This is episode #46, it’s called, “We’re All Going to Die, and That’s OK.”
Yes, we’re all going to die, are you OK with that? If not, don’t you think you should be? I mean it’s going to happen? Wouldn’t it be wise to be OK with it, to be accepting of it and at peace with it? Now you might find this line of questioning morbid or inappropriate. After all, one shouldn’t speak so forwardly and frankly about death, right? Well, perhaps that’s part of the problem. Meaning, that’s at least one reason why we’re so uncomfortable discussing death. We don’t talk about it. Indeed, we are hush hush about it in our culture. So much so that we’ve created this frightening monster. Yes, death is ominous, anxiety-provoking, and a dreadful reality. We hide under the covers, daring to peek out, for death’s gatekeeper, the grim reaper, the angel-of-death, may show up at any time with his scythe and invitation.
Hold on, you might say, why not chill out, until he shows? Why not wait to deal with death when it comes? Well. . . that’s not a bad approach or mind set when waiting for the outcome of a job interview, let’s say, when worrying about it wouldn’t be helpful. Yes, one should focus on living life, work, family, etc., until you find out whether you got the job or not, in which you can deal with the outcome then. I agree with this approach. But when it comes to death, I don’t. See, when the call about the job comes in, whatever the outcome, it’s done with, we deal with it then. Death, on the other hand, is always there, in the background, in the shadows until it arrives. For certain, there’s an underlying level of anxiety and fear that exists due to the knowledge of our immortality. That is, until we find peace with it. Yes, if we befriend death, let’s say, that anxiety and fear dissipates.
But back to waiting for the call about the job interview. . . . Get honest, do you stop worrying until the call comes? Do you handle waiting well? See, if you anxiously worry as to whether the news will be good or bad, then you will likely handle finding out you have cancer gracefully? Look, I know this is uncomfortable subject matter, but I strongly feel that we need to address it and find peace with it. After all, we’re all going to die, that’s life.
Now, I’m not trying to minimize the seriousness of illness and death, no, definitely not. I’m just trying to point out the importance of preparation. No one taught us how to handle the big stuff like death, never mind the small stuff. Let’s look at the job interview call back, this is the small stuff. I learned from the Buddhist tradition to practice the small stuff to prepared for the big stuff. So, for instance, how do we get out of the habit of worrying unnecessarily so about the small stuff? Well, we know, that there’s nothing we can do to change the results of the job interview, the interview was done already. So, worrying won’t change anything. Yet, we still worry, we can’t help it. The question is why can’t we stop worrying? Is it habit? It is a strong craving for things to go our way? Or a lack of trust in the flow of things, and Nature, and God?
As we can see, it’s complicated. There are layers upon layers. Likely, we observed worrying, learned it and experienced from our family, our environment, and from TV sitcoms and soap operas. We modeled ourselves after the people in our lives and what we witnessed. Sure, there could be other reasons, such as trauma, brokenness, and even genetics. But whatever the case, we are not imprisoned by our past and genes. We can change. But we must do the inside work. So, start by practicing the small stuff; the car breaking down on the highway, your husband forgetting the milk on his way home from work, stepping on gum on your way to a first date. When these things happen, pause, breathe, acknowledge that they aren’t big things, remind yourself that you’re practicing the small stuff, that these challenges are necessary, that they give you the opportunity to practice the small stuff to prepared for the big stuff.
So back to death. . . . Additionally, as we begin the practice of not sweating the small stuff, it’s suggested we deflate the ego. In the case of death, illness, and the like, it’s especially important. See, we are powerless over death and the like, but the ego thinks otherwise. Our ego likes to play God, it wants to control things, it wants security, stability, it wants to grasp on to life, and hang on to it for as long as it can; forever if given the chance. The ego prevents us from finding peace with death.
The philosopher, Alan Watts says it well, “There is a wonderful quote that says: ‘I pray that death will not come and find me still unannihilated.’ In other words, man dies happy if there is no one to die which means the ego has disappeared before death caught up to him. . . . you see, the knowledge of death helps the ego to disappear because it tells you that you can’t hang on.”1
No doubt, acknowledging death, admitting our powerlessness, and surrendering to something bigger than us is vital. But in my view, it’s the greatest challenge for modern human beings. Who wants to surrender, admit they are powerless? In the West, it is especially discouraged and frowned upon. Surrendering our will to what is, and hence, to death; who wants to do that? Well, no one, that is, unless they have to. I guess, put simply, we have to reach a level of debilitating fear. Or experience some sort of rock bottom, desperate state, trauma, or psychic breakdown. Whereas our ego gets severely punctured. Or perhaps, if we’re lucky, a moment of grace comes our way.
And it is then, that our journey can begin. For it’s too hard to turn back. Although, sadly, people do run from it, and settle back into their old ways. But supposing you don’t, a humbleness and deepen understanding of life and death begins to emerge. See, once the ego deflates, once we acknowledge we are powerless of life and death, we settle in to a place of contentment and serenity. Over time we come to experience acceptance of aging, loss, and death.
With all that said, how about a more practical way of looking at this view, when we surrender to and accept life and death, fear vanishes and joy blossoms. We don’t dread death. Instead we cherish each moment, because we have a deeper knowing that life is short. So, we want to do some good, change the world for the better, leave our mark on the world, whether that be designing a skyscraper, writing a novel or raising children. And the beautiful thing about surrender and acceptance is that there isn’t a sense of urgency or desperation, like the clock is ticking, like a time bomb is about to go off. No, when we are trusting and in the flow with the Universe, we get done what the Universe allows, no matter how much we try, we can’t force things. It’s going to happen or it’s not going it happen, meaning, our desired goals. And that’s the acceptance part of it. That’s not to say, we can sit back and do nothing. No, we have to make the effort. We need discipline, a strong work ethic, clear goals, and all that. . . but the rest is in God’s hands, as it were. In this state of being, we smile at fear and at death. But not in a defiant way, but in a friendly way. That is to say, fear and death become our companions on this journey. Just as illness and aging does. As the Buddhists say; no ego, no problem.
On the other hand, again, we can ignore the calling, as it were. We can try to escape or just outright resist and fight aging, illness, and death. We can continually get plastic surgery, fight cancer like a soldier, and flip the finger to death. . . and God in essence. Yes, we can do that, we have the choice. I would say though, it’s not an approach to life that’s conducive to serenity and peace of mind. And truth be told, in the end, you will lose. You’re going to age, get sick, and die. But if we accept death, be one with it, find peace with it. . . well, it will make our life easier, and we’ll likely be healthier in body and mind.
See, with this attitude or mindset of acceptance, dying will come easy. After all, it’s life, it’s Nature. I mean, look at nature; seasons change, the earth shifts, everything is born and then it dies. And we are nature. Life and death are natural. Everything is fleeting. Nothing is permanent. And so, there is something at work here, something bigger than us, something that we are a part of. If this all resonates with you, I suggest taking the spiritual path.
As I see it, life is a mystery. And there’s more to life then biology, psychology, philosophy, and the intellectual realm. There’s a spiritual realm; the mystery. Additionally, ponder this. . . religion has been around for quite some time, don’t be too quick to rule it out, criticize it, and dump on it. To quote American academic and social critic, Camille Paglia, “Although I am an atheist, I have immense admiration and respect for religion as a comprehensive symbol-system, far more profound in its poetry, insight, and metaphysical sweep than anything currently offered by secular humanism.”
Well, I’ll leave it here. As always, thank you for listening. If you enjoy the podcast, please Share it with others. Also, please subscribe to my free newsletter on my website. Just go to carltvreeland.com and go to the support page. Also, I’ve been publishing the podcast transcripts on my blog page, which is on the website. And please don’t forget to follow me on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. My handle is @carltvreeland. Thank you again.
- Watts, Alan. Lecture. Out of Your Mind: The World As Emptiness.