As I approach 50, I envision a second half of life with more depth and meaning than the first, with more contribution, with more love and more connection. In preparation for such I have started to read a transformational book by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Rodald S. Miller called “From Age-ing to Sage-ing.”
The authors point out, “To harvest our life successfully, we must come to terms with our own mortality. A fantastic conspiracy of silence surrounds the issue of our mortality. Living as we do in a technological culture, we repress the sacred, transcendent nature of death that was experienced by our ancestors.”
“Seduced by our technological successes, which have given us unparalleled control of the physical world, we hope that genetic engineering, anti-aging chemicals, and bionic research will eliminate death from our midst. In our hubris, we hope that with enough empirical research, we will reduce the mystery of death to a manageable scientific process that we can program and control at will. In this way, we will expose aging and death as genetic errors, cosmic mistakes rectified by our human ingenuity.”
The authors then go on to say, “As we approach the subject of our mortality, let’s be clear from the beginning: Death is not a cosmic mistake. Woven into the warp and the woof of existence, the presence of death deepens our appreciation of life. It also regenerates our psyches in preparation for harvest. The more we embrace our mortality, not as an aberration of God and nature, but as an agent urging us on to life completion, the more our anxiety transforms into feelings of awe, thanksgiving and appreciation.”
I don’t know about you, but I know that I want to live in the states of awe, thanksgiving and appreciation. I get the impression this is a choice that stems from choosing to embrace my own mortality.
The authors reflect, “As we age, we receive a number of messages, either consciously or subliminally, about our mortality. For example, we may be aware of shortened breath in climbing a steep grade or for the need of a longer recuperation time after an illness. Usually, we mobilize our psychological defenses to tune out these messages. Slowly, over years and decades, as we expend more energy to keep reminders of our mortality at arms length, we have less overall energy and awareness available. As a result, our experience of life loses a certain clarity and depth. There’s always a nagging ‘something’, a free-floating anxiety, that we try to drown out through frenetic activity, entertainment, sexual conquests, or excessive concern with the youthfulness of our bodies.”
“When we de-repress the fear of death, we reclaim the energy that has gone into denial. We feel buoyed up as streams of creative energy course through our bodies, minds and nervous systems. By facing a subject that usually depresses and terrifies us, we feel lighter, freer, more perceptual and cognitively alive in all of our encounters.”
As David Feinstein, psychologist and author, reminds us, “When we confront our mortality, a shift occurs in our attention that makes us more aware of how precious life is. We have an enhanced ability to accept ourselves, along with a greater ability to love. We lose the pervasive anxiety that makes us grasp obsessively for power, wealth, and fame. As we discover a deepened sense of purpose and a profound connectedness with other people, we tend to be motivated by higher, more universal values, such as love, beauty, truth, and justice.”
As the spiritual teacher Ram Dass playfully reminds us, “Death is absolutely safe. Nobody ever fails at it.”
As a physician, I have meet very few people who were faced with eminent death who were unaware of it, when they had the courage to tell the truth. Whether or not we own up to death, to admit to death’s presence, is up to us, but the fact is death is always presence with us.
A few years ago, I came upon the top 5 regrets of the dying as complied by a hospice nurse. They are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I sense that these regrets arise only when we embrace our mortality. Are you willing to acknowledge death’s presence in the midst of living? How do you choose to live? What are you willing to release in order to live? What are you willing to receive in order to live? Blessings all!