Death is, by great paradox, the greatest teacher of life.
Perhaps the scariest thing about the current pandemic is the thought of death. What if my parents die? What if my children die? What if I die?
It doesn't take more than a second for these thoughts to enter our minds, and even less than a second to feel the visceral, gutting fear that ensues.
We think, Oh my goodness, this is real, something terrible could actually happen to me or my family.
Death is downright scary. The thought of it entraps us in our minds, making us feel like there's nowhere to go, with no escape. For some, the fear of dying can feel claustrophobic.
To put it another way, fear hurts.
Most of us live under fear
As soon as a cloud of doom enters our realm of experience, we hunker down like a scared animal. We tense up, do irrational things, and begin to shut down. We lose touch with who we really are.
Notice how quickly you can shift from feeling calm to feeling frightened. All you have to do is read one headline, watch one video, or get one text from a friend. A moment ago you were fine, and now you're freaking out again. What just happened?
When fear kicks in, suddenly we're only interested in how we can protect our own family and friends. Oftentimes, this selfish desire is at the expense of others. Then, our fear of others' selfish desires is what drives us even more to protect ourselves. It's a vicious cycle. It's why you see people lining up around parking lots for groceries.
When we live under the cloud of fear, we and those around us suffer most.
Living through fear
Occasionally, we get so fed up with fear, that we're able to push through. We muster up the courage to use its energy to move forward. We combat the fear through anger, and act in spite of it.
A doctor or nurse experiencing high levels of trauma in an ER has a healthy reason to be fearful, and is likely using that fearful energy to treat their patients. The patients on their deathbed have a strong reason to experience fear, and I can only hope they're finding peace in their experience. Acting through fear in these situations is a wonderful display of courage and strength.
However, most of us are quarantined in the comfort of our own homes, taking in the news while we sit or connect digitally with our loved ones. There is no real problem for us in our immediate experience. There is no reason to be fearful. We are not sick. We don't have a loved one who is sick. And yet we're still driven by the fear.
Fear-driven action is not the highest path we can take. When we act out of fear, we close our hearts and neglect the well-being of others.
You don't have to live under or though the fear. There's another option, which is to live above it.
Living above the fear
Most of us don't have to face the fear of death very often. There are people who do. Perhaps we can learn from them. They still put one foot in front of the other every day. Let them be your inspiration in this difficult time.
So, why are we so afraid of death?
Is death not the greatest teacher of life? Is death not the ultimate equalizer that strips us of any wealth, status, or worldly possessions when it shows up at our doorstep? Is death not the strongest reminder that no matter who we are, where we live, or what we have, we all share the exact same fate?
It's our tendency to get so scared of death. And while we have a duty to serve and protect our own physical bodies, we don't have a duty to limit our experience of life.
Somehow, someway, our fear masks itself as protection, but really, it's the ultimate killer of life.
Don't try to stop your fear. Instead, just notice it. Get curious about it.
Start watching how one moment you're okay and the next moment you're not, and then how you go back to being okay. Become a scientist who observes your own inner experience. You don't have to think about it. You just have to notice that you're thinking. You don't have to feel any different. You just have to notice that you're feeling something.
When you become the watcher of your inner experience, that opens a doorway to something deeper, something calmer, than whatever you're thinking or feeling.
That part of you is always there, and it's untouched by anything happening in or around you. That, in essence, is you. That is your light, without which you would not be here.
Use that part of you to show compassion to the part of you that's scared. You might try cradling your fear like a baby. You direct loving kindness toward your baby, even if it's crying hysterically.
Remember, you can take away a whole lot - your thoughts, your emotions, your job, your house, your loved ones, even your limbs - but take away the one who's aware of all of this, and you're gone.
Remember this. Remember this when you're feeling high, and remember this when you're feeling low. Remember this when you laugh, and remember this when you cry.
There's no need to stop your fear. There's no need to prolong your peace. There's only a need to watch these changes within you.
Just keep watching. Just. Keep. Watching.
Live with substance! Gabe Orlowitz