“Everyone dies – not everyone really lives” William Ross Wallace
How do you feel about death? It’s one of those areas of life that is pretty much taboo. We only have to look at our society to get a glimpse into death and ageing to get a sense of it’s no no status. Our culture is generally dominated by youth and image because in our consumer driven society youth is where the energy is and therefore the money. The problem isn’t with youth it’s how we treat those that society considers past their prime. We are regularly informed that we have an ‘ageing problem’, which almost implies that older people have gone past their sell by date and are no longer useful. At it’s worst older people are being led away to be kept out of sight and shunted away into old peoples homes so they can pass away with less fuss and bother.
Death is the most certain thing in our lives and for most people growing old is part of that process, yet we avoid this inevitability. In Eastern cultures death is embraced in a healthier and more realistic manner where older people are more venerated for their wisdom that life has cultivated and endowed. Older people in these cultures are not shunted away, but are integrated more into their communities. Old people homes are not inherently bad as they do serve a purpose but it’s the seeming belief that older people are no longer deemed valuable which is part of our beliefs that drive our individualistic culture that perpetuates a non reverence for this stage of life. This is further compounded by the fear of death that lies at the end of this continuum of ageing.
So why the avoidance of death and ageing? Part of the problem appears to stem, as mentioned above, from our individualistic culture that focuses a fair portion of its collective energy on youth and self image that’s centred around beauty and how we look. Having a body that inevitably grows older, gets weaker, slowly shuts down, has less energy, systematically starts to not work as well, needs more repair jobs etc and this doesn't even count the fears associated with losing our mental faculties with its worst case scenario of losing your identity via the delights of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The aim of this blog is not to be pessimistic about the certainty of death but highlight that bringing this topic into our awareness is a way to focus on life and from there embrace what it has to offer depending on the context in which we live. I have read a number of times about people who have been given a terminal diagnosis and what they went through. Once they had gone through the understandable emotional upheaval this news brings they arrived at place of acceptance reporting that they were able to embrace life in away that’s new and vibrant. The people in these stories usually cited that they wished they had done so earlier in their life. It makes you wonder, when all is considered, that we all have a terminal diagnosis so to speak. The difference being that we don’t know when. Even though we don’t know when, what is stopping us from living fully as though this was our last moment? I’m not talking about making a bucket list and then ditching all responsibility such as family life, but rather a way of being that cultivates seeing the world with fresh eyes which acknowledges both the beauty and the horror that’s part of life.
I guess what I’m advocating is that death can be a friend who guides us rather than an a dreaded event that is avoided at all costs. Just to be clear this is not about being morose but about being truthful and there is nothing more brutally honest than death to shake one’s foundations and reassess what’s in front of us. Contemplating one’s personal demise can cultivate a life that is more honest, grateful, that has no regrets and is ultimately loving.
May this day find you well.