Thursday, January 24, 2013


It's a curious fact: it is not easy for me to ponder over this topic without noticing the bearing of theories proposed by open religions or by disguised forms of religion like atheism.

However, once this influence has been detected and overcome, the answer to questions like: What is death? Why we die? What happens after death? appears to be surprisingly simple: I don’t know.

At our last gathering we mentioned our inner desire to draw conclusions about everything, to “reason our way through” in order to produce a “solution-in-a-phrase” to the issue being raised. This impulse, like many others, has its origin in a more primordial one: survival, although expressed this time through cognitive abilities that appeared in the course of evolution.

Nevertheless, while recognising its usefulness in many cases, we see that it might not be universal. In the same way that the need to eat is at the root of eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia, the need to reach conclusions can be a major obstacle to certain issues, today’s for example. I remember the time when we discussed that life could be a joke, a solid hypothesis when one notices the stark contrast between the strong desire to live and the truth of death. It involved also some sort of conclusion though.

There is thus ground to make a couple of personal experiments. The first one has both the idea of death and “I don’t know” as a basis, and it involves a conscious and disciplined avoidance to draw conclusions other than incontrovertible ones: “I will die some day”, “The people I see every day will die someday”, “In the course of recorded history, 100,000 million humans have lost their lives”, “Life is the leading cause of death in people” and the likes.

What happens to a mind that feeds on facts about death instead of on speculation? To a mind kept silent when confronted to non-facts?

Even if there is no response in the short term, this first experiment brings about something surprising: a truly appreciation of the sensation of being alive. Once past the anguish caused by the instinct of survival, the presence of death and its mystery make life more intense. Knowing that I am going to die makes every day special and unique. By recognising the certainty of death, every event, just by pure contrast, acquires an unheard of character. Respect for life is thus naturally enhanced. For this alone is worth the try.

The second experiment is the generation of respect towards death. This may need some effort given the accumulated apprehension towards the issue. One can get help from the idea that death has always been there, that it has the quality of being immutable amidst universal change, that it partakes of the beauty inherent to natural processes.

Respect for both life and death curbs the polarisation between the two, and helps seeing more clearly what is happening here. Then the answers to the questions arrive, not as conclusions but as deep intuitions.

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