“We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.” — Rumi
Dying — whether a final death or an everyday challenge to our sense of self, it confronts our identity causing us to be afraid. Essentially our fear of death is a fear of losing that which we identify with. Thus we often cling to certain traits and identities within us, especially our world view and belief system, and especially when these are challenged by others. It’s been shown over and over again that when reminded of our fear of death, we react generously to those who reinforce our beliefs and harshly to those who call our beliefs into question.
What causes us to behave this way?
Unity vs. Individuality
We come into this world without knowing separation. A new born baby is not able to tell the difference between itself and its environment. Therefore, there is no specific individual identity to cling to. There is simply ‘being’ felt as an unconditional love. This is ‘unity consciousness’. However, within the first year of life we will begin to become aware of duality — that is ‘me in relation to you’. Whereas newborns will not distinguish between themselves and their mothers, 1 year-olds will be able to see that they are in fact separate entities.
This causes great pain to an infant, which we call separation anxiety. It is the first time we experience death in our lifetimes; a loss of identity. So, we begin to search for our own identity — what is our place in the world? And here begins the apparent conflict between the two opposing currents of love (unity consciousness) and individuality (separation). Thus a child will flip several times a day between needing to be supported and nurtured and needing to assert their independence, which of course continues into adulthood, if only in a more subtle way.
The two ‘flows of consciousness’ conflict because of fear — we fear to lose ourselves in unity consciousness, to lose our uniqueness, that which defines us. This is the underlying cause: the ‘source pain’, of our fear of death. It is the reason so many are not able to meditate deeply — to hit that point where we blend effortlessly into the vastness of the universe.
So how do we consolidate these two apparently opposing flows so that they work together in our lives, so that fear arises less and less? Well, I’m afraid there’s no method I can suggest. The answer lies in the opposite of method — surrender… total and utter surrender.
Surrendering into Nothingness
We have to let the fear arise. We have to make friends with it. We have to let go of our clinging. We have to be prepared to dissolve into nothingness. It takes a deep surrender to let go of our identities. The parent, the musician, the football player, the intellectual, the lover, the carer, the comedian, the warrior — they must all go. They have to all be thrown into the black hole of nothingness — to my knowledge there is no other way to overcome fear! We have to literally become the black hole. Emptiness.
Here’s the thing — this emptiness, this nothingness. There is actually a wholeness to it; a purity of life. Some call it unconditional love. It is not really nothingness but no-thing-ness. There is no object (there is not even a subject) to cling to and produce duality…
… and out of this nothingness, this pure potential, comes our real uniqueness. It is not something that can be easily described, easily labelled, and therefore there is no identity with it. It is just you, pure and simple. It is felt as a kind of ‘rightness’ in every moment. It is not the rightness of right and wrong, this is a judgement, a duality which leads to identifying with a certain point of view. It is a spontaneous ‘knowing’ of how to respond to any given situation. It is beyond the mind and yet it is alignment for you and those around you, even if it makes people uncomfortable.
“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself” — Martin Heidegger
The Magic of the Moment
From here we begin to see how truly magical life really is. Check out this amazing short video with Alan Watts.
“So therefore, in the course of nature, once we have ceased to see the magic in the world anymore, we’re no longer fulfilling nature’s game of being aware of itself. There’s no point anymore. And so we die.” — Alan Watts
Life is truly magical — the way it works, all the little miracles, the coincidences, the interactions.
How can we cultivate this feeling inside of us? We have to dive right in. Embrace the good and the bad. Find a passion — what makes you tick — and do it without guilt. But don’t cling, don’t identify. Our passions are simply ways of expressing our uniqueness which comes from pure potential, they are not who we are. We are the magic of the universe made incarnate.
(This article is a small preview of some of the content of Richard’s upcoming book!)
Recommended reading by Richard West:
- Recovering From Loss of Identity
- Listening Through the Noise: Steps Toward Inner Peace
- How to Channel Your Sadness Into Beauty
- Dying to Live – Embracing Change
- Why Die Consciously?
- Simple But Powerful Ways of Improving Communication with Loved Ones
About the author:
Richard West is a carer, psychologist, spiritual facilitator and writer. He has worked close to death for 7 years and is passionate about helping people to move on in a conscious way, even though our society is geared to fight against death. Richard is also a spiritual facilitator at Openhand. He offers services in Spiritual Facilitation and Conscious Dying on his website ‘Back to the Source’ and writes regular articles on his blog (where this article first appeared.)
- Website: www.comebacktothesource.com
- Blog: www.comebacktothesource.com/articles
- Openhand: www.openhandweb.org