Martin LeFevre: Making a Friend of Death
Making a Friend of Death
It’s early enough to avoid the enervating edge of the day’s heat. After a workout on the track, I stop at the park to cool off in the creek Lying on my back in the stream, the gentle current caresses and relaxes my muscles.
I let the water carry me downstream in the shallow creek. It’s deep enough that for a few tens of meters at a time, my feet don’t touch bottom. The water is still cool, but leaning toward tepid.
Holding my breath as the trees pass by overhead, I feel again that this is what a good death must be like--a gentle sweep downstream toward the infinite ocean of the cosmos.
A washboard section of the creek brings the body to a stop against the stones. The current ripples around my head, arms, legs, and torso. I raise my head and watch the water swirl by at eye level.
I don’t know how long I was on my back, but feel more than a little logy standing up. It takes a minute for the vestibular mechanism to reestablish equilibrium. I laugh as I stumble over the stones. Walking back to the car, the body is renewed and the brain is alert to every sight and sound.
The heat of the day passes while working inside. After the sun goes down, I set everything aside to take in the evening in the backyard. Dusk deepens, and a nearly full moon over the rooftops grows brighter in smoggy skies.
The din of traffic pulsates with the waning heat of a 40 C day, but somehow neither the heat nor the noise are oppressive. A hummingbird jets in to drink from the feeder, stopping on a dime to drink its fill. A few of its fellows suddenly appear, and they all exude joy as they dart left, right, up, and down around each other before speeding off again at amazing speed, disappearing in a second over the neighbor’s rooftop.
Effortlessly, the mind grows quiet in the passive observation, and one feels the silence of being amidst the noise of becoming. With unforced silence there are not just insights, but the state of insight. Beauty, joy, and gratitude are intrinsic to it. Causation ceases with the cessation of becoming.
When one finds oneself beyond the realm of causation, one feels, without a trace of fear, the omnipresent actuality of death. The line between life and death is seen and felt to be as thin as a membrane, which it actually is.
Because death is seen as a terrible and fearsome thing at the end of life, our minds build labyrinths of avoidance. But when one is in contact with the actuality of life and death as a single movement, it’s easy to let go of everything.
Can one be in such a state when it is time to die? Why does the fear of death return? Is it ineluctably derived from the sense of a separate self, the illusory continuity of ‘me?’
I’ve come to feel that to be a complete human being, the great peak that we have to climb is to die to the self and its attachments while fully alive. Then our consciousness does not flow back into the great gray collective consciousness of man. If one attains that level of spiritual development during life, then when the body expires, and there’s no content of consciousness to continue, does the awareness that has grown within one die? I think not.
I’m not positing supernatural realms. Science has much to discover about how ordinary consciousness works, even what content-consciousness is--though the cognitive correlates with computers we’ve made in our own image are undoubtedly much closer than we’d like to think.
Indeed, consciousness as we usually know it may be analogous to the net, with individual content flowing from and back into a vast collective current. That may seem comforting, but such continuity is a fate worse than death to my mind. Can one completely die to the content of consciousness within us while fully alive? Can we end our recycling through collective consciousness, and thereby attain another dimension of being?
I don’t know, but the idea that death is the enemy is lot of hooey. One can and must make a friend of death, while still having tremendous drive and living as fully and long a life as possible.
Surely the intent of every true human being is to contribute as much to humanity as one can. And whatever one’s capacities and talents, a deepening relationship with and understanding of death enables one to remain fully alive and full of drive for however long one walks the earth.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.