Views on death
How can we come to terms with death? For that, we need to understand what is death and how we view it. We, humans, are different from all other living organisms.
Not that much in terms of Biology or the social aspects of our way of life but in terms of the way we perceive things. Our ability to be self-aware.
This, however, is a double-edged sword. By being self-aware, we are more and more conscious of the way we live our life.
We want happiness and wellbeing for our relatives and ourselves however; the inevitable change is the fundamental truth of the world.
The demand for permanence is the cause of misery. The demand to be happy forever, to be healthy forever, to exist forever. Clinging to life is the reason we are afraid of death.
One person dies and another person is born
We realize that an everlasting existence might come with faults of its own. A demand for everlasting life hides within itself an inability to come to terms with death. How can everyone continue to exist if there are other people being born?
That would cause the earth to be overcrowded. Which as some respectable intellectuals argue is already the case. Moreover, would it make sense to have children if we continue to exist forever?
Reproduction in living beings happens either in a process of fission or in a process where one living being in its lifetime gives a new life before it suffers from aging and eventually ceases to exist.
In a way of passing the torch. Passing on the genes we make sure, the species survive while we as an individual cannot. For other people to be born some people have to die.
Your fear of death is based primarily on a few things. Either you believe that the afterlife exists or not. On the other hand, maybe you believe in a specific version of the afterlife that exists.
Coming to terms with death, Fear of afterlife
“To fear death, my friends is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?”― Socrates
Ignorance according to Socrates was the only evil and knowledge the only good. Socrates believed that there were only two possibilities.
- Death is like a dreamless sleep
- Death is a way of passage to another life
Thus Socrates argued that if death was like a dreamless sleep there was nothing to be scared about because a dreamless sleep is not something to be afraid of.
Alternatively, if death is a passage to another life it should be looked at optimistically because after death you might meet other people that have already died.
In both cases, Socrates argued that death was not something one should be afraid of. Socrates believed we should spend our life living to the best of our abilities.
“Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.”― Socrates
Absence of afterlife, coming to terms with death as an eternal non-existence
Epicurus argued that only those things are evil or bad that feel bad. Death according to him was the elimination of sensations. Thus, death cannot be good or bad.
He argued that one should not be afraid of everlasting non-existence because that is not an experience. Your body interprets all your feelings. If your body dies then you cannot feel anything.
Yes, the process of dying can be a painful experience, and thus you might fear that but death itself is non-existence and there is nothing to fear about that.
“Death is nothing to us. When we exist, death is not; and when death exists, we are not. All sensation and consciousness end with death and therefore in death, there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the belief that in death, there is awareness.”― Epicurus
Therefore, Epicurus believed that it is stupid to fear death and by fearing death, we are actually inhibiting ourselves to live to our fullest in the present moment. It is thus important to live to the best of ability now.
Fear of missing out
Fear of missing out or FOMO is (according to Wikipedia) “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”
In simple terms, it is a fear of all the things we will miss after dying. Here is a way to look at this situation. If we think of life and death as opposites in binary terms.
Then life is one and death is zero. Death is, therefore, the absence of life. Anytime you are not alive is a time you were dead.
Hence, you are dead after your life ends but by the same logic, you were dead before you were born.
The experience of an endless sleep after you were born was one you had before you were born. Just as you will miss, things after you die you missed things before you were born.
You do not feel any sense of regret for missing things before you were born so why do you feel the same for everything after you die.
Come to terms with death, Thoughts of Kai Draper on FOMO
“Perhaps it should come as no surprise that not all comparatively bad deprivations merit distress. For each of us is the subject of an infinite variety of comparatively bad deprivations, and yet we would regard very few of them as matters of concern. And why should we? The absence of a good, like the absence of an ill, is a mere privation, and so typically equanimity is the appropriate response”― Kai Draper, Disappointment, Sadness, and Death
Mr. Draper said that we do not look at all deprivations equally. For example, we will not regret not finding Aladdin’s lamp in our lifetime. It too is a deprivation but one we do not regret.
Just like the lamp of Aladdin, we face an infinite variety of bad deprivations at each moment like not getting winning numbers in a lottery ticket or missing a trip to Barcelona due to unexpected jury duty.
It is best to respond with equanimity. Moreover, the anxiety over things that you will miss after you die prevents you from living mindfully in the present and thus, in effect you are missing out on life, ironically.
Fear of death for those left behind
Many people fear death because they are worried about the people close to them that are going to be left behind. Parents in most instances worry about the well-being of their children after they are gone.
Adults, on the other hand, may worry about their spouses or parents that are old and can’t take care of themselves in their old age.
This is a fear of death that encourages us to do more. To do better in life so that we can help change the present circumstances in a way where those left behind can be taken care of even after we are gone.
For parents, it could mean providing kids with better education and financial literacy so that they can become much more self-reliant in the future and for young adults, it could mean having insurance and an overall better financial future for their loved ones.
Death of someone else
We might be okay with our death and yet we feel uneasy about the death of a loved one. Should we be afraid of the death of other people?
The fear of death of someone else stems from the fear of being left alone. You feel lonely without the person who now you cannot meet or talk with. We, however, cannot help but feel sad about the loss of a loved one.
However, stoics argued against it. The stoics are called as cold and unfeeling men. They argued against the mourning of people on their funerals.
In our blog on how to have fulfilling relationships, we talked about Epictetus and how he believed that we should be grateful for the time we spent with other people while they are alive.
“Never in any case say I have lost such a thing, but I have returned it. Is your child dead? It is a return. Is your wife dead? It is a return. Are you deprived of your estate? Is not this also a return?”― Epictetus
Our relationships with people close to us should not be thought of as possessions but instead as an opportunity for an experience.
Come to terms with death, Stoic learnings from meditations
According to Marcus Aurelius, we can use the fact of our inevitable death as a reminder to live well. We are all going to die.
Life will be either incredibly good or miserable on its extremes but the practice of reminding yourself that you are going to die will help you not take it seriously.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The practice of saying to every good thing and bad thing that I am going to die will help you take the good things without arrogance and bad things without despair.
In everything, you do the thought of remembering that you are going to die will help you be stoic in your response. We are all going to die and the acceptance of death is what keeps you alive.
You are not living your life to the point of death. You are dying every day. Every day millions of cells in your body die and life is a process where your body continuously decays until the point it cannot sustain life.
Accepting life as it is, ephemeral
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think. If the gods exist, then to abandon human beings is not frightening; the gods would never subject you to harm. And if they don’t exist, or don’t care what happens to us, what would be the point of living in a world without gods or Providence? But they do exist, they do care what happens to us, and everything a person needs to avoid real harm they have placed within him. If there were anything harmful on the other side of death, they would have made sure that the ability to avoid it was within you. If it doesn’t harm your character, how can it harm your life?”―Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
When you think of this fact every day and realize that you are in a continuous process of dying will enable you to live fully in life.
“We must make haste then, not only because we are daily nearer to death, but also because the conception of things and the understanding of them cease first.”― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Come to terms with death as a stage of transformation
We now realize that the only truth is the present moment. There is no point in worrying about things outside of our control and the fundamental nature of the universe is change.
“Life, then, is really a dream, and we human beings are like travellers floating down the eternal river of time, embarking at a certain point and disembarking again at another point in order to make room for others waiting below the river to come aboard. Half of the poetry of life would be gone, if we did not feel that life was either a dream, or a voyage with transient travellers, or merely a stage in which the actors seldom realized that they were playing their parts.”― Zhuangzi
Therefore, your death is happening every second. You are continuously changing and progressing through the stages of life.
At every stage, a version of you dies and a new one is born. Zhuangzi said that death is just a transformation just as all life is. It should be a celebration.
Story of Zhuangzi and loss of his wife
There is a story about Zhuangzi where a friend comes to console him after his wife dies however, he sees Zhuangzi pounding a tub singing. When his friend asks him why he was not crying after her wife died, he replied saying
“Certainly not. When she first died, I certainly mourned just like everyone else! However, I then thought back to her birth and to the very roots of her being, before she was born. Indeed, not just before she was born but before the time when her body was created. Not just before her body was created but before the origin of life’s breath. Her life’s breath wrought a transformation and she had a body. Her body wrought a transformation and she was born. Now there is yet another transformation and she is dead. She is like the four seasons in the way that spring, summer, autumn and winter follow each other. She is now at peace, lying in her chamber, but if I were to sob and cry it would certainly appear that I could not comprehend the ways of destiny. This is why I stopped.”― Zhuangzi
The common theme almost all philosophers reach when talking about death is that the only way to accept and come to terms with our death is to live and live consciously.
The best way to live consciously is when you do the work you find fulfilling. Work that gives your life purpose and meaning. To do that you will have to listen to your callings.
We provide a free eBook called The Perfect Beginning that might help you in finding those callings.
Well, that’s all for this post. Have a good day and a good life.