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


How to regain control over your mind

Dayen Here is a fascinating article sent to me by the Guru of Creative Thinking Mark McGuinness.

Here is that article. You might wish to read it first before you read the rest of my comments.

That misery called meditation – What seven days of silence did to my head

It’s about a journalist who goes on a 7-day Buddhist silent meditation retreat which does his head in. After just one day he thought he was going insane. Symptoms: intense boredom, aching, agitation, restlessness, escapism. All the signs, in fact, of a Headmind that was about to explode with frustration.

Interestingly, his Headmind adopted a very familiar tactic in such situations: which was to chatter about what other people on the retreat might be doing: making up fantasies about who was sleeping with who on the retreat. Everything you would expect, in fact, from a Headmind which would do anything at all to escape from living in the now.

But after the fourth day Bodymind takes over once more and he ends up in a much better place.

Reminds me a lot of the Teachings of Gurdjieff, on which I have written before in this blog. That, in turn, advocated that we human beings need to do a lot of work on escaping our enslavement to Headmind. But that can be difficult to do because Headmind is crafty in feeding the idea that what it thinks is ‘reality’. And then feeding the further idea that escape from that is impossible…

To remind you, Headmind hates:

Silence

Living in the present moment

Being ignored

Raw emotion

The desert (nothing to worry about or do there! – which is why Christ so frequently visited it).

But, as the article demonstrates, when you force Headmind to give up what it habitually likes to do: watch TV, read newspapers, crawl the internet, worry, fantasize, make up stories about the past, chatter about the future, then eventually it just shuts the fuck up.

And then you end up in a very nice place indeed, a place of ‘mindless salvation’; a place of overwhelming peace, happiness and fascination with the world we live in; just as if you were seeing it (again) for the very first time.

Hugh Laurie, Schopenhauer, and the art of life

Schopenhaue This is the follow up article to Schopenhauer: a philosophy for grumpy people? Which attracted  a good response from many readers, many of whom had never heard of him, and were intrigued by his pessimism. Like Hugh Laurie in House he attracts people with his attitude problem.

In fact both Dr Gregory House and Schopenhauer have much in common:

  • Both are loners
  • Unconventional thinkers
  • Grumpiness combined with a wish to help others
  • Black humour
  • Grim realism
  • Mockery of conventional, pompous, people and ideas
  • Atheism
  • Disillusion
  • A (well-disguised) compassion for others.
  • Both are skilled wind-up merchants

For Schopenhauer, the world was a place he never made and little admired. Unlike almost all other philosophers, he did not believe that human beings were created to be happy. The reason for that is that our Will for personal gratification is out of all proportion to what Life can actually offer us. That, he claimed, was the reason for our continually recurring states of frustration, heartache and boredom.

Now, while I believe Schopenhauer was right in some of his diagnoses, I disagree about the cause. It is not the Universal Will which is the cause of personal misery but Headmind obsessions working through the Ego. I have written about this before in my article on How your Head F*cks You Up.

While I agree with Schopenhauer that we are not created to be happy (because we are blessed/cursed with an enlarged Headmind/Pre-frontal cortex), I disagree that we cannot, in fact find it. We can find it if we persist, through Awareness, and through downsizing the Ego.

However, I will leave you with a few more conclusions from the Master:

  • Make good use of the only thing you can control: your conscious mind.
  • Strive to live in the Now
  • Set limits everywhere: on desires, wealth and power.
  • Accept limitations: that leads to peace of mind.
  • Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if you can change something about them.
  • Seek out personal space and time for yourself; other people may try rob you of peace of mind.
  • Keep busy, always.
  • Do not expect too much from other people: like you they are only human.
  • In the long run, assume disappointment will be your lot more times than not.
  • You are not alone: others share your disappointments.
  • Your recognition of your shared humanity with others is the basis for compassion.
  • This recognition frees you from the Ego.
  • At times of great difficulty you can take consolation from the fact that every other human being has endured similar difficulties.
  • Contemplation of Nature, Art, Music, Literature and the Spectacle of life raises you above it.