Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Death as Master

Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy [love of Wisdom] are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. (Socrates, in Phaedo, 64e, by Platon)

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life –and only then will I be free to become myself. (Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time)

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrasment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart (...) No one wants to die. Even people who wants to go to heaven, don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is as it should be, because death is the best single invention of life; it's a life change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you [speaking to young students], but some day, not to long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. your time is limited. So, don't waste it living someone else's life, don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other's people thinking; don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They surely already know what you truly want to become. Everything is secondary. (Steve Jobs, Stanford Speech, 2005)

We have to try to live our lives so that we could say any day: "Today I can die and not be sorry about anything" [...] Try to imagine yourself relatively clearly the last hour of life on earth. Write a kind of script of this last hour, as if it were the script of a film. Ask yourself: Is this how I want to dispose my life? If you are not satisfied with the answer, rewrite the script until you like it. [...] To understand the real possibilities of this world, it is necessary to find what we can reach in this world that will be very useful in the Real World. (from The Last Hour, a talk by G.I.Gurdjieff)

Every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be congnizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of those upon which his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence, and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it. (All & Everything, G.I.Gurdjieff)

These words need no explanation. Yet, the shocking realization of our physical finitude usually brings two different attitudes:

When one makes an effort to overcome the inertia of semi-consciousness by struggling to remember and feel the inevitability of death, this generates a "psychological stop", a vital reset from which pure actions –not mere reactions– can take place, as if we were given a new chance to pass page and start writing on a white paper, so that our life gets closer to the transparency and perfection of Being.

However, it's also very shocking to realize how many people adopt a rather different attitude. As soon as they become more or less aware of the fact they are going to die, they  get caught up in the irrational fear and start thinking in all the possible ways to satisfy the greatest number of trifling whims, following the maxim "eat and have fun because  tomorrow we will die". 

This last attitude seems to be related to a state of "inner emptiness", "sadness" and "disappointment" that all humans experience every time we "decide" to shut the door that leads to the immediacy and openness that now reveals who and what we are. 

From this viewpoint, human death points to our true potential and Essence, suggesting the possibilities "to be" and the possibilities of "not to be". 

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