scared the hell out of me. One morning, I got up and told everyone I was off to skydive.
During the training session they explained that this was a dangerous activity and that people have died doing this. I was paralyzed in my seat, wanting to run out of the room. No one would know I thought. But then I remembered my purpose here was to overcome this fear by confronting it. I put on one heck of a façade during the classes and while on the plane. I am so glad that I went to the bathroom just prior to the flight since I know that I would have had an accident. So many thoughts of what could go wrong were in my head. I felt this paralyzing fear.
We had to stand up and ready ourselves for the jump. My instructor was great and reminded me of the steps to take. We came to the open door and I will never forget taking that step out of the plane. I let go, which was the most amazing and freeing feeling in the world! I was no longer in control. Being in control, or now as I understand it as the “illusion of being in control” was how I had lived so much of my life, to try and control things around me to keep me protected from my primal fears.
Upon letting go I was free to see the world around me from a whole new perspective. It was so quiet while descending. I began to relax into this experience which became spiritual in nature. I had learned how to let go. It took some time to assimilate this experience and relieve my fear of death. This combined with the many other experiences I had learning and experiencing death, would over time eliminate 95% of this fear. The remaining 5% serves as a reminder to me that I can either trust my new beliefs or not, along with reminding me of the value of living life while I had it.
The best way I can characterize my views of death is that I know that if I was confronted with my immanent death, that I would let go, feeling comfortable and confident that death is only a transition back home. I do not want to die, realizing that I want to continue to grow and serve my purpose, but that I will die and that this will be okay. This is what now lies deep in my subconscious and is what helps me to get the most out of every day!
Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth, Self-Discovery and Enlightenment. Visit my website for more information (growhumanpotential.com).