Releasing The Fear Of Death

My mother recently commented that I seem to talk and think about death often.

When Biggie said, "I'm ready to die," he did so as an aggressive declaration of confidence. Being ready for death can release fear: fear of an afterlife, fear of judgment, and fear of threats or danger.

In movies, a protagonist who has suffered extreme loss often clenches his or her jaw and grimly declares: "I have nothing left to lose." Then large weapons emerge and retaliation ensues.

In this sense, being "ready to die" means releasing attachment to this world, often in the nihilistic sense that there's nothing so compelling in life that the person couldn't bear to lose it.

I prefer to think of being "ready to die" in relation to the image of "the shadow of death." Our lives cast a shadow of our legacy after we die, and our awareness of death informs our actions while we live.

In this way, we cast our shadow on death, and death casts its shadow on us.

I care deeply for this world and the people in it. Rather than fearing for them, I prefer to try to appreciate them as they are. Through gratitude, it is possible to enjoy the moment both in spite and because of its temporary nature.

The finite nature of existence makes it beautiful. We can strive to create and foster beauty in our lives, but the fact that it must end does not negate the joy of the experience.

In a practical sense, releasing the fear of death is about releasing worry. When I talk with people who are afraid of flying, I frame it like this:

"Either you arrive at your destination, in which case you'll be happier if you don't worry about the flight, or you'll be dead and unable to worry about it. So either way, worry is pointless."

Sometimes "fear of death" is a stand-in for "fear of pain," which is a different issue. You can take precautions to reduce pain, but worrying about it only causes you to live it twice in the event that something actually happens. And often the pain we experience in our worry is much worse and more vivid than our actual experience of pain.

This is not to trivialize the experience of pain - quite the opposite! It is an effort to compartmentalize pain so that we only have to experience it when absolutely necessary or desired, and not as a psychic casualty of our worry.

Coming to terms with my own mortality is an on-going process, but my increasing comfort with the fleeting nature of life has made me much more appreciative of who and what I have in my life. It has also freed me to pursue opportunities and create my reality with a degree of fearlessness. For if we only have this short amount of time on the earth, why spend it in worry and fear?

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I strive to appreciate every step. For what we do here echoes in eternity, but all we can control is our actions and thoughts in this moment we call "now."

Posted on June 18, 2015 .