Fear…. of Dying

Once again, she has been given a clean bill of health, although with cancer that never means anything (you are only pronounced cured of cancer when you die of something else). – Ken Wilber, Grace & Grit

So…. Here is the largest piece of real estate in my mind since the end of last April. Not exactly the fear, but where the fear stems from and just how all encompassing it is.

Late 2011 I met a retired woman from Australia. This was during my first round of immunotherapy treatment, and frankly I looked like it may have been my last. As someone who had been through the cancer wars before, she eased into her question, but basically asked, “how long and how severe?”, the volume of her shared experience echoing off me like a reverberating image in a house of mirrors.

Unlike many questions, it did not make me cringe. It was full of understanding and compassion. What did make me cringe though was her insistence that “we all are afraid to die.” I was steadfast in my belief that I had plowed through that and dealt with it completely. Been there, done that.

I look back at that attitude today and can do nothing but laugh. Frankly, I was so afraid of dying then (and only a little less now) and so worried I was currently planted on the active fault line of death — just waiting for the earthquake, and was about to be swallowed whole, that rather than stare into what seemed a vastly approaching abyss I choose to focus my gaze elsewhere. Anywhere else..

It was not till I sat through my second vipassana course, this past April, that it hit me just how forcefully I was avoiding delving into this. And the lesson of avoiding (aversion) struck a nerve and I began what has been a fairly intense investigation of that fear and how it effects me. Needless to say the ensuing months have been intense and a fairly personal journey.

So just what am I afraid of about death?

At first I was sure that I was mostly worried about no longer being there for friends. My inner altruist really wanted me to stop my investigation there. But, I knew I needed to dig deeper, that the answer lay far deeper than in what I wanted to hear. Then no longer being able to experience what the world has to offer: seeing people I know continue to develop and grow, not being able to finish that/those book/s I was reading, and then just generally the unknown of not existing.
But… those too felt like deflections as I really processed it. They all hinted at the big looming fear of no longer being here, that I might not/would not be remembered, like a beloved TV show that you once felt was canceled before its time, but now can not even remember exactly what it was about or even the characters’ names and/or motivations. Yes, the ego strikes again.

Talk about making me cringe.

Needless to say, this was not a fun realization. And even one that at first I did everything to rationalize away. And then was ever so hesitant to share. Even as I type this today, I wonder if I will keep this private or share it at all, or even edit it out of existence. (Obviously, I opted to forge on with this, but It makes me pause more than I like admitting)

So yes, I have not dealt with the fear of dying. Of being erased. Of existing no more. Of being forgotten.
And I simply can not just wish this out of my head. Nor do the meditative exercises I do eradicate it. So currently I am just accepting it while still trying to root out the causes, hoping to one day abolish it.
All this has prompted me to ask just what causes fear to begin with? Well it obviously first begins with stimuli, usually of something you are opposed/averse to (fire, snakes, heights, etc) for whatever reason. But what is the response in yourself about? So I looked at something that stir fear within me to see if I could understand this better. Heights are a strange thing for me, as I am not scared of them, but I fear the effects they cause me. Ever since I got a nasty ear infection in high school (a two day bout with I-can’t-stand-up-style-vertigo ensued), whenever I get five or more stories up, looking down gives me vertigo. Feeling as if the world is spinning alarmingly fast is quite scary. The spinning is not what scares me, but the sense that I have lost control. And realistically is that not the root of fear, the lack of control involved?

If we were in control, what is there to fear. If we were able to pick the day we died, we could assure ourselves that everything we have intended to do could be accomplished before shuffling off into the void of death. And then what would there be to fear. Well okay, the unknown: simply not knowing what is on the other side, if there is another side. But think how dramatically different your fear of death would be if you could be sure that every last thing on your to do list was crossed off. It would come at/on your own terms. You would feel in control.

And I say feel, because just like when you are driving a car and feel more in control than if you were “just” a passenger, the other vehicles on the road play into what happens to you too. We actually control very little in the world, essentially just what is under our skin, and even that may be pushing it. But so many of us sure do enjoy the feeling of being in control, even when we are clearly in no way capable of it. Maybe that is when we crave control the most though?

This spins us back to the fear of death — well my fears: that i will potentially not be remembered, that I lack the ability to control others ability to remember me (oh damn… it gets worse, and even more egoist), along with my other lesser fears. And thus it seems I get stuck in an infinite loop re: locating the basis of the fear. And why even though meditation has helped me endlessly in so many areas, it is not working here. I seem to need to further let go that need to control things that are beyond me, but my monkey brain is still clinging to this much like tarzan-swinging vines and/or a bunch of perfectly ripe bananas. And yes, while I have the intelligence to understand the absolute disconnect this represents, my emotional intelligence has quite a distance to travel to catch up, unfortunately.

And so the real estate section of my mind will continue to work and struggle with this. Here is hoping to some seriously declining property values on this one.

About Randy

I'm just a guy trying to out run his dying kidneys and live life as vibrantly as possible. Until I can't. I grew up in Tejas. Went to school in Vermont. And currently live in Brooklyn. But not for long....
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