Why facing our mortality is the best way to wake up out of anxiety
It’s been a year of many farewells to notable faces and some great talents. January kicked off with David Bowie, Prince soon followed and to finish the year we lost George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.
That’s not to say that the loss of a celebrity is worth more than any other person. We all come into and leave the world in the same way. That’s because death is a great leveller.
But barr the odd spiritually sorted type or diehard athiest, most of us have our heads firmly planted in the sand. If we don’t think about death, it might never happen, right?
I remember vividly the first time I considered my mortality. I think I was about nine years old and was out on my pony. For some reason it just suddenly dawned on me that I, Mary Greenwood, would one day not exist.
And I think that was probably one of the defining moments in my eventual journey towards anxiety. I just couldn’t imagine what that would mean. The person who was thinking would no longer think. So aping the sentiment of Decartes, I don’t think, therefore I am not. Oh the horror.
And so, from time to time, it would ocurr to me again. Mostly at night as I lay in my bed. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die.” Cue more horror.
As a lapsed catholic, I’d long given up on the idea of ascending into heaven and hanging out with the angels. But what was left was a haunting void of nothingness.
I think at the root of most anxiety is the fear of dying. My fear of social rejection probably goes back to the primitive reality in which if someone was kicked out of a tribe, they would literally perish. Obviously, no one talking to me at a party won’t directly contribute to me being shunted off this mortal coil, but somehow I still believe my very existance depends on it.
So, it seems to me that we have no alternative but to look this whole death thing right in the eyes and see what answers we find. Because if it turns out it isn’t the worst thing in the world that can happen, where does that leave our anxiety?
From a buddhist perspective, there’s no birth or death, as ultimately there is no fixed self. We are just little waves that go back to being the sea again. But other traditions will say something else. Find out what resonates with you.
In the Ted Talk by Ric Elias, “Three things I learned while my plane crashed,” he speaks from the unique perspective of facing death as his plane crashed in the Hudson River. He observed “And as we’re coming down, I had a sense of, wow, dying is not scary. It’s almost like we’ve been preparing for it our whole lives.”
Others who’ve had near death experiences have also recounted how ultimately peaceful the experience of dying actually was.
So imagine that, if the thing we are most scared of in this life, is actually not frightening at all? Maybe this would mean we could just get on with living?
So I invite you to cosy up to that grim reaper and make peace with him. He’s just doing his job. It’s not about being fair or not. It’s just what happens and it happens to us all.
And to sing us out on a cheery note, I’m going to leave you with a jolly spanish song called ‘Vas a morir’ – You’re going to die. Enjoy. Oh and happy new year!