Death? No worries

Afterlife As a child Death terrified me.

When I was six years old the kind old lady next door who used to give me sweets died. I asked my father what had happened to her. Reluctantly he mumbled that she had gone and wouldn’t be coming back (Dad was never very good at the metaphysical stuff).

‘Well, where is she now?”, I asked.

‘Up there’ he said, his finger pointing to the ceiling.

Even at six-and-a-half years old I was smart enough to realise that living in the clouds wasn’t an obvious life-choice. So I persisted with the interrogation.

‘Does everyone die, Daddy?’.

‘Yes – everyone. Everyone.’ He looked embarrassed, as he always did when he couldn’t give complete explanations. For me the fact that he didn’t KNOW the answer scared me a lot – it was my first realisation that adults were as clueless about the Universe as I was.

From then, for quite a few years, I thought about it a lot. How could people just vanish? It seemed ridiculous. I would walk home from school and look at all the grave-stones in the cemetery. Here someone’s ‘dearly beloved’ had expired in 1887. Over there a ‘wonderful father’ had ‘gone to join Jesus’ in 1956, the year I was born. Another grave, surmounted by a huge, sorrowing angel, announced that the loved one was awaiting the ‘last trumpet’.

Once they had lived and breathed and walked as I was doing now. But – now – nothing. Later on, in my teens, I found my thoughts echoed by the poet, Philip Larkin:

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.

Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.

In time the curtain edges will grow light.

Till then I see what’s really always there:

Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,

Making all thought impossible but how

And where and when I shall myself die.

Arid interrogation: yet the dread

Of dying, and being dead,

Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. 

Not in remorse 
- The good not used, the love not given, time


Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb


Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:


But at the total emptiness forever,
 The sure extinction that we travel to


And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
 Not to be anywhere,


And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Yet the dread of death is entirely created by the Ego. It’s real worry is that this unique, ‘special’, person that I am will cease to be. That it is frightening to think that this world existed for eternity before I was born and will continue to exist for an eternity without me (let us leave aside the after-life for, as the Buddha once told us, we can know nothing about it. And, in any case, even Souls will be extinguished eventually, as the Hindus teach).

The solution: the way to let go of this dread of Death is to recognise that:

a) it is a hallucination created in Headmind

b) and that Present Moment Awareness dissolves it

The hallucination is easy to explain if you have been following my previous posts on how Headmind works. In this case Headmind (Larkin’s included) is making up a story-line which goes something like this:

I – this special person I am, is indispensable – I must not die – But I will die – Then there is Nothing.

At this point Headmind will typically come up with nightmarish images of this ‘Nothing’ in future time – darkness; a void; an emptiness; pictures of infinite space, etc. This image, because it does not include the self, seems to wipe everything out, to make existence meaningless. And because Headmind imagines that our Ego is the most important thing in the Universe it whispers to us: ‘Nothing more terrible, nothing more true…”

Tolstoy, in his melodramatic short story, The Death Of Ivan Ilyich, gives a good description of this kind of thinking. Essentially, Ivan Ilyich, tortures himself about his impending death by continually worrying about the mistakes he has made in the past, and that he cannot control what is about to happen to him. But – at the point of death – he learns to let go of the delusion:

“At that very moment Ivan Ilych fell through and caught sight of the light, and it was revealed to him that though his life had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, “What *is* the right thing?” and grew still, listening. Then he felt that someone was kissing his hand. He opened his eyes, looked at his son, and felt sorry for him. His wife camp up to him and he glanced at her. She was gazing at him open-mouthed, with undried tears on her nose and cheek and a despairing look on her face. He felt sorry for her too.

“Yes, I am making them wretched,” he thought. “They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die.” He wished to say this but had not the strength to utter it. “Besides, why speak? I must act,” he thought. with a look at his wife he indicated his son and said: “Take him away…sorry for him…sorry for you too….” He tried to add, “Forgive me,” but said “Forego” and waved his hand, knowing that He whose understanding mattered would understand.

And suddenly it grew clear to him that what had been oppressing him and would not leave his was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides. He was sorry for them, he must act so as not to hurt them: release them and free himself from these sufferings. “How good and how simple!” he thought. “And the pain?” he asked himself. “What has become of it? Where are you, pain?”

He turned his attention to it.

“Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain be.”

“And death…where is it?”

He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. “Where is it? What death?” There was no fear because there was no death.

In place of death there was light.

“So that’s what it is!” he suddenly exclaimed aloud. “What joy!”

In the story Ivan Ilyich finds comfort from one of his servants, the peasant Geryasim, a ‘simple soul’, who radiates calm, compassion, and an ability to live in the moment. Which brings us to the second solution.

Present Moment Awareness is the aim of meditation, as well as Reverse Therapy. When you are in this state of Awareness you cannot, by definition, be frightened of death – even if you have a dangerous illness. Living in the moment means you are not living in Headmind. Which, in turn, means, you are living in the only reality that exists. When we are truly alive – right now – nothing disturbs us. We are at peace. And, in such experiences we know – through Bodymind – that something very powerful works in, and for, and through, us. And that something never dies.

Only Headmind, and the Ego, dies.

‘Nothing burns in hell except self-will.’

Theologia Germanica


More on the Enneagram

People

Some of you may have taken one of the two Enneagram Personality tests I recommended in my last article. If you did then it is important to remind you of the following principle:

Whichever of the Nine Enneagram ‘personalities’ you think you have (or scored highest for) you should fight as hard as you can not to be that particular way. In short, you should lose that ossified way of being.

For example, until recently I scored high for the Number 8. Here is a description of the Eight by The Enneagram Institute:

Eights are self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive, but can also be ego-centric and domineering. Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. Eights typically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

In order to avoid the fate of becoming fixated on strength (and thereby making myself obsessional about it) I had to let go of the banana about having to ‘be in control’. In point of fact I never particularly wanted to be in control of anything until I became a well-known therapist. After that point my Headmind decided that it had something to prove to people who did therapy or training with me, and then the banana about having to be ‘strong’ started to work on me. Before that particular delusion took over I usually scored high on the Number 5 personality. Here is a description of that one from the same source:

Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation.

I would guess that I was a ‘Five’ all the way from my teenage years until about 10 years ago, when I learnt to see through that false ego. What drove it was my emerging experience of being typed as ‘deaf and therefore ‘stupid’ and ‘inadequate’. That was why I went for one banana about having to be a know-all and another one about having to live in an ivory tower. Neither obsession did me any good.

Here are the fixations that go with each of the nine types.

The One: Has to be in the right. Must never be in the wrong. The Perfectionist.

The Two: Has to look after others. Must never be rejected. The Martyr.

The Three. Has to be a success. Must never be second-best. The Workaholic.

The Four. Has to be admired. Must never be ignored. The Show-off.

The Five. Has to know everything. Must never be caught out. The Loner.

The Six. Has to belong. Must never stand out from the crowd. The Conformist.

The Seven. Has to be happy. Must not be sad. The Addict.

The Eight. Has to be in Control. Must not be weak. The Bully.

The Nine. Has to be inside the Comfort Zone. Must not get stressed. The Slob.

Enneagram

Harmonious This is the first in the series of articles about the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a method through which you can understand human personality. There are 9 personality types, which I will describe in later articles.

I have written about Personality – and also about the Ego – before. In the system of Reverse Therapy, your personality/ego is a creation of Headmind, which bears no relation to who you actually are.

A common problem with  Enneagram books is that they try to label people as belonging to a certain ‘type’. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that knowing someone’s Enneagram type will tell you is how far they have got stuck in Headmind.

You are far more than your personality. Somewhere, deep down, you possess a Personal Genius which holds  the personality you give out to others in contempt, and which seeks to break free of it. Personal Genius, if anything can be, is your real self. But you have no control over it for that was given to you at birth.

Your Enneagram personality, by contrast, is something you need to work on in order to abolish it. Your personality is not you; rather it is your Prison.

The ideal, the goal, is to become ego-less and to cease to possess a personality.

Only then can you become that which you are truly are. Gurdjieff, the originator of the Enneagram taught precisely this.

Before you read the second article in this series you might want to take the Enneagram test and here are two:

Eclectic Energies (This is a free test which is reasonably accurate).

The Riso Hudson test (The Riso-Hudson test is the most thorough test currently available. It costs $10.00).

Downsizing the ego

Selfless_top
In my last post How the Ego Works I described the Ego as an internal watchman that has been installed in you by the people you grew up with.

So long as you live in society you can’t live without the watchman because it is through her that you navigate your way around the social order. And even if you left for a monastery you would still need an ego to find your way around the rules in there.

At the same time we should be wary of gurus who claim to be living beyond the ego. That is impossible. But we can work towards ego reduction. if we do that we are likely to be less phoney, less frustrated and less conceited.

The list that follows isn’t comprehensive but if you are sincere about personal development then practicing all of them will take you a long way.

Don’t take things personally

The ego is, by definition, paranoid. It relates everything that happens around you back to the self. As if you are the centre of the universe and more important than you in fact are.

In the same way, the unkind remarks others make about you have very little to with you at all. It has much more to do with their own ego: their delusions, frustrations and self-importance. Don’t be fooled.

Don’t gossip

This means refraining from talking about your own misfortunes and trivial concerns and not criticizing others’ behind their backs. Above all, don’t name-drop or brag about your wealth, possessions, sexual conquests and achievements. It’s not only egocentric but makes you look ridiculous.

Don’t use religion as an ego-booster

Thinking that you are nearer to God than other people – or that you are doing God’s will – is the most insidious form of egoism there is. It also makes you just part of the guru pest I have written about elsewhere. It’s a sad fact that many religious (though not all) are some of the most unkind, judgmental, and inhuman people on the planet.

Don’t hide behind false modesty.

This is a subtle one because it makes it easy for us to camouflage the ego. ‘English irony’, in which someone claims to be simpler than they are usually hides a very opinionated person. In the same way, a dependent person who says they are ‘useless’ at something is usually after more attention, not less.

Unegoistic people are, as a rule, very matter of fact about their strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t identify with group-egoism.

This is another insidious ploy used by the ego to give itself a false sense of superiority. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your family, the neighbourhood you grew up in, your nation or the cause you stand for. But things get nasty when you join in group attacks on outsiders.

Don’t dress, or put on an act, to impress others

Somehow, we always seem to know when we are working from ego. There is a fine line between dressing smartly and dressing to impress – and we always know when we have crossed it. The same applies to being nice to others – and flirting with them.

Do things for their own reward

If nobody knew you were giving to charity, would you still do it? The answer for most of us is – probably – yes. The same criterion should apply to every thing else you do. The things you do to make money, or praise, or to acquire status, all of these feed the ego.

Doing things purely because you achieve fulfilment through them, or because they satisfy the personal genius in you, reduce the ego.

How the ego works

Ego

Your ego is a false idea about what and who you are. It is an idea you took over from other people.

Babies don’t have egos. But they start to get one as soon as they realise they have a name. As soon as you have a name you develop the delusion that you have an identity separate from other people. But, in reality, your sense of who you are is defined by your relationships with those same people – ‘son’, ‘daughter’, ‘pupil’, ‘friend’, victim’, etc. Your ego is like a distorting mirror held up to you by the people around you. And when you start to ‘see’ yourself as others see you, you start trying to live up to the expectations that those others have formed about you.

For example, your parents and teachers speak about you as ‘the shy one’, ‘the noisy one’, ‘the brainy one’, ‘the stupid one’, ‘the sporty one’. After persistent indoctrination you start to identify yourself by these concepts.

If the ego that was handed to you was all about having to be a high-achiever then your ego will condemn you to a life of failure because, no matter how clever, successful and hard-working you are, you will never match the ideal you have been set.

If your ego is based on the idea that you are stupid, ugly, or worthless then you are also condemned to a life of failure. Simply because each time you identify with your ego you will act according to expectations.

The Ego is based on frustration. No matter how hard you try, you will never live up to the engrained demands which it carries.

What is worse, the Ego will repress, dismiss or delete your your emotions, your basic needs and your personal genius in the misguided pursuit of ego-strokes – flattery, approval, status, power, or lurve.

Identifying with the Ego creates anxiety and dis-ease – the pre-symptomatic state in which Headmind splits from Bodymind and you are no longer living in your body, in the moment, acting spontaneously as your experience dictates. You become alienated from yourself, from others, and from life itself.

But there is a solution. Next up, I will be writing about how to discard your ego.

Wherever I climb, I am followed by a dog named ‘Ego‘.

Nietzsche