A discussion came up around the observation that for some people the fear of death cripples them and prevents them from truly living and for other’s it gives them a spark to live.

The person that started the conversation mentioned he tested slightly positive for Death Anxiety. He found out that a number of personal development oriented people seem to test positive, but in a way that makes them think, “I have to make the most of every day” or “Be the best you can be”.

I recently read the Denial of Death to understand more of the psychology behind death as well as deepening my studies into Zen Buddhism to understand the “Being” and accepting the impermanence of things. In the Denial of Death, the author’s thesis is that the fear of death, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is the driving force of human activity, and we overcome it by denying it in some way.

Society remains sane to some extent by its ability to either disconnect from reality through distraction or other methods and on the other end by adding significance towards human life; creating meaning. We find ways to transcend the reality of death. Religion is one of the common tools for this. Heroism and creating things that outlast our physical forms is another.

Now let’s look at anxiety and fear; both are related.

“Both fear and anxiety are provoked by danger. Fear is the response to a specific and immediate danger. Anxiety results from a non-specific or generalized concern or threat. Fear is a perceived (external) threat; anxiety is a conceived (internal) threat.”1

When you look at extreme risk takers, the fear of death isn’t fully gone. At that moment, the thrill can drown out the fear.

An internal fear of death is a result of human consciousness. We turn our attention away from this reality to live fully.

To move past this fear means becoming more present-minded. With different practices, like meditation, you can build the awareness to feel what it feels like to just be in the moment. This awareness can transfer it’s utility into other areas of your life.

In mindfulness, there is the understanding of the division between The Self and Consciousness. Being moves closer to understanding the nature of your consciousness and moving away from the ego, which is your sense of identity. In Buddhism, the emphasis on the impermanence of things is another way they detach themselves from the reality of death, through acceptance and gratitude.

Personal development tends to blend all of these things, heroism and the belief of making and impact and change, having a feeling of duty to do so. There is a sense of slight urgency to create meaning in one’s life. Fear usually comes about from feeling one may not having enough time to do all the things you want to do.

When you see life as an opportunity it’s a choice to live. So a decision must be made. What will we do with this life we have? This awareness of the freedom one has to craft one’s life can make someone anxious. We strive to craft life and success, and sometimes they conflict with each other.

We try to fight against the impermanence of it all and create our local legends, by trying to touch the lives of others, so that we may live on in some small or large way. Our journey to achieve success is another vehicle to make our life worthwhile.

The term success is abstract; we can create it’s meaning, although some don’t realize this. It is a canvas that we paint our individual pictures of what it represents to us. Some people may choose to photocopy someone else’s success canvas. And then they may feel regret in that they were born when the ability to create and feel the urge to express and live out their own life’s success.

The paradox is that we fear both life and death. We fight the responsibilities of the choices we have to live with and hide from painful realities. Hopefully, we can live with the choices we make and redefine the realities of how we want to experience this life and the world we live in.

The brave ones who deeply feel this reality, want to make it count.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” ― Hunter S. Thompson

Footnotes:

  1. Anxiety: Root: From Latin ānxius, from anger, to torment. Anxiety describes a prolonged moderately intense condition provoked by a specific event that can upset the present order of things. It is the distress we feel when existential concerns are provoked by an immediate or upcoming event. http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/anxiety.htm

Also published on Medium.