Oh, the unfairness of it all. I really like being alive. Yet one day I'll be dead. Gone. Nonexistent. Forever unconscious.
Damn it, damn it, damn it! Who the hell arranged the cosmos in this fucked-up fashion?! I want to live forever, or at least much longer than I'm going to, so where's the Complaint Department, Customer Service, Warranty Fulfillment? I need to talk to who's in charge, because this death deal is totally screwed-up.
That's basically how I think in my least harmonious, accepting, live-and-let-die moments. Which are quite frequent, because such thoughts enter my mind a lot.
I've learned, though, to not obsess over them as much as I used to. Yes, I still have a fear of non-existence. But it's not as strong as when I wrote "Death and the primal fear of non-existence." And I'm better able to recognize the ridiculousness in my petulant complaining about death bringing an end to my enjoyment of life.
Where did I get the idea that I'm entitled to anything else but one life here on Earth? What justifies my feeling that something is wrong with the fact that when I die, that's finis for me?
Religions, mainly. Early on as a child I was told about salvation, life after death, heaven, hell, and such. Later, when I delved into Eastern religions, I learned about reincarnation, bardos, cosmic consciousness, higher realms of reality.
Those notions created the schism in my psyche between what is and what should be as regards death. Unlike an animal, such as our twelve year old family dog, I don't simply live every day as pleasantly as possible until one day I'm no longer alive.
I, along with the vast majority of people on this planet, have been infected with the worst sort of deceptive advertising.
All those religions and supernatural belief systems have marketed after-life products which don't exist. Yet the sales job has been so successful, most of us are desperate to possess something we've never seen, have no proof of, and will never be able to tell if anyone else has.
Life after death.
In my saner moments, I tell myself, "Who promised you a rose garden? (without thorns)" Life is what it is. Death is all around us. It's impossible to ignore. Yes, I fear death. Yes, I"ve bought into promises of everlasting life and thereby raised my hopes beyond what is reasonable to hope for. But I can still focus on what is real for me here and now, not on illusory dreams of eternal immortality.
Us secular churchless irreligious non-believers enjoy a gift that the faithful lack: a vivid appreciation of how priceless every passing moment is. Heaven isn't a place we aspire to; for us it's the present moment, or it's nothing at all.
There's nothing more amazing, more awesome, more mysterious, I'd even say more divine, than realizing, really realizing with every fiber of one's being, that this present moment will never come again.
And more: that eventually there will be a moment which brings an end to all moments for me, you, everybody. The moment of death.
This morning, during one of my pre-meditation reading moments, I came across these passages in Owen Flanagan's "The Boddhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized." It made me look upon death in a somewhat different manner. Hey, I may be dead, but at least I'll be in nirvana.
Selfless persons are something we naturalists can believe in. Selfless persons whose consciousness continue after they die are not something we can believe in. The problem is that orthodox Buddhism is all about rebirth, sometimes gazillions of rebirths. One rebirth is too many for the naturalist and more is not merrier.
There is some consolation perhaps in the fact that virtually every description of nirvana, the ideal state achieved only by truly enlightened souls, Buddhas -- when they depart the earth -- makes it seem identical to what we would think of as the state of "just being dead," a state totally unaccompanied by the presence of any deity or communing with some heavenly host of (other) saved souls.
Personal consciousness ends, and one's body and spirit are taken to -- absorbed into -- Nature's bosom. gone altogether is me... the state in which you have achieved peace and tranquility because your consciousness is gone, your career as a person is over, and you are as dead as the proverbial doornail.