Why Are We So Scared Of Dying?
Maybe the biggest reason for this fear is that death is the one thing that threatens everything we hold on to as proof of our existence. We believe in a personal, unique and independent identity, but if we examine this closely we realize that our very existence depends on a few fragile things.
Our name (imputation), our bodies (matter), our biographies (memories) and our relationships (someone else acknowledging that we actually exist).
This propped up reality is pretty convincing until death comes along and shatters our sand castle.
No wonder we have gotten so good at distracting ourselves from the fact of death. We cannot fathom that one day we will simply stop existing regardless of how many anti-aging creams we buy, how often we chug down antioxidants, or how rich and famous we get. Death has become the number one taboo subject in our society. Our deaths in this day and age, are the loneliest days of our lives. We have to pretend like it isn’t happening for the sake of our families and loved ones who have been taught to deny death until we draw our very last breath.
The fact is, death is a mystery except for one thing, it is absolutely certain that we will die.
The Best Antidote For Our Allergy To Death Is To Become Intimately Familiar With It.
If our deepest desire is to go on living forever, why not at least consider the possibility that death may not be the end?
Couldn’t this be the cure to our collective denial, and lead to a society that is better equipped to treat death with compassion instead of fear?
The Tibetan word for body is lü, ‘something you leave behind’.
This is a reminder that everything we traditionally hold on to for a sense of existence is impermanent. Someday your body will decay, your name will be forgotten and your house will be swallowed by vines. Reflecting on the impermanence of life, the Buddha once said the following:
“This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movement of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain”.
Our fear of death comes from our attachment to impermanent things and our aversion to change. Accepting impermanence as a fact of life is the one thing that can help us prepare for death. For a new moment to be born, for the dawning of a new day and for each new breath, an old one has to die.
The minute by minute changes in our lives are our living links to death. Death is life’s pulse and heartbeat, urging us to let go of everything we cling to.
If Everything We Grasp Will Inevitably Slip Away, Does Anything At All Survive Death?
The Tibetan book of the Dead makes the distinction between two states of mind, the ‘ordinary mind’ and the ‘unending natural mind’. Our ‘ordinary mind’, has to go on seeking ways to validate its own independent existence. It grasps on to our name, body and relationships to confirm our sense of self.
The ‘unending natural mind’ is your flawless, present awareness. It has no need to validate its existence with external objects, it simply IS. When Buddhists speak of enlightenment they are simply referring to this: abiding in our natural mind, perceiving change as it unfolds without grasping or rejecting anything.
Mind The Gap.
In Buddhism, life and death are seen as a whole, where death is the beginning of another chapter of life. The Tibetan book of the dead presents this whole series of transitional states (dreaming and waking up, childhood and adulthood, the moment when one thought ends and another begins).
The space between these transitional states, the gaps, are unique opportunities to recognize our true nature: the unending natural mind. The greatest of these opportunities to awaken is the space between life and death.
What happens at the moment of death, is that our ordinary mind dies and in the gap, the boundless sky-like nature of the mind is revealed. (Sogyal Rinpoche)
Here Are Some Ways To Encourage Our Loved Ones To See Death For What It Is: A Very Special Gap.
Recognize the fact of death. There is nothing lonelier than being unable to speak about your own death, the single crowning moment of your life.
Let go to help them let go. It’s okay to cry, it shows that you value the person you are saying goodbye to. But do not ask them to stay, it only makes the process of detaching from their bodies more painful and frightening.
Encourage them to seize the moment. The gap between life and death is an opportunity to awaken to pure consciousness. Invite them to recognize that although their ‘ordinary mind’ is dissolving, their true nature is shining through stronger than ever. Rather than denying it, they should be encouraged to embrace it and relax in the process.
“Let us deprive death of its strangeness. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” (Michel de Montaigne)