The other day I got thinking about death and thought some of the ideas were interesting enough to note down.
I should first point out that this viewpoint comes from looking at death from a certain angle. I have always felt that when one dies one ‘ceases to exist’. In other words, you do not ‘go to heaven’ nor are you transplanted to some other reality. Why I always felt this I’m not sure. To me, its like a ‘returning back to nature’ just as a drop of water returns back to the sea: it ‘loses itself’ and becomes a part of something large. As such, our self disappears on death and becomes, so to speak, part of the ‘greater self’ of creation. This means that death, as I’m using it here, is non-existence.
DEATH – IMAGINING NON-EXISTENCE
I often think about the fact of ‘ceasing to exist’. That is as ‘definite’ and ‘final’ as a person can get. Though a person may “imagine” the condition of ‘ceasing to exist’ one cannot know it. This is simply because we can never experience it. Even if we ‘cease to exist’ we still don’t “experience” it as we have ceased to exist. This means that ‘ceasing to exist’ is an unknown enigma, something we simply cannot know. It can only be imagined.
But, yet, many of us are aware of it, at least in the back of our minds. We know that it does exist . . . we can imagine it. Because non-existence cannot be ‘known’ I tend to feel that when people think of “death” or ‘ceasing to exist’ they actually think of something else. To me, it seems that ‘imagining non-existence’ originates from things like:
- The “is” and “pre-self” (I’ve written an article in this blog called “Thoughts on ‘primal awareness’: the “is”” and “Thoughts on the pre-self, primal self, world self, post-self, and the greater self“). This is one of the earliest states of mind. It tends to create senses of ‘god’ and ‘spirits’ and an ‘all’ in the world. As a result, it tends to be something felt by more mystical minded people.
- The imagination. This originates from an early state of mind after the “is” and “pre-self”, very much reflected in the play of childhood. It reflects a tendency to create a ‘inner life’ which is really what imagination is. As a result, it creates a ‘alternate reality’, so to speak. Often, these are patterned after belief systems, such as religious beliefs and mythology. This creates images of heaven/hell, lands of the dead, and such.
Both of these are nothing but early states of mind showing that ‘imagining non-existence’ seems to naturally bring up earlier states of mind. This makes sense, as the tendency, when we imagine what we cannot know, is to view it from another state of mind than our current state of mind and this, naturally, leads to our earlier years. Our early self-development is the closest we actually had to non-existence. It would only be natural that we would innately and naturally look to this early time as a ‘basis’ for this imagining. But, we must remember that, in actuality, we are not thinking about non-existence itself, but only the “closest” we got to it. This is the only framework we have to base it on and, as such, this is what we use.
As a result of this, ‘imagining non-existence’ is very much based on the person and what they use as their basis. This makes ‘imagining non-existence’, or death, as being a very subjective thing, varying with the person. In regard to death, in particular, most people will take the cultural explanation (which is a form of social imagination) as the basis for their imagining and will often look at it in no other way.
FEARING DEATH – THE DRIVE TO EXIST – BEINGNESS
Reflecting on the possibility of ‘ceasing to exist’ (dying) is generally horrifying. People often need something to give them hope when reflecting on death, such as a belief in heaven or life after death. Often, though, that is not enough and there is often a ‘hidden horror’ about death that many people will not even admit to themselves.
But why is ‘non-existence’ (or death) so horrifying?
When someone is close to death there is a natural tendency to flee it and ‘fight to live’. The horror, really, is nothing but this ‘fight to live’ because of the awareness that one may lose it. In other words, the horror is rooted in the knowledge that we will lose or, to be more precise, that we are vulnerable and helpless to death. Many people have difficulty with this as they want to feel that they are ‘in control’, at least in some way. This is why the confrontation of death is very humbling and requires an acceptance of our vulnerability. Because of this, I often feel that it is good to reflect on death and to try to learn the humility required to face it. The humility that is required for death is a good attitude to take in life. It gives a depth and a reality to life that cannot be achieved any other way. In a way, it ‘implants’ us in life, making life more significant and meaningful.
Though we must be humble to death, and its inevitability, we are motivated by to live by the ‘drive to live’. Unfortunately, many of us tend to forget this drive and never relearn it. Sometimes, it can take a tragic event for someone to realize their ‘drive to live’. Often, situations can happen that make one realize this drive as well, such as having a close friend or relative die. Generally, it seems, a tragic event is required to awaken this ‘drive to live’. In other words, the horror of possible death brings out the ‘drive to live’ as if in an attempt to push the horror away. In other words, there’s an innate reflex action to avoid the condition of ‘ceasing to exist’. This is no doubt because the ‘drive to live’ is a reflective of a naturally appearing ‘drive to exist’ that is within us. Innately, we all seek to exist.
But, since we can only imagine non-existence, or death, we are actually reacting to something else, which seem to be either one or both of these:
- The ‘imagining of non-existence’, of what we “think” it is. Many people’s fear of death involve the fear of the ‘imagining of non-existence’. They fear an image of death, such as heaven/hell and so on, which are often culturally or religiously based. Because it is based in ‘imagining’ it tends to be somewhat superficial and, as a result, does not ‘hit the person to the core’. In addition, they get wound up with the dogma and imagery associated with it which often steers them further away from their ‘core’
- The feeling the ‘drive to exist. The ‘drive to exist’, on the other hand, does hits a person to the core. It is this sense that brings out the great desire to live because it is not an ‘imagining’ but a ‘force’ or ‘feeling’. As a result, it is very ‘raw’ and pure, felt as an experience, a drive, a need. Typically, there is no imagery or dogma that surrounds it. As a result, it is more penetrating.
The ‘drive to exist’, though, is experienced in different ways. Often, a tragic event is the only way it comes out in some people. Other people can feel it in their everyday life. Many of us feel it but forget it. Some people don’t feel it at all. As a result, people feel the ‘drive to exist’ in varying levels, from intense to not at all.
But, what is this ‘existing’?
When one feels the ‘drive to exist’ it brings a specific impulse which has specific qualities. It has qualities that are not found in the normal state of mind, showing that it is, in itself, a specific state of mind that is removed from our normal state of mind. It seems, to me, that the condition of existing has these qualities:
- Consciousness. This refers to an awareness of oneself and the world.
- Doing. This refers to the act of living, of the actual doing of things in life.
- Experiencing. This refers to the act of being in the midst of life, and being surrounded by life.
- Projection. This refers to a seeing of oneself in the world and, therefore, a being in the midst of the world.
- Its wordless and thoughtless.
These qualities describe a sense of beingness. In other words, the ‘drive to exist’ is really beingness.
Because beingness, or the ‘drive to exist’, is in response to the awareness of non-existence, or death, it shows that beingness is the contrary or opposite of non-existence or death. This would mean that “life”, as opposed to ‘non-existence’ or death, consists of beingness. As a result, this would make beingness the true source or base of what constitutes “life” or “existing”. Because of this, it makes beingness one of the most important things in life. This is why it is something that should be sought for in our life.
THE SEEKING OF BEINGNESS: THE ‘GREATER SELF’
Beingness is a state of mind that goes beyond our normal state of mind. It actually goes beyond it by going ‘backward’. That is to say, the sense of beingness stems from our earlier self, the “is” and pre-self. But its even more than that. Beingness is an integration of our current self with our earlier selfs. In this way, its like bringing together our entire self, from our earliest times to now, creating a united self. I call this the ‘greater-self’. As a result, beingness leads to a more unified self and person.
Because beingness is a state of mind it requires more than just ‘imagining’. In other words, it’s not rooted in a belief system, religion, a philosophy, or any other ‘imagined’ thing. You can’t ‘imagine’ beingness to make it exist. It is a condition, a state of mind first and foremost. It is, above all, an experiencing. Because it involves our earlier self beingness requires a ‘stripping away’ of many qualities of the later self and which has developed in our life. It requires a more simpler way of looking at one self and the world. It also requires an unlearning of things we’ve learned. In some respects, we have to ‘return’ to the state of our earlier self and become much like a child. As a result, we must abandon much of our opinions about our self and the world. We must forget who we are and who we think we are. In many ways, we have to ‘undo’ some of the effects of our later selfs. It also means that we must be ‘on guard’ that these later qualities do not overwhelm and control us as well. Beingness is not found in abstraction, logic, philosophizing, and thinking, which is a trait of the later self. It is a doing and an experiencing in simplicity, and in which one is conscious and aware. What all this shows is that beingness becomes a particular way of living. This would make sense as the purpose of seeking beingness is to live and embrace existence, not to think things out and “explain the world”. Its only natural that it becomes a way of life. I should point out that I’ve written an article about experiencing beingness, in this blog, called ” Thoughts on the confrontation of beingness – practicing ‘deliberate beingness’“.
I do not feel that ’embracing existence’ entails jumping out of airplanes, climbing mountains, seeking achievement, and that (which many Americans think ‘living’ is). In fact, I’d say these have little to do with ’embracing existence’. at all ‘Embracing existence’, and seeking beingness, is far deeper than that. It is found primarily in the everyday, the subtle, the second-to-second, and in the depths of ones soul. People who truly ’embrace life’ seldom do those things in my opinion.
THE HORROR OF BEINGNESS
Beingness often creates a horror. Rediscovering our old self can throw us ‘out of whack’ and shake our self to the core. In other words, it describes a conflict of selfs more than anything else. The more mature and developed self finds it hard to “accept” the early self and cannot relate to it. This is because the early and later selfs are totally different and, in some ways, somewhat incapatible. This creates great conflict and tension between the two, often experienced as a horror, or even a fear, anxiety, or pain.
Because of the early self’s association with the “is” there is usually a great sense of ‘religiosity’ with this sense. Often, the “is” (originating from our earliest self and creating a sense of god) is whats felt strongly, which is why people who experience beingness are generally religious in nature. By this same token, non-existence (death) is perceived in the same way, with horror and a sense of god, as it originates, really, from the same state of mind, showing that non-existence (death) and beingness are associated and entail the same sense, originating from the same early state of mind. This means that the horror of beingness is a horror of non-existence (death).
LIFE AND DEATH – THE ‘DEATH ILLUSION’
Because of this, the seeking of life (through beingness) is also associated with death. In other words, in order to live one must ‘die’ a little. This is what inspires my saying:
“Live and die in a day”
Experiencing life entails a continual living and dying that continues on and on in cycles much like the season or the movement of the sun. It is cyclical, which means it never ends, nor is it ever ‘completed’. In actuality, it is like a continual process of rebirth, the old self dying and a new self being born again new. This is growth, much like the rings on a tree, growing and growing more and more each year.
This makes the theme of life and death intertwined and, in a way, a variation of the same thing: when ones old self dies a new self is born, but should we consider that process a death or a birth? But, more importantly, it shows that the death we are referring to do is not an actual ‘death’ (when the body dies), but a death associated with a state of mind or, to be more precise, our early self. To be more precise, it is actually referring to a “sense” of death which originates from the “is” and pre-self. The sense has nothing, whatsoever, to do with actual death itself, even though there is a tendency to speak of it that way, and some people and cultures take it literally too. What it all shows is that the sense of non-existence (death) is really the sense of our early self. In other words, when we think about or feel horrified of non-existence (death) we actually are not thinking of them but are, in actuality, referring to something else, namely senses from our early self. It shows, in a way, that there is an illusion about death, that we only “think” we are referring to it but really aren’t. I call this the ‘death illusion’. This often gives death an enigma quality about it. All this makes sense, really, because non-existence, or death, is never known and, therefore, by its nature, an enigma.
CONTEMPLATION: DEATH AND PAIN
Contemplation (such as Mystical Prayer) has many references to death in its makeup. Because contemplation entails a loss of self it naturally creates a sense of the early self (creating a strong sense of beingness, god, etc.). This, generally, is one of its main goals. Because of this, it’s really no wonder that death is a common theme in contemplation. Of course, they do not speak of an actual death but the sense of “death”, the are referring to the discovery of the early self and the sense of death it creates. Often, there will be great emphasis on death and dying for this reason. It’s not uncommon that contemplatives will say things such as “there is life in death”, “allow yourself to die” and so on. This is just another example of how the image of death is associated with the early self. It also shows how the early self has a strong sense of god, as well, showing this association:
These three traits are intertwined. As a result, the seeking of one generally leads to at least one of the other. In addition, these are associated with beingness and are generally sensed in beingness. Because of this, it often brings on the beingingness horror. This is seen in Christian contemplation where there are many references to the ‘pain’ in contemplation. It is generally spoken of as a ‘purifying’, or a ‘cleansing’, or a ‘purging’ of the soul. St. John of the Cross spoke of the “dark night of the soul’ to describe this pain and conflict. Though they interpret it in respect to their theology, it seems to me that this “dark night” is really nothing but the horror of beingness.
THE ACTING OUT OF BEINGNESS: GOD, DEATH, AND SACRIFICE
I am under the impression that many religions customs of sacrifice, and ritual killing, is associated with the ‘early self-death-god’ association. In many ways, sacrifice is nothing but a form of ‘imagining’ of this association that has been played out. As a result, it is really a representation of the reality of beingness and god. It is an ‘acting out of beingness’ by bringing up themes associated with beingness: god and death. This is not unusual as many religious customs, rituals, and traditions are forms of acting out a theme. In this way, it is as put on, sort of like a play, and their belief is demonstrated.
The ritual of sacrifice seems to be motivated as a representation of the sense of ‘death’ that the sense of god creates when we feel our early self, which is where the sense of god is located. This is demonstrated in the actual killing of the animal. In addition, sacrifice often has qualities as a ‘communicator’ with the gods. Since the early self is where the sense of god is felt, the early self is the ‘communicator’ with god, so to speak. As a result, sacrifice appears like an ‘acting out’ that displays the whole beingness theme: the early self, “communicator” with the sense of god, and the sense of death it causes (as I’ve explained above). In some respects, sacrifice represents beingness as an act and ritual. This same sense of ‘sacrifice’ is spoken of even in contemplation, where it is often described as a ‘sacrifice’. It wouldn’t be too far off to say that contemplation, really, is a ‘sacrifice’ but without the actual killing (and I’ve heard it described that way). This is a good example of how sacrifice is a representation of the condition of beingness that has been acted out.