The fear of death

Hong Kong, China.

Let me see. Is there more I have to say about death and dying? This is what comes up now: I really believe we don’t have to fear death. But I do, just like all the other humans (a very small number of enlightened beings excluded perhaps). Our fear of death translates into all the other fears we experience. Because we are afraid to die we are afraid of change. We cherish a naïve belief that if we just make sure that every thing stays the same death won’t come. In a way quite innocent: we are still the child that thinks he becomes invisible if he puts his hands before his eyes.

We know that many of our fears are so-called irrational. This is if we acknowledge them. But since we also have a fear of acknowledging our fears we keep many fears hidden from ourselves. Basically, we are all cowards. We don’t have the courage to admit that we are afraid. So we blame circumstances, diverting the attention away from fear.

I close my eyes and look at myself from some distance and I see myself behind sitting my laptop and I ask “what is that guy afraid of right now?” The first thing that comes up is fear of failure. The second thing is fear of not meeting the standards and expectations of people who I look up to (i.e. I am afraid of). The third thing is fear to leave my comfort zone and the fourth is fear to waste time.

In just one or two seconds I find 4 fears pretty close to the surface of my awareness. Now can you see how these fears are connected with a deeper fear, the fear of death and dying?

It is not the failure I fear but the consequences of my failure. When I feel fear of failure I am not concerned about making one mistake, I feel a frightening future of doing everything wrong for the rest of my life. When I’m afraid to leave my comfort zone it is because deep down I feel, no I know, it is utterly unsafe and thus dangerous even life threatening outside of it. The fear is not that I waste some time today, the fear is that I waste me whole life and everything in it. And when I fear not meeting the standards or expectations of others I fear I will be excluded, rejected and lonely. Resuming: every scenario will bring me closer to my death.

When my participants don’t have the courage to meditate behind their desk because their employees can see it or are not brave enough to share their feelings with their wives or husbands similar dynamics are at work. We are afraid to lose everything. It is not just the judgment of the other we fear, it is all the terrible consequences we create in our minds. And when we look closely and honestly we will find that everything we do can lead us to our death. In our minds, that is.

Meditating behind your desk is deadly. Not because of the odd raised eyebrow but because of the dramatic chain of events I subconsciously envision. Everybody will talk about me, everybody will ridicule me, nobody will respect me, I will lose all my credibility, after that I will lose my job, I will have $ 0,- income, my wife will leave me, I won’t be able to pay the mortgage anymore, the bank will confiscate my house, I will be cold, hungry and lonely and this is how I will die a year from now. And I don’t want to die so I won’t meditate behind my desk.

It may sound ridiculous but this is how it works. And perhaps this example does not apply to you but look at other things you just don’t like to do that seem futile. It is good to know because it shows why it is so hard to change. It is as if every tiny piece of garbage that you want to pick up to throw in the bin is invisibly connected to hundreds of kilos of ancient trash. The other side is also true: by working with even the smallest fears and by overcoming them we are slowly diminishing our fear of death and dying.

It is for a reason that people who have experienced death but have come back to life for some reason often feel transformed. They have lost the fear because what was unknown and deeply threatening has become known and even quite beautiful. With hindsight they can see how the fear was in every pore of their lives, taking the color and the flavor out. Now they find themselves to be free, to be free to love, to share and to appreciate the miracle of live.

Death is a fact of life. That we organize our life around our fear of it is a problem. We should not put our energy in the postponement or denial of death, we should devote ourselves to our liberation from fear. We liberate ourselves from fears by acknowledging them and facing them. The journey towards forgiveness and peace of mind starts with a willingness to be vulnerable.

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