Thursday, March 06, 2014

The shortness of life

Why do we forget about death? Forgetting is an important human function. We could be plagued by existential crisis at an early age, without the resources to combat the crisis. Forgetting trauma is only temporary, it bubbles up later when we are strong enough to address it, process it, metabolize it better. The defenses are truly wonderful things even if we rail against our limitations.

We shall die soon, but we wish to face it when it's more obvious. You can read Crap! I've Got Cancer. The author of How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter, New Edition just died. You can read his obituary.

You can read the obit section of the Times every day, and somehow it doesn't sink in. The death clock tells me I will die on February 25th 2041, but that's just an estimate based on whether I smoke and what my BMI is. Optimistically I could live to 2065. Pessimistically I could live 6 more years. All of these things are estimates. It is unknown when we die.

As you get older, you know more and more people in the obit section. Long life is also interesting. One of the comments in one of my classes wasn't that death was so bad, it was the trajectory into death that was the hard part. It was in Montaigne's essays that I read about how death is actually a release from suffering at the end, and not be feared.

I began thinking about death when I read The Denial of Death. The professor who assigned me the book is surely dead by now. I remember the book blowing my mind. I'm kind of afraid to read it again. In a way it helped me on my journey into deep psychology.

In social work school I took a class on death, dying and mourning. I read Intoxicated by My Illness and Other Writings on Life and Death, and had to write a paper on a movie. I think I wrote my paper on Antonia's Line (1995) (Import All Region). I say I think because I lent it to someone and never got it back.

One of the themes of Buddhism, is that life is impermanent. Life is short. One of the reflections used in Buddhism is to reflect on the shortness of life, to try and goose out your real priorities, and drop some of the superficial stuff.

My most frequented blog posts are entitled How Can I Die? I read an article about how you can increase your blog traffic and it actually works. I wrote a blog post that ended with the suicide hotline number. At times we feel overwhelmed with negativity, but rarely are things so hopeless that suicide is warranted just based on those feelings, so people should seek help. I believe a law against suicide is stupid, and I do feel people own their own lives, and they can rationally choose suicide, like at the very end of a well known terminal illness progression. But often in depression we feel was a in a bad place and that it will never improve. That is usually untrue.

I read a science fiction book about a future where people's consciousness is backed up and if they die, you can just download the consciousness. No wait, the book was a future that promised medicine had advanced to such a point that people just didn't die any more. And at the end, it had a bit about how you could freeze your body or freeze your head. (I think that's why Futurama has all those heads in jars. I love that show.) Reflecting on the idea of living forever, you realize that the shortness of life is what gives it such meaning, and yet the subjective experience of life can be that it goes on and on forever. I certainly feel that way sometimes.

We don't live through our children, but we do live on in people's consciousness, for a short while anyway. I still think about all the dead people in my life, and all the dead relationships. People are with us as kind of psychological ghosts. We think about people in history as well. What would the Buddha do?

I'm agnostic about the afterlife, rebirth, because while it doesn't make sense to me, I think there are strong cultural factors that make it dismissed, like science. One friend said, "it's hard to imagine all this energy goes to nothing." I don't really have a hard time seeing that.

As I say we live on in the tendrils of consequences and other's consciousness. I think while our consciousness is unique because no two circumstances are similar, I think personalities are fairly similar, and it's possible that reincarnation is just seeing lines of karma in personalities; I can imagine what it was like to be this person in those circumstances. I think when you understand conditionality in a truly deep way,  all sorts of interesting things are seen, that are not part of normal consciousness.

Reflections on death are important and good, but I also think preoccupation with death, from a depressive standpoint, is a warning sign and needs to be addressed.

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