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Dread of death

6 June, 2010

I recommend Irvin Yalom’s excellent book on death anxiety ‘Staring at the Sun’. Here are some thoughts that I have retained from it.

Our existence is forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom and, inevitably, diminish and die. Our wish to survive and our dread of annihilation will always be there: they are hard-wired into us.

Realising for the first time that we will die, some of us are like the character in Tolstoy  who feels like a man crossing a bridge who discovers that it is broken and that there is a chasm below.

Some are staggered by the enormity of eternity, others are unable to grasp the state of non-being that awaits us, others focus on death’s inevitability. For some, the thought of becoming nothing consumes them, and becomes everything…

For some the question is: “if nothing is stable, if nothing is enduring, what possible meaning can life of such evanescence contain?”.

Epicurus offers three pieces of advice:

  1. if the soul is mortal, we have nothing to fear from death: we will have no consciousness, no regrets and no fear of the gods;
  2. death is nothing to us because the soul is dispersed at death, and does not perceive. Death and ‘I’ cannot co-exist;
  3. The two states of non-being, one before death and one after it are identical; we did not fear the first one; why should we fear the second one?
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