The event of dying or departure from life
The time at which life ends; continuing until dead
The time when something ends
This is a subject that no one wants to discuss. It’s something that occurs naturally, but as humans we are not prepared to accept it. We want to live forever. As intelligent beings we know that physically, it isn’t possible for our bodies to live forever, because, like a machine, they eventually wear out. So we invent all sorts of magical ways in which we can live on eternally. I am not here to discuss whether there is such a thing as eternal life, that is for you to inform yourself on, what I want to talk to you about now is death…
What do you think death will feel like? Will the actual event hurt at all? Will you and I suffer, or will it be peaceful and calm? I cannot answer any of those questions, and nor can anyone else, as those who have died already can’t tell us. But it is interesting that we even think about these things; that we concern ourselves with a one-off event that is inevitable. We don’t want to suffer, we don’t want to feel pain, but death is final. There is no pain. The brain stops working, the heart stops, the lungs stop; all activities relating to life are at an end, there are no more messages being relayed as to what pain is. You are at an end – physically and mentally.
Surely what we are concerning ourselves with are the moments leading up to our death; when the realisation hits us, that in a short time, we will no longer see, we will no longer taste, we will no longer feel; and for a human that is a scary thought. Our brains need to try to make sense of what death actually is, we need to know what happens to us in order to have no fear, and that’s what it is, fear. The fear of the word death, not the actual event.
So now, I would like you to imagine a rather macabre scenario for a moment, if you will, which relates to your death. I would like you to imagine that you have just died, and your family are discussing the funeral arrangements. You left no instructions for the type of funeral you would like, and they are discussing whether to cremate you or bury you. Do you want to burn or decompose? I’ll give you the options in a little more detail:
Option A: You are placed in a coffin, the lid is sealed shut, and you are placed into a furnace, the temperature reaches thousands of degrees… Can you imagine it now? How do you feel? Do you feel trapped, knowing you are burning? Your flesh burns first, then your muscles and all your organs, then finally your bones. It takes a short time and at the other end they sweep the remains of you (ash) into a nice urn, and someone may place you on a mantle piece, or you will be scattered all over a place you used to love.
Option B: You are placed in a coffin, the lid is sealed shut, and you are slowly lowered into the cold wet ground. Earth is thrown on top of your coffin, and there you lie, six feet underground. Can you notice how cold and claustrophobic you feel? After a while, the body starts the process of decomposition (the process of decay caused by bacterial or fungal action). Your flesh and your organs start to rot and soon you will nothing more than bones.
So which one’s it going to be? Well for me, given the choice, neither. I don’t want to be burned or buried! It would hurt. And this is the problem. We are still thinking of death as if we will experience it with all the senses and feelings we have now. That’s why we are afraid of it. We believe we will still have consciousness after we die.
Fortunately for us, someone has conveniently come up with a way out of suffering at death, so that as soon as your body stops working you are whisked off to a much nicer place before you have to think of being buried or cremated. That place, if you didn’t know it already, is the…
Life after death
Let’s go into this carefully together. The afterlife. A word so paradoxical, don’t you think? If death means the time at which life ends, doesn’t it seem a little strange that there is another word that starts life again?
Can there be death at the end of the afterlife, or is the afterlife eternal, and indeed if there was such a thing as eternal life, why couldn’t we just live it out here?
I for one do not want to start a discussion, or indeed a war, about the existence of an afterlife.
Scholars, philosophers, learned men, people of the christian church, muslims, buddhists, hindus, and members of every other religious group have occupied their valuable (short) time on this earth discussing this subject.
Every religion has their version of an afterlife, which is any place of complete bliss, delight and peace. Ahhh, bliss, delight, and peace, that’s so much better. And indeed it is, because for most of us, the promise of this afterlife sounds much better than our lives on earth.
For me, I find it strange that we humans, of distinctly superior intelligence to any other species on the planet; we who demand evidence in everything we do today, quite happily accept some story of an imagined future life after our physical death.
“Prove to me that my investment of £10,000 will increase to £15,000 in 2 years”
“Prove to me that the washing machine you are selling to me is better than the cheaper one”
“Prove that alternative medicine is beneficial”
“Prove that I will save money on my telephone bill in 3 months”
We want proof for everything. We would not give over money to anybody, without proof that what they were offering was verifiable. So don’t you find it strange that we just accept – without any physical evidence – that we will live forever (after we die of course)? Think about this for a moment. Do you believe in life after death? I would like you to think carefully about your response here and then remember the last thing that someone tried to sell you, but couldn’t prove it would be beneficial.
Salesman: It will save you 20% on your electric bill.
You: If you can’t prove it, I’m not interested.
Salesman: There is life after death.
You: Great! I look forward to it.
How can we be so demanding of evidence from the man who can probably save you twenty percent on your next electric bill, yet accept with blind belief the statement that there is life after death, which to me seems like much more of a major claim to make, don’t you? Why? Because it’s what we want to believe. We don’t want to die, we want to live forever. It is built into the nature of man, who since awakening to himself and his existence, has been afraid of death.
We have worshipped a thousand gods, from the sun to the moon, making sacrifices, praying that we will be saved from death. It is the one thing that every man and woman on this earth fears most deeply. So when someone comes along and tells you that you don’t need to be afraid anymore (as long as you believe in god) as there is a convenient little thing called the “afterlife,” we jump at it with open arms.
I wonder if animals, birds, and fish dream of this afterlife? After all, most of them die pretty nasty deaths at the hands of predators. I wonder if the mouse thinks “Oh, it’ll be all right if the owl eats me tonight, because I won’t suffer, I’m going to a better place – a place of complete bliss, delight, and peace”?
But as we all know, animals do not currently have the capacity to ponder such questions such as the nature of their own existence. So I would like you to imagine for a moment that you do not have the ability to contemplate the nature of your own existence and have never heard the word death and no one has told you of an afterlife. You are like the animals, fish, and the birds, only living for today, for now.
You work every day, have a family, enjoy yourself, and have fun in life, without thinking about an end. How would you feel? I know how I would feel. Free. Free of the chains of death, as death is no longer a concept I can entertain. I live each day well, I live each day as it comes. I am like the bird flying in the sky, who beats its wings furiously until the last moment when his body fails him. I have no fear. I am alive and that is what is important to me, and I plan to use every moment well.
The experience of being alive; the course of human events and activities
All too often, we use this imagined future of an afterlife as something which allows us to behave any way we want on earth. We behave in unkind ways to other humans and other inhabitants of the planet. We cheat, we steal, we are greedy, we lie, and we murder, but it’s ok, because we promise we’ll be better next time round.
If you knew you only had one chance at life, that this was it, that there was no afterlife, wouldn’t you behave a little differently? Would you keep worrying that one day you would die? Would you worry about your age all the time and how close you were to death?
The other day I worked out, that if I live until the age of 80, I have approximately 15,695 days until I die; and I have lived for 13,505 days already. What did I do with those days? How did I spend them? Did I live well each day? Was I kind to other people I met? Occasionally. Did I hurt a lot of people along the way? Yes. Did I deceive, cheat, and lie? Yes. Did I value my friends and family enough? Was I kind to animals?
There are a million questions I could ask myself about how I lived in the past, how I spent my time on the planet; but I prefer to think about the next 15,695 days, and how I will spend each one of them.
Will I be cruel and unkind to my fellow humans? Will I be selfish in sharing my time with my family? Will I do work that adversely affects other people, animals, and the planet around me? Will I strive to possess more consumer goods, and more monetary wealth? Will I spend my time praying and hoping that the next life is better than this one?
Or will I do something different? Will I see death as part of a natural process of life? Will I embrace this concept and release myself from the prison of fear I keep myself in, thereby allowing me to concentrate on living well, and being kind to others around me; from my parents to the animals in the forest, to my children, and the fish in the depths of the ocean? That is life. There is no second chance. Life is one word.
One word that must be taken as seriously as it also must be taken in fun.
How many days have you lived on the planet? What have you done with those days? How many days do you have left on the planet? A thousand? Five thousand? Ten thousand? Twenty five thousand?
Nobody knows exactly how many days each of us has left on the planet, so hadn’t we better start living each day as if it were our last? It’s time to start living, to stop caring about death, to break through the fear. There is nothing you can do to stop it.
Embrace death and at the same time embrace life. Life is what you have now. Death is not a concept that need concern you. You can find bliss, delight, and peace while you are alive.