I.1 "BUT I NEVER THINK OF DEATH"
Excessive denial of death, i.e. unnecessarily repressing our death-pain, harms our life. (PLEASE SEE SELF-INQUIRY #1: "TERMINAL DIAGNOSIS")
Falling in love, the smile of a baby, an unusually beautiful sunset, a moment of spiritual exaltation, the thrill of victory, a creative breakthrough, the poignant death of a loved one, surviving a life-threatening incident, creating or beholding a great work of art ... we have all had such extraordinary moments, when we experience what it means to be "truly alive".
Unfortunately, however, such moments are usually the exception to the deadening routine of our lives. Most of us are alive, even do great things, but we are usually not truly alive. Not really. We all agree that "life is short, we should make every moment count." And yet we rarely do. Not really.
We experience, if we are honest with ourselves, an even greater horror than the prospect of facing oblivion for all eternity: the fact that we spend so much of the short and precious life that we have been granted in routine, deadened and unfeeling activities. No matter how much therapy, spirituality, religion we have engaged in, or workplace, creative or political success we have enjoyed, we all know deep down that we are experiencing but a tiny fraction of our potential to be truly alive.
The reason for this is basic: it HURTS to be truly alive. To really feel our love for a spouse, child or friend, is wonderful, but inevitably evokes largely unconscious pain at the knowledge that we will one day lose our experience of them forever. It is impossible to attach meaning to our experience of another person, favored activity, or life itself, without feeling pain at our knowledge that there will come a day when they -- and we - will disappear.
Anguish about death comes with being alive. It is built-in. We all have it. And it is also true that most of us are unaware of it, having learned to repress our anguish between the ages of 3 and 8, usually before we can now remember.
Our habitual reaction of repressing our pain is aided by a modern technological society which shields us from many of the harsh realities of life, sees us live isolatedly from others, and encourages us to experience life vicariously through entertainment. And we deny our death-pain through the many religious and spiritual traditions which teach us to take comfort in belief-systems assuring us of life after death rather than a spirituality which enlivens ( A Spirituality that Enlivens ).
But while natural, avoiding pain comes at a tremendous cost. We cannot avoid painful feelings without cutting off joyful ones as well. Our attempt to deny our pain about our death deadens us to life and consumes enormous amounts of our energy, ironically hastening the very death we try not to think or feel about. We are more likely to unconsciously pull back in our relationships, raise our children less compassionately, and stay in jobs that are not meaningful to us.
This website suggests a radically different path to true aliveness: that you consider developing a daily practice of facing death in a way that affirms life, starting now . By "facing death", we mean (1) surfacing the pain you now repress about your eventual death; and (2) transforming it into love and action on behalf of life, e.g. by using the pain as energy to deeply FEEL how precious, beautiful and poignant this brief life is - an appreciation of life made all the deeper by feeling our pain at its absence - and finding ways to act socially and politically to save it.
The most common initial response to the idea that true aliveness requires facing death is: "but I never think of my death." People usually explain that whatever the validity of these ideas might be for others, it does not apply to them because they rarely think of their death. And since they don't, how or why on earth would they deliberately want to do so?
It is true, of course, that most of us rarely think or feel about our eventual death. And even death-aware people only think of their mortality a relatively small portion of their time.
But the fact that we do not consciously think of something, of course, hardly means it does not wreak havoc in our lives. If there is one basic principle that the hundreds of schools of 20th century psychology agree upon, after all, it is that we are largely driven by motivations of which we are barely aware or which are entirely unconscious . And we will assert here that we have in our unconscious nothing that is more important and less discussed than the issue of death.
This website includes samples of the vast evidence suggesting that we all feel unconscious anguish about death, and that surfacing rather than denying this anguish can be key to realizing more of our potential to be truly alive. The evidence includes:
-- samples of the countless first-person experiences of individuals over the centuries whose lives have been transformed by facing death, usually after believing that death was not a problem for them;
-- the work of psychotherapists and social psychologists who have described and demonstrated how death anxiety influences every aspect of human existence;
-- the experience of Dr. Robert Firestone and a group of his friends, who have faced death openly and regularly over the past 30 years, and found it key to being truly alive;
-- the treasure trove of experience that has been developed by the death and dying and hospice movement;
-- and a wide variety of philosophical, psychological and spiritual reflections from wise people over the ages who have arrived at the same conclusion.
We do not present this evidence to "prove" that we deny death in a way that severely damages our lives. It is, of course, almost impossible to "prove" a negative, e.g. that the fact that we don't think of death means we are repressing our feelings about it.
We present this evidence here, rather, in hopes that it might encourage website visitors to experiment for themselves whether they are wasting energy by repressing their feelings about death, and whether they might transform their lives -- experiencing far more energy, love, feeling, creativity, joy and creative purpose, better relationships, success in child-rearing and more meaningful work - by facing their death in a way that affirms and acts for life. ( Experience Matters, Not Beliefs .)
The many accounts by people whose lives have been transformed to new levels of aliveness after being forced to face death due to illness, violence, crime or accidents, raise particularly compelling questions: do we really want to wait until we have a terminal illness, when it may be almost too late, to discover whether facing death can transform our lives? Does it not make more sense to consider this question now, when we have so many years before us that could be transformed?
In the end, the issue of whether to face your death depends upon your personal experience far more than anything published here. This website is built around a series of "self-inquiries" and "experiences" that can help you experiment with facing death so as to be more truly alive. If you try them, and begin to feel more alive, our thesis will be proven correct. If not, all the inspirational stories from the lives of others, logic, evidence, and scientific studies will not matter one whit.
This website has a social mission as well. In addition to seeking to help individuals, we believe that saving humanity will require that large numbers of people, institutions and leaders come to face their death-pain rather than continuing to deny it in ways that promote violence and accelerate the destruction of the biosphere. It may well be that only as humanity as a whole come to truly treasure life by facing its absence, and acts upon that realization, will we be able to reverse our present movement toward gradual species-suicide by irreparably damaging the biosphere upon which we depend for life. ( Species Well-being and Survival )