“Our ideas about death define how we live our lives.”
— Dag Hammarskjold
The fear of death (in you or others) is a sometimes hidden, potent force affecting personality and behavior in strange and varied ways. To compensate for this fear, some will seek to control others, objects, money, the appearance of youth, etc., in vain, hollow attempts to stave off the fragility of corporeal incarnation. The fear of death can warp the perception of time, body, money, property, ambition, relationship, power and probably any other human attributes that can be named.
Western culture is in denial of death and encourages us to think we can cheat it through dieting, plastic surgery, cosmetics, exercise, romantic adventures, exciting purchases, and so forth. The fear of death seems to be located in the ego, whereas the Self, aware that it did not begin at birth, perceives death as change, not annihilation. The ego may view death as an emergency, but for the Self it may be an emergence. Death is a guaranteed portal, an event horizon, an opportunity to step across the threshold. We cheat ourselves by viewing it negatively or denying its inexorable approach. Tolkien called the desire to avoid aging, “premature immortality,” and in his mythology humans were considered more blessed than the elves because their corporeal incarnation had a definite time limit. I can’t cheat death, nor would I want to.
When I was very young, my fear of death was quite intense, but numerous out-of-body experiences caused the fear to vanish. I experienced that not only could my awareness exist outside of my body, it could also be incredibly enhanced by the separation. The view of death as possible annihilation was replaced by a deep intuition of death as an orgasmic portal.
Many people brought up in a culture of fundamentalist materialism (also called “scientism”) have a bleak view of death. One friend described it as, “It’s just lights out and that’s it.” That friend seemed to pursue physical fitness as a hedge against the inevitable and inexorable approach of death.
A careful study of near-death experience findings should be enough to convince an open-minded skeptic that death is an event horizon, not a pit of oblivion. The position of neurological materialism, the belief that consciousness is an epiphenomenon or secondary effect of biochemical process in the brain, is resoundingly and definitively contradicted by NDE findings. Consciousness does not reside in the brain, and electrical activity in the brain is not a prerequisite for consciousness.* (see example of NDE evidence below)
The fear of death is often a function of a life not fully lived, of aliveness rejected or neglected in the present. The fear of death may be a fear of the comprehensive life review that so many near-death experiencers report, a fear of being accountable for a life not fully lived, of a life misused and of harm done to others. Some visionaries say that the soul may travel on from death, but this survival is not guaranteed. Those who have led dissolute, fragmented lives may not have enough of a center to hold together and may disintegrate at death.
To paraphrase FDR, “There is nothing to fear but the fear of death itself.”
Depending on the position of the card, the death element may mean that you are in a phase where an aspect of your old identity may need to die and be reborn. Death means transformation. You may be experiencing some form of necessary ego death. What the ego views as emergency, for the soul may be an emergence.
Then, death, so call’d, is but old matter dress’d
In some new figure, and a vary’d vest:
Thus all things are but alter’d, nothing dies;
And here, and there the’ unbody’d spirit flies.
— Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses
“What you have perishes; what you are survives beyond time and space.” — Death Notice
“When the clock strikes me, the powers of being will prevail over the powers that be.” — Saul Williams
“On__________Jonathan Zap won his long struggle with mortality by dying.” (My future epitaph)
Supplemental material for those willing to read more:
My most relevant follow up document is:
Mostly first hand testimony from near-death experiencers, this document also includes a detailed review of the Pam Reynolds case, one of the best evidenced NDE cases impossible to explain from the point of view of neurological materialism. Includes a brief bibliography of suggested readings and sources to learn more about NDE. If you still have any fear of death you owe it to yourself to explore the findings of NDE research.
*The following example of NDE evidence is far from the most impressive, but is chosen because of the arch-conservatism of its source — National Geographic — an organization known for its attempts to debunk paranormal claims. What follows are some transcribed excerpts from the National Geographic documentary: The Moment of Death
Al Sullivan, a man who has survived a multiple bypass operation relates,
“In the operating room here comes Dr. Takata whom I had never laid eyes on before. He introduced himself, ‘Hi Mr. Sullivan, good afternoon, I am doctor Takata.” and he told me what he was going to do: ‘We are going to take veins from the legs and take arteries also from chest wall and probably do four or five bypasses for you.’ And I’m listening, listening, and all of a sudden I don’t have to listen to him telling me I can see what he is doing, because I found I wasn’t there to listen anymore. I just left my body and watched. I can see, but I’m up looking down at them. It used to be me, but it wasn’t me, because the real me is up here watching. That’s when they started putting stuff over my eyes and all kinds of drapes and blankets all around me and I still, I could see Dr. Takata and his people, and this is another thing, I could see through the operating table and me and I could see what kind of boots he had on. At one point he stepped back, the surgeon stepped back, and it looked like he was flapping his arms and I thought: What in the world is he doing that for?” Al continues,
“He was orchestrating: Do this, do this and do that and it did seem very foreign to me what he was doing.”
Al demonstrates Dr. Takata strange movements, his hands to the sides of his chest, elbows bent, twisting around and pointing with his elbows as he gives commands.
Dr. Anthony F. Lasala , MD, cardiologist at Hartford Hospital explains:
“Dr. Takata, when he’s not operating, and trying not to contaminate his hands, will put his hands close to his chest and point with his elbow.”
Dr. Lasala: “Al Sullivan would not know of this peculiar behavior of Dr. Takata. I did not tell him that.”
Dr. Takata: ” I cannot explain how he saw these things under the complete sleep of anesthesia.”
Dr. Lasala: “Even if he was conscious, it would be impossible for Al to see Dr. Takata’s stance or arm movement because Al was behind a drape that blocks the vision of the patient and his eyes were taped shut.”
In my DVD dialogue with John Jenkins, Dialogues on Prophecy and the End of Time, I discuss my theory that obsession with end times (almost always predicted to occur within the expected lifespan of the person so obsessed) is a displacement of the fear of individual death onto collective eschaton (endtime). Recently I added a section to White Crows Rising — The Singularity Archetype and the Event Horizon of Human Evolution that covers much of the same ground. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
Anything with a strong emotional charge in the psyche, and especially if the charge is strong and uncomfortable, will be projected outside. One of the strongest charges in most psyches is anxiety about death. A classic projection is for a person to feel his own mortal vulnerability, the imminence of his own death that may come at any time, and to attribute that feeling to the world. I can feel it, this is all temporary, this world is going to end; I am living in the end times! Again, the perception is correct except for the confusion of inner and outer. Every mortal is always living in end times, death is always imminent and even if any of the many possible causes of premature death are avoided, the years left are still only a one or two digit figure. The uncomfortable feeling of perilous temporal fragility must go somewhere and an end of world prophecy is like a lightning rod for this intensely uncomfortable inner charge.
Like a fractal or a hologram, the lifecycle of the individual to some extent recapitulates the lifecycle of the species. An individual has a certain limited lifespan before he crosses the event horizon of death, and a species also has a limited lifespan before it becomes extinct. I’ve heard that the average lifespan of a species is 100,000 years. Because of the parallelism, it is easy for someone to confuse the imminence of personal death with collective eschaton. This confusion is also well motivated as it seems to displace much of the individual anxiety about death, which is usually faced alone, onto a “we’re all in it together” general event that has strong elements of high drama and excitement associated with it. Instead of a feeling of powerlessness about the inevitability of one’s own death, the prophet feels empowered by his sense that he has been privileged with secret knowledge withheld from the common person. Also, the ego is very concerned about its place in the social hierarchy and is appalled by the idea that it could cease to exist while others continue to live. If everyone checks out at once, however, then death involves no such social humiliation. Even better, if there is some sort of Rapture, where the ego is part of an elect that becomes immortal while others of the sort the ego doesn’t like are annihilated or left behind to deal with the Antichrist and Armageddon, then personal anxiety about death gets channeled into an all-satisfying scenario. For these powerful psychological reasons, prophecies of the end of the world usually seem to be conveniently scheduled to occur before the end of the prophet’s expected lifespan, allowing the eschaton to upstage anxiety about personal death.
Many years after I formed this hypothesis I heard of an episode that gave it anecdotal support. In the 1960s there was a well-known woman psychic (but not Jean Dixon) who had a nationally syndicated newspaper column. She had a vision that a gigantic earthquake would destroy most of California on a particular date and reported this in her column. In copycat fashion, other psychics began to predict a quake on the same day. This woman was sincere in her prediction, and at great expense she relocated her family from the Bay Area to Nevada. On the predicted date there was no earthquake, but the woman died of some rare disease.”