The topic is strange, isn’t it? I would not be surprised if you found it scary or unusual. What possible benefit could result from dying? The idea would make many wonder about my sanity. Is he okay? Is he depressed? Is this an omen? Oh God, is he about to die? Hate to break it to you but we are all going to die. Some “crazy” person has said that life is a sexually transmitted infection that ends in death. Isn’t life itself the process of dying?
Do you want to die? Your answer would most likely be a resounding NO. Perhaps you are thinking that you don’t have a problem with dying, but you just don’t want to die yet. Still sounds like a no to me. Would you want to live forever? Some would say no, but that is just because they cringe at the idea of eternal senility with all the discomforts, limitations and dependency it brings. If you could be young and healthy forever, would you want to die? Think about that, but I have come to tell you about the benefits of death.
Culture and its conditioning are very powerful. It is really difficult to sieve out ideas which are uniquely YOU from those you happened to pick up from society. Yes, our survival instinct has biological origins, but the fear of death in man is not unrelated to his superior cognitive ability compared to other animals. The blessing and curse of our species is imagination. Soaring on its wings, we can conceive of distant futures we will never see; perhaps visit them in our minds, just like our own ancestors pondered about our time. Above all, we are able to conceive of eternal life, and this is where our “problem” begins.
Man lifts his eyes, from his exalted position on the evolutionary tree, which is also perhaps the nadir of the possibilities of consciousness, and beholds the eternal. He is like a child who looks up at the cookie jar on the high shelf knowing he cannot reach it, knowing he will never reach it. But in his mind at least, has he not touched it? It is this half-attainment; the ability to conceive of something beautiful and NOT reach it, that is the root of every emotional pain in man. Can you miss what you cannot mentally conceive? It is in this sense that is ignorance bliss. Being able to conceive of infinite continuity viz a viz the reality of tomorrows that he will never see, inspires in him a feeling of loss, fear and dread. Worse still is the thought that he knows absolutely nothing about the “after”, if there is an after. It is not surprising that he wonders thus, because thinking in terms of “before, now and after” is the only way he knows to comprehend his experience of the world. The possibility of NO AFTER therefore becomes very scary.
We are born into societies that fear death and we quite naturally think the same. Death to man is the ultimate evil. Why should it not be? When it takes away from us that which is most precious – the deliciousness of life, consciousness and experience. But you see, just as life appeared in the universe as a result of a series of causal events, so also does death. I read about a woman blind from birth, who had not the slightest conception of what darkness or light was. How could she, having never experienced light? Does the joy of living not spring forth from the knowledge and the fear of dying? Life as well as death, is an integral part of the universe as it is. Everything is born and everything dies. And that is how the cookie crumbles.
The death of a human being is an opportunity for the forward evolution of society’s mind. The chalkboard has to be erased to be written on again. Imagine if the most ancient of our species were still alive, with all their ideas which now appear to us crude and backward. Remember also how difficult it is to purge a human being of an idea, especially one that is fervently held. In our world, we have people who value ideas more than human life, even their own; so much that they are willing to kill and die for what they believe in. Think about how slow our cognitive and cultural evolution would be if such men did not grow old and die. Observe how it is the young of society that are rebellious; how it is they that question traditions and by so doing incur the wrath of the elders. Sometimes fresh minds are more objective when viewing scenarios that are riddled with bias. So nature gives birth to new eyes and then compensation must happen.
Imagine if nothing ever died! Earth simply does not have the capacity to sustain life in such proportions. Over-population itself leads to death and increases death rates via various routes. Life is neatly and necessarily counter-balanced by death. Perhaps the earth itself does not want to die, therefore it creates this equilibrium between up and down, giving and taking, living and dying. You live only because so many died before you. Their dying made space for you; they died so you could live. They literally gave their lives for you.
The possibility of death turns life into a race against time. It makes you think: Whatever I want to do, I should do it fully and quickly. Perhaps it gives some speed to the process; perhaps it induces in us a sense of urgency. Of course this may not be always a good thing. It could possibly inspire a sense of hopelessness in some. But at least, it does make you more aware of life itself. Its brevity could induce in man philosophical enquiry concerning the nature of life and being; something his brain just happens to be capable of. And so you are forced to ask: Who am I in all of this vastness of existence and endless possibility? Lest we generalise, death possibly does not induce these thoughts in everyone. But whenever it does, it would have acted as a catalyst forcing man on a mental journey that thrives on possibilities of his cognitive capacity.
The threat of death, looming on the human timeline, does induce interesting reactions from man, perhaps making behaviours which otherwise would only exist in the realms of possibility prevalent. Perhaps it is in this mix of thoughts, words and deeds that are as intense as they are extreme, that we find our species in its highest and lowest points. Think about murder. Is it not the idea that death is the ultimate evil that lies beneath the act? We think that the worst way to harm someone is to kill them! Governments and nations buy into this idea officially by the practice of the death penalty, which they also happed to call CAPITAL punishment. Is death really the worst thing that can happen to a unit of consciousness? The answer is obviously, YES, as far as we know. AS FAR AS WE KNOW. Now you can see clearly the power of THAT which we know and by extension, THAT which we don’t know.
As far as we know, death is a certainty. Humans however live their lives as if death does not exist. Perhaps this is a good thing. The idea of death is the ultimate scare to us. Continuous remembrance of it may prevent us from living; thinking about it always may sink us into despair. Living therefore as if we will not die may not be a bad thing. But you see, the mind only represses that which it fears. What if we were not so afraid of death? Our bodies have made peace with death because they die when they should. Our minds however refuse to yield to the rhythm of nature.
There is only one thing to do about death; make your peace with it. By all means, try to preserve your life as long as you can and as much as you can. But know that one day, all efforts will fail. On that day, you will be initiated into the great mystery which took all those that came before you and will take all those that will come after.
Remembering your mortality is an advantage to you. Live each day as if it were you last, they say. All the things you want to achieve with your life are important, and only because you think they are. But this is good enough. Moments are the currency of life and they are limited in supply. Remember this always and maybe, just maybe, you will spend what you have wisely.
Written by Manny