'Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it' - Marcus Aurelius
It is one of the great dichotomies - those questions we refuse to ask tend to be the ones capable of granting us the greatest insight. Questions such as: Why do we behave as though we are immune to death, persisting in willful denial until someone near to us ceases to exist, leaving us crippled by shock and disbelief? Once they are gone, we allow ourselves to discuss the deceased's mortality, wondering aloud where the one - who was alive only the day before - went, discussing various theories and belief systems, in an attempt to contain what we cannot control. Though we are permitted to speak of these things, we almost never talk about the impending moment of our own final breath, at least not in rational conversation. Why not? Certainly, being alive is only half of the equation, we cannot be alive without facing death. Though we blind ourselves to this reality, we are only doing ourselves a great disservice. Without rational acceptance of our mortality we are left living our lives in a vacuum, maintained by rigorous cognitive dissonance. So let's be courageous, if only for a few moments. Let's discuss the questions we do not allow ourselves to ask.
Perhaps we focus exclusively on life because our fear of the unknown is so unspeakable, so daunting, so counter-intuitive to our aliveness we find we have no alternative but to ignore it. It is an impossibility too vast to frame within our finite minds, completely antithetical to what we are. Even when our existence is intolerable, enduring through war, starvation, violence, hardship, pain, fear, betrayal, illness and loss, we still persist in refusing to acknowledge our mortality. Some lives are so terrible, they merely exist, living in the past, waiting for a better future, while treading the murky, anguished waters of the present, in some cases for the remainder of their lives. Yet, even so, they deny their mortality. It is a powerful drive to ignore what we all must one day face. But what if, just for a moment, we did not? What could happen to us? To our thoughts, attitudes, and to our greater perspective? Would it annihilate us to consider our brief time of awareness in a new light?
What if we were to escape from the infinitesimal perspective within which we function and push toward into a greater, vaster perspective? It is here in the scope of millions of years where we can see the mayfly existence of humans on Earth. Let us move forward in time, by the same margins, millions of years - where we can observe what is real, what is true and what will be. Seen in this perspective, everything we have ever done, everything we will ever do, will come to nothing. Billions of years before the universe contracts we will have already returned to the building blocks of the matter from which we were formed. Therefore, if we will only exist for such a brief period of time, as a conscious being made of matter, why are we creating such strife and hate amongst ourselves, when in the end none of it will matter?
Do not fear death. Rather, fear yourselves while you are alive. Ignoring your truth, you have become your own worst enemies. Harming each other, for nothing. Hating each other, for nothing. Hurting each other, for nothing. All of it, for nothing. The entire history of the human race will not even register as the merest blip across the vast timescales of the universe. One day, Sol, Earth and the solar system will cease to exist, vanishing, leaving no trace of our short-lived existence behind.
If we face our mortality, if we embrace it, if we understand in the end all will come to nothing, then our entire perspective changes. Would we not rather seek to live in peace, cultivating our existence to greater perfection while at the same time nurturing those around us? Would we not seek to appreciate the arts, music, and beauty of our uniqueness, our creativeness? Would we not give importance to the pursuit of knowledge, using science to discover the unknowns of the reality we temporarily find ourselves in? Would we not find joy in these discoveries, knowing we have been invited to the most wonderful dinner party, where after aeons of non-existence we are free to sample from an astounding array of dishes laid out before us? For the briefest of breaths, we have the opportunity to live in this reality, in this space and time, conscious, alive and aware. During this fleeting existence it is our duty to face our imminent demise with dignity and courage, living our lives with honor and purpose, knowing all will come to nothing, yet choosing to live with integrity. This is the way of true enlightenment, of transcending one's mortality.
Use your time wisely. Do not hate, do not war, do not give in to the darkness within. You cannot be right, nor can you be wrong. You can only be. And in the end, just being here, now, is more than enough.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend Sept 28 2015