How do you feel about death? Does thinking about it make you uneasy?
Are you afraid of the process and the ‘pain’ of dying?
Are you afraid of what happens after death?
Or are you afraid of what your death will mean for your loved ones?
I know I’m afraid of all of the above. And I think most people are.
But in this article I'm going to convince you (and myself) that we don't need to fear our own demise.
The Pain of Dying
I believe the only pain you feel whilst dying is from whatever it is that caused you die.
But once 'the life leaves your body' i.e. your brain dies, you feel nothing.
I have no reason to believe this, I haven't read any peer-reviewed or evidence-based literature. It simply makes intuitive sense to me and so it's what I choose to believe.
You're going to see that's a theme for this article.
Death and Our Loved Ones
Death is a strange topic to be writing about at 6am on a Monday morning.
But then again, I feel like most of these sorts of despairing thoughts come out after a poor night’s sleep (which is what I had last night).
Like many young and healthy people, my own mortality is not something I ever really think about. No, when I think about death, it usually pertains to my family and [wow even as I’m writing this I’m getting chest tightness] the intense grief I know comes with loss.
Thinking about death can be suffocating.
My biggest anxiety around loss of loved ones is knowing that I'll never be able to see or touch or talk to them again.
They will have gone from occupying such a huge part of my day-to-day life to only existing in my thoughts.
And this is so sad.
Perhaps one way to tackle this is to believe that your loved ones are always with you.
I try to believe this, but having not lost anyone very close to me, it's not a situation I've actively faced yet. I'm very fortunate in this regard.
Our loved ones live on in our memories and though we may not be able to physically see their presence in this world, if you, like I, choose to believe in the concept of a 'soul' then they're never far away.
At this moment in time, I hypothesise that as well as inhabiting our bodies in this physical world our souls also exist in a spiritual realm, along with the souls of all living beings, past, present and future.
Funnily enough, this is actually somewhat consistent with an anecdote that a friend of mine shared about her experiences with a spiritual clairvoyant. She talked about how the clairvoyant helped her connect with her deceased grandparents.
After hearing all this, you're probably thinking, "Bro, you're batshit crazy."
You're probably right. But at least I'm happy.
Don't fear that you'll be abandoning your loved ones when you die. You'll always be with them – just make sure they know that.
We’re all three seconds closer to death.
Isn’t that frightening.
What Happens After Death
What will death actually feel like?
I don’t know.
What happens after we die?
I don’t know.
Will we ever find out what happens after we die?
Isn’t it fascinating that we know with 100% certainty that all humans will die and yet we have 0% certainty about what it looks like and what happens afterwards.
It’s really the uncertainty of what’s coming for us all that frightens me. For all we know, dying and death may be the most painful experience that we ever have to endure, and it might persist for eternity.
But I don’t believe that’s the case.
It’s at this interface of where science’s explanations end and imagination takes over that I’ve come to a powerful realisation.
When we’re at the boundaries of humanity's certainty, we get to be the masters of our beliefs.
Because no-one knows what happens when we die, we all have the freedom to believe what we want to.
This could be that we are sent into the depths of Hell to suffer forever.
Or it could be that we are reincarnated into a different body.
Or it could be that we just cease to exist.
There are millions of explanations for what could happen after we die.
There’s only two possibilities that I choose to entertain.
Our souls, which are distinct from the physical bodies that we inhabit, are either sent into another body or are sent on into the afterlife.
The concept of Samsara comes from Hinduism and being a Hindu, I’m happy to accept this explanation of what happens after death.
Simple. I like it.
It makes life feel more meaningful.
How I choose to live right now impacts how I live after I’ve left this body. My actions are my legacy.
2. We simply cease to exist
Once our bodies shut down and our brain turns off, then our consciousness—our ego—simply fades away.
Is this freeing or frightening?
My friend believes this and is frightened by it. He feels that it’s a tragedy that we just disappear. His fear is so strong that he feels that he would want to continue living at all costs. When he eventually dies, he wants some of his DNA saved so that if we ever evolved the technology, he could be re-created from this DNA.
He chooses to believe this and so this fuels his anxiety. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Thankfully, I see this possibility as freeing. It would be sad, yes, that our lives are really just a drop in the ocean and what we do has no broader 'meaning’.
But isn’t this the case anyways?
Humans are less than a speck of dust in this universe and what we do isn’t going to change the inevitable collapse of this universe. And this is beautiful. We can just do what we want, enjoy the pleasures of life and attribute meaning to whatever we want to.
I think I've realised that for me personally, it's not so much death that I fear, rather it's the process of ageing to the point that I lose independence and am no longer able to do the things that I once enjoyed.
Thankfully, senescence is not something I think about regularly.
I am young and I feel healthy and I haven't yet experienced most of the negative aspects of ageing. I know the older I get, the more fearful I will likely become.
Ultimately, whatever your belief system, the intrinsic uncertainty surrounding death means that you have the power to believe and live however you want to.
Life is cyclical, humanity is temporary and we can't control the future.
We might as well not waste time worrying and enjoy our short time on Earth.