Mar 30 • 4M

[0039]Accepting the end

May you allow the space for death

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Being able to reflect on ageing, sickness, and death (दोषानुदर्शनम्) is a central tenet of the Vedic tradition. Freud says that you cannot imagine your own death because when you imagine it, you merely observe (in a superficial way) what it might be like from the outside, disassociated from the visceral reality. Death is the end of experience as we know it, so the only recourse we have is to deny its fearful existence. Others may die around us, but we can never really comprehend what that means for us, and the ego assures us that we cannot die. But no matter how much society tries to brush aside the facts of ageing, illness, and death, the reality is that they are the only certainties in life; ageing brings with it pain, suffering, separation, and loss; death is most assured. Life is a gift, all will say, but the spectre of death is always present, no matter how rich and powerful you are. ‘“So careful of the type?” but no’ says Tennyson, ‘[she] cries, "A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go."‘ And though we are apt to dismiss the notion, the human spirit knows that all lives are interconnected and even though death takes many, others are spared.

If you keep running away from the facts of ageing and death, you will end up suffering more from the pain of encountering them and the bewilderment that arises out of sudden knowledge of their implications. The ordinary vicissitudes of life—a life-changing ailment or the sudden loss of a loved one—have devastating effects, even though you know, deep down, that such things are a part of life. To face these existential fears is to examine how you unconsciously act or react to their presence. Do you allow yourself to grieve in sympathy with others at their loss or do you let it foster your own fears? Do you despair at the thought of never indulging in physical pleasures? To accept life and death, pain and pleasure, is to accept that they are not opposite forces but the two phases of the same continuum. To deny one in favour of the other is to gradually offset the delicate balance that sustains all life everywhere. On the other hand, to accept your own vulnerability is to accept how naked and utterly exposed you are to the ravages of time and tide. Instead of an egocentric preoccupation with overcoming this vulnerability or a morbid fixation with mortality, you embrace this vulnerability, this tenderness in an open way. You can accept your own insignificance and perhaps even extend your compassion to those outside your group who are different from you. You can begin to live and cherish each day as a chance to give and give back, with no guarantee of a tomorrow. And in the process you’ll discover what is really meaningful to you.

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