10 Feb Transforming Our Fear of Death
In my book, Death Makes Life Possible, I have emphasized that death awareness can serve as a fundamental catalyst for our individual and collective transformation. We have the means to harness our shared intention and attention and use them to shift the widespread fear and terror associated with death. In this process, we can wake from a cultural trance that has estranged us from our natural relationship to mortality. Crafting a new story for humanity may help us to identify a more expanded set of possibilities for our lives and those of future generations. Finding language to share our deepest callings may help us to create a common voice for individual and social healing around death.
Today a movement is afoot. There are people meeting in cafes, over dinner, in theaters, meeting rooms, and on the Internet to talk about death and its implications for how we live our lives. Through heartfelt and authentic conversations, people are beginning to change the shared discourse about death. There is healing that comes through conversation and the intimate sharing of stories and worldviews. As we bring our own humility to the table and a spirit of not-knowing into our board rooms and to bedsides, we may be led to expanded inner wisdom and shared insights. Our worldviews about death make a difference in how we live our lives. Post-materialist science and spirituality both invite us to see ourselves as part of an interconnected and mutually dependent web of life. Coming from a view of wholeness allows us to find our place in the natural order with grace and dignity. Finding the meeting point of noetic insights and rational knowing within us can lead to greater self-discovery and purposeful engagement in the world. As we change our views on life, death, and what may come after, we may better actualize our fullest human potentials—individually and collectively.
As physician, Dean Ornish reminds us,
We’re all going to die. The mortality rate is still 100 percent. It’s still one per person. To me, it’s not how long we live, it’s how well we live. When we embrace death, we can live life so much more fully and so much more joyfully because we realize we don’t have all the time in the world. We can’t say, “Well I’ll do that mañana,” I want to embrace it and do it today whenever possible.
While there are no definitive answers about what happens after death, simply asking questions with an open mind and a warm heart opens our awareness to a new paradigm. It is a model of reality that is meta—big enough to embrace diverse views and perspectives. This new meta view allows us to think in new ways about how we may reinvent ourselves as a species. We may consider the ways in which our consciousness has limited us. We can ponder the ways that a fear-based paradigm has led us to maladaptive behaviors. Ultimately we can begin to story together with a shared voice that offers hope and possibility. Living with an understanding of death is one of our birthrights. It is our choice about how we want to engage this fundamental part of who we are.
Taking a full-systems approach, we have the opportunity to see ourselves as part of an ecosystem that is defined not only by our existence here on planet Earth, but also by the role that we as humans play in an evolving story of the universe. As we shift our views on death, we are celebrating life. When we stop sweeping mortality under the carpet and treating it like a great taboo topic, we may face a new truth. Our model of reality becomes a relationship among relationships. Our primary reality is love.
Each of us engages in a process of individual transformation. As we begin to share our views with one another, we can help to shift our common vision to one that embraces the natural cycle of life and death. Breaking down our character armor may allow us to overcome our fear of death and live with greater purpose, balance, and harmony.
Bringing into conscious awareness the deep anxiety we share about death may lead us to a new paradigm. As each of us as individuals find our own transformative path, so too may we revise the images in which our social institutions, particularly healthcare, treat death. We may shift our collective discourse from one of fear to one of awe and wonder. In this way, we may heal ourselves, our relationships, and the social world that we share.