So far I've written 1,228 posts for this blog. Like a proud parent, I'm tempted to say that I don't have a favorite, that I love all of my writings equally.
But that wouldn't be true. Some posts resonate with me more than others, because they spring from a deeper meaning-place.
Notably, "Death and the primal fear of non-existence." The day I wrote it, back in 2006, I didn't have much time for blogging. For me, that post was unusually short and to the point.
Which was how it had to be.
There isn't anything complex or subtle about the fear I described. It's scarier than death, because for most people dying isn't considered to be "The End," but the beginning of "Next Chapter."
Today, Chris left a comment on the last-linked "here," saying:
Brian, five years on I wonder if you ever conquered your fear of non existence? Perhaps you found some particular words of wisdom of perhaps you have put it to the back of your mind?
A penny for your thoughts. Oh, and thanks for creating this site. It has been a useful outlet.
Excellent question. Yet a tough one for me to answer -- especially succinctly. But I'll do my best to respond in the same style I used in my original post on this subject: pithily and honestly.
Chris, I'm still afraid of dying and never again existing in any conscious form.
A few weeks ago I had a dream, or barely conscious sleep state, where I remember waking up abruptly, scared shitless at the prospect (actually, almost 100% certainty) of this life being my one and only opportunity of existing.
Yet this fear isn't as strong as it was before. I'm thankful for that.
I don't know the reason.
My suspicion is that facing my fear of non-existence, of writing about it, of talking with other people about it, of reading about how other people deal with it -- all of this has resulted in some shifts within my psyche's unconscious, where the brain's real work takes place outside of our awareness.
So I don't worry much any more about trying to rationally come to grips with what it means to die, forever. Animals that we are, we humans naturally are afraid of death. If our ancestors hadn't fought for life, we wouldn't have come out winners in the Evolution Game.
However, I do believe that us Homo sapiens are capable of implanting some notions in our unconscious which can ameliorate instinctual fears. After being startled by a snake, I can tell myself "it isn't poisonous." And "it's good for our garden."
SImilarly, I do my best to think about non-existence in ways which are both truthful, so far as I can tell, and emotionally pleasing to me. I guess you could call these my philosophical comfort blanket -- what I cling to when the Dead and Gone Forever heebie-jeebies send a chill up my spine.
For me, the warmest, coziest, most reassuring thought-blankie is this: there's really no "me."
If I don't exist in the fashion that I have assumed to be true for most of my life, then not-existing after I die takes on a different meaning. This is hard to explain in words, because what I'm getting at is as much emotional as thoughtful.
It's sort of akin to worrying about losing a precious ring that you've always believed was a family heirloom, then having an older relative tell you, "It's not really worth much; we had it appraised a long time ago."
Chris, if you haven't done this already, I encourage you to delve into what I look upon as "neuroscientific Buddhism." Or, "Buddhist neuroscience."
Namely, writers and researchers who are trying to make sense of the apparently solid fact that the self (or soul) doesn't exist as a separate, distinct, independent entity. Currently I'm reading, and enjoying, "Living as a River" -- a book I've blogged about recently.
I think the approach Bodhipaksa, the author, takes is right on for dealing with a fear of non-existence. HIs subtitle is fearlessness in the face of change. Well, what's a bigger change than death?
Fear, of anything, usually doesn't disappear suddenly.
The Six Element Practice described in "Living as a River" is traditional Buddhism, yet pleasingly updated with modern scientific insights and stripped of unnecessary religious dogma (such as rebirth).
Again, it seems to be that the best way to deal with a fear of not-existing is to undertand -- really understand, intutively, emotionally, in your gut -- that you have never existed as the self that is afraid of non-existence.
I used to enjoy Rumi a lot. I still do, but in a different way. I can read Rumi quotes about non-existence and view them in a much more scientific and less spiritual fashion now.
Here's my favorite Rumi passage. Understand these words, and a lot is understood.
Fear the existence in which you are now!
Your imagination is nothing, and you are nothing,
A nothing has fallen in love with a nothing,
a nothing-at-all has waylaid a nothing-at-all.
When these images have departed,
your misunderstanding will be clear to you.