“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”
~ James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time
I think I have mentioned in a previous post the story of my encounter with a very old man early in my Science of Mind™ studies. He had been in the teaching for some time and we were having a discussion during a class break. What he said to me has remained with me as one of the most significant statements in my metaphysical learning. He said that in learning the Science of Mind, we are learning how to die.
When I questioned his meaning, he replied that only in learning how to live fully can we learn how to die properly. If we have not lived fully, we will resist that final state of our human lifetime and likely suffer much more than necessary. The quotes from James Baldwin, above, and Krishnamurti, below, speak to this deep truth.
“Death is extraordinarily like life when we know how to live. You cannot live without dying. You cannot live if you do not die psychologically every minute. This is not an intellectual paradox. To live completely, wholly, every day as if it were a new loveliness, there must be a dying to everything of yesterday, otherwise you live mechanically, and a mechanical mind can never know what love is or what freedom is.”
~ J. Krishnamurti
In our New Thought principles and teachings, we have a recipe for living fully, not just a series of lessons in positive thinking. Our teachings are about the realities of a human existence and a realization that although we are imbued with divinity, so is everything else. Pain and suffering are not to be denied but experienced and transcended as much as possible. The “successful” spiritual pathway is not one free of negativity and pain, but one in which the inevitabilities of life are met with compassion, grace, and wisdom. Our path is never completely clear of challenges, but we can begin to clear it of unnecessary challenges created out of our own ignorance and fear.
“A good life is still a life. It must involve a full share of suffering, loneliness, disappointment and coming to terms with one’s own mortality and the deaths of those one loves. To live a life that is good as a life involves all this.”
~ John Armstrong
Our fears lead us to live false lives, repressing aspects of ourselves which do not seem to lead to our acceptance by those by whom we wish to be accepted. We develop personalities designed to manipulate others through charm, intimidation, or aloofness. We come to see ourselves as inadequate and try to protect ourselves by hiding behind masks of various kinds.
“Most hide behind the smile because they are afraid of facing the world’s complexity, its vagueness, its terrible beauties. If they stay safely ensconced behind their painted grins, then they won’t have to encounter the insecurities attendant upon dwelling in possibility, those anxious moments when one doesn’t know this from that, when one could suddenly become almost anything at all. Even though this anxiety, usually over death, is in the end exhilarating, a call to be creative, it is in the beginning rather horrifying, a feeling of hovering in an unpredictable abyss. Most immediately flee from this situation. They try to lose themselves in the laughing masses, hoping the anxiety will never again visit them. They don inauthenticity as a mask, a disguise protecting them from the abyss.”
~ Eric G. Wilson
For some on a New Thought pathway, this becomes a fixation on being positive, good, even perfect. There is a clear sense of fear if anything negative is said or if the bad news of the day is discussed. This compulsion to avoid negativity is, psychology tells us, another form of the fear of death. In this realm, no one dies, they “transition.” The fact that no one knows what happens after that “transition” is also not spoken about, unless one has a belief that they do know.
A major lesson taught by Jesus is that every resurrection requires a crucifixion. In other words, there is no new birth without a death – the child must die so that the adult can be born, ignorance must die so that awareness can be born, etc. If we do not grasp the inevitability and the necessity of death in our existence, we sentence ourselves to incomplete lives lived in bondage to fear and avoidance. This shows up every time we cling to something that no lover serves us or that is, of its own volition or nature, ready to move on. Relationships, old belongings, stages of life, and limited ideas exist in this category. Clinging to the past is a form of denial of our actual fear – that we are destined to be forever moving into an unknown future which includes a physical death, and that we fear living fully.
It can be comforting to have a belief about what happens to us when we die. The founder of Religious Science, Ernest Holmes, was agnostic on this topic. He did believe in immortality of the soul, of the essence of who we are, but he was less certain about any retention of memory of our life in human form. He did not believe in reincarnation to earth but believed that every individual has access to every thoughtform, and memories of past lives were just that – thought forms (see the 1926 Science of Mind Text). Of course, he also held that this was his own opinion and others were not required to believe as he did.
“I do not believe in the return of the soul to another life on this plane. The spiral of life is upward. Evolution carries us forward, not backward.”
~ Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind (1938), p 386.
The ability to live in the paradox of a life which ends with a physical death and the continued journey of the soul, in another form or formless, into an unknown eternity is a sign of spiritual maturity. The spiritually mature person lives with mystery and paradox easily and does not require specific answers where they are not forthcoming or simply cannot be known.
By learning how to live fully, to accept the mysteries and paradoxes inherent in life and to be a living expression of our uniquely divine nature is the key to learning how to die. To enter that mystery with no more knowledge than we had when we entered this lifetime is what Nature requires of us (“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:3). To come to a place where we do not fear death because we accept its inevitability and its mystery is to prepare ourselves and to enable us to live fully in each present moment.
Accepting the reality and inevitability of physical death is an important aspect of living a life worth living, one that offers the chance for fulfillment of your reason for being. It allows you to live both fully and lightly, with humility and humor, and to accept death and loss as part of the journey – not tragic but sorrowful, as sorrow is also part of human existence. Living as if life is an adventure to be explored rather than a fragile jewel to be protected at all costs – finding that middle balance where you ride the crest of the wave without falling in and without withdrawing out of fear. In this way we find the grace of life, which is a sense of true belonging, of deep connection with all of life, not just the parts we think we should like. We are all learning how to die.
“The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life, but as an aspect of life. Life in its becoming is always shedding death, and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life.”
~ Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
As always, your comments are welcomed. And feel free to share this post with others who may be interested.
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard
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