“Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” ~ Chinese Proverb
There is nothing more inspiring nor more crippling than the following sentence: You are going to die! It’s crippling because it really sucks that all things eventually come to an end. It’s an existential bummer that there is no permanence.
It’s inspiring because all things are meaningful precisely because they come to an end. Things are beautiful because there is no permanence.
The only reason everything isn’t everything else is because our perception of reality is finite and we perceive things to have a beginning and an end.
The reason everything is everything else is because everything is infinite and interconnected, despite our perceptions, and there is neither beginning nor end, but conscious observation makes it so.
And here we are, finite-bias-laden conscious observers caught up in an infinite reality with limited faculties, torn between knowing that we know, and knowing that we don’t know. Breath-gasping creatures split between spirit and flesh, fear and love, life and entropy.
Yes, you are going to die! But the question is: What are you going to do about it?
As the poet Mary Oliver asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And it is wild, even if you’ve forgotten. It is precious, even if it seems otherwise. The answer to this question will define the rest of your life. She is double-dog daring you to live.
As William Wallace says in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
Torn between spirit and flesh:
“When one has a great deal to put into it, a day has a hundred pockets.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
When it comes down to it, we’re just big-brained mammals who figured out a few things that gave us leverage over nature. By and large, most of that leverage has gone to our collective head.
Which at times can make it seem like we are wiser than we actually are, and can confuse a lot of things between what it means to be an animal in a challenging world and a spiritual being in a dwarfing cosmos.
We feel our animal nature in our flesh. We feel our bodies growing and decaying, gasping and grasping, hungry and hurried. We smell the blood and sweat, the piss and shit, the odor of being an animal going through the motions of consuming and defecating, crying and laughing, lying and loving.
We’re so much our bodies that we’re in denial about it. We’ve distanced ourselves from our own nature to such an extent that we’ve created an unhealthy dissociation between Nature and the human soul.
And so we suffer. Like no other animal, we suffer. For we know that we know. And yet we are aware that our awareness is inadequate. Our insecurity knows no bounds, and yet we suppress it. We feel ourselves slowly dying, and yet we’re alive.
Our answer to the anxiety of death is a spiritual one. It is as necessary as it is illusory, but vitally important for our health and sanity precisely because we are aware that we will one day die. And so we vainly construct gods, and we pray to them.
And so we futilely build holy places and we commune inside them. And so we desperately transform our lovers into makeshift gods, and we fall in love with them. And so we passionately create art that fulfills us for a time, and we immortalize it.
We do so because there may not be another life to love. So we hedge our bets. We risk it all on a gamble, on an existential wager. We move all in. And more often than not, we forget that it’s all a risk to begin with.
We forget to be honest with ourselves. Whether due to cultural conditioning, or blind faith brainwashing, or state indoctrination, or any combination of the above, somewhere along the way we forget the importance of sacred play. We forget to live, to laugh, and to love despite death, anxiety, and fear.
Torn between fear and love:
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” ~ Mark Twain
As our anxiety grows, so do our demons. And “you are going to die!” is the mother of all demons, howling even as we go through the motions of being in denial about it. But unless we’re able to tenderly wrestle him into an ally, we run the risk of not really living at all. This particular demon is an obstacle to a fulfilled life because he represents our fear of death.
He holds us in a chokehold. Our mortal coil might as well be a collar that he leads us around on a leash. And until we’re able to turn the tables on him, until we’re able to tenderly wrestle him into reconciliation (existential self-empowerment), until we’re able to reclaim the leash, we will continue to be led by fear and trepidation at the risk of a life half-lived or half-dead (nihilistic self-defeat).
Now enter Love. Love is the force that bonds. Love is the energy that amplifies life and revolutionizes the roles we play. Including the roles our demons play. When we’re able to come at our death anxiety with love, we’re able to transform the demon into an ally, the existential angst into sacred surrender, the suffering into wisdom, and the seriousness of it all into a sense of humor.
Love, especially insurgent love, folds time. It’s the existential paint our inner-artist uses to create a life well-lived. It transubstantiates (like water into wine) the futility of life into a flexible canvas upon which we can create vitalizing art, despite the inevitability of death.
At some point, in order for love to flourish, we must abandon our safety nets. We must be capable of stretching our comfort zones. We must be daring enough to be vulnerable, despite a hostile and scary world. Eventually we must be willing to transform our fear into courage, to take a leap of courage (Not a leap of faith). Otherwise we risk living with dead time and running on obsolete patterns.
We risk living in unhealthy and unsustainable misbalance and disequilibrium with the greater cosmos. We risk allowing fear to win out over love.
As H. L. Mencken said, “The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety.”
Eventually, in order to honestly and authentically answer Mary Oliver’s question, we must reach the point where we’re able to challenge our own comfort and security, to push the envelope for the sake of growth even at the risk of painful papercuts.
Torn between life and entropy:
“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of.” ~ Charles Richards
At the end of the day, it’s all for naught if we cannot seize it. Carpe diem must be our battle cry against entropy, our raging “against the dying of the light.”
We have from this moment forward to live the life we really want to live, to become the creators of a life well-lived. Will it be fear, fear, fear; or love, love, love? Will it be tremble, tremble, tremble; or laugh, laugh, laugh?
Will we live soulful, adventurous, courage-based lives where we risk safety and security for growth and spiritual flourishing; or will we live egocentric, timid, fear-based lives just going through the motions of living a life half-lived?
It comes down to this: You are going to die! That should be the loudest wakeup call of all time. But what you do with that wakeup call determines the health, vitality, and flourishing (or lack thereof) of your life. Will you continue to hit the snooze button the rest of your life? Or will you wake up and seize the day?
“Do not go quietly into that good night.” Take neither life nor death lying down. Seize your one wild and precious life and make beauty out of it. Live life to the fullest. Test your limits. Face your demons. Stretch your comfort zone.
If you seek true comfort, seek the silence in solitude and meditation. Make art and love, especially in artless and hateful times. Dance in forbidden streets. Become unique medicine. Sing your songs of Truth and write enchanted stories.
Laugh in the face of those who try to reign you in. It’s when you stop dancing, singing, laughing and being enchanted by music and stories that entropy wins. F*ck entropy! We have life with which to turn the tables on the inherent meaninglessness of all things, and to declare Meaning despite. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”