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Life anxiety, death anxiety

19 June, 2008

This page by  Robert Gerzon really grabbed my attention:

Because we human beings are individual organisms, conscious of our separateness from one another and from the universe, we are simultaneously confronted with life anxiety and death anxiety.

Our life anxiety is our fear of fully experiencing our aliveness, our creative power and our existential isolation.

Our death anxiety is about the dreaded annihilation of the self: losing power, being absorbed back into the universe and ceasing to exist as an independent individual.

Fortunately we can avoid becoming paralyzed and panicked by the polarities of life and death. By choosing to “sit with anxiety,” we avoid the twin traps of fighting anxiety or trying to run from it. Instead of letting the two existential poles of anxiety paralyze us, we embrace them and transform them into sources of power and inner peace.

Death is the great mystery of life. The big question, the most unfathomable one for all people, is “What happens when I die?” There is a part of me that can’t wait to find out how the story ends- what happens after death? The meaning we give life is inseparable from the meaning we give death. A universal essence within me knows that, when the body and brain cease functioning, the adventure of consciousness continues in some other form. Even our daily need to visit the dark realm of sleep reminds us of the presence of death -the “big sleep”- in the midst of life. Our desire for relaxation is evidence of our need to “die” regularly, and of death’s rejuvenating powers.

Our anxiety about death keeps us from recognizing our own true and healthy love of death. When we accept the reality and the mystery of death we can begin to love death in a positive way, as a part of the perpetually renewing cycle of life, as liberation and reunion with our Source. Far from signifying any morbid desire to die, loving death simply means accepting death as a natural and sacred part of life.

When we deny or ignore both our death anxiety and our death love, the death urge turns toxic and we are doomed to act it out destructively as self-sabotage or as injurious behavior toward others. Freud called this repressed attraction to death thanatos, and described how it turned into aggression and self-destruction. But if we embrace the “grim reaper,” we find that its terrifying appearance is nothing but the embodiment of our own fears. Once accepted, it is transformed into the joyful Angel who guides us on our eternal journey. Our death anxiety dies and is reborn as a sacred love of death.

Wise men and women throughout the ages spent their lives preparing for and becoming friends with death, so that when it came it neither took them by surprise nor made them anxious. We can cultivate a healthy appreciation of death by meditating upon it.

When I begin a death meditation, I start by choosing to “die” for a little while. I simply imagine being dead–and instantly all worries, responsibilities and time pressures dissolve. I experience the peace and freedom that accompany the death of my self. I allow my consciousness to expand into the all-embracing oneness. In dying I lose my self but gain the universe. I have found that enjoying this temporary “death of the self” for fifteen or twenty minutes can be marvelously relaxing and refreshing. Death meditation is a way to practice the art of letting go, to see daily events from a larger perspective, and to cultivate a relationship with the timeless.

Just as embracing death anxiety allows us to experience a healthy love and acceptance of death, choosing to face the life anxiety of selfhood will usher us into the sacred realm of abundant and eternal life. Then we can finally allow life energy (what Freud callederos) to course through us, free and unfettered. Our life anxiety becomes a sacred love of life that experiences the miracle of aliveness with wonder and gratitude. When we love both life and death there is nothing left to fear–and we can experience the “peace that passes understanding.”

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