“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have.” ~James Baldwin
Our only God is the fact that we are going to die. Our only Heaven or Hell is what we create with our life, between birth and death. Our only power is how we utilize our own entropy. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. Everything other than Death is a false God.
As Emil Cioran said, “Everything is a mask that is not death.”
And yet we balk. We lose ourselves in our masks. We turn away from God. Afraid of the sheer magnitude of infinity, we shrivel up into our finitude. We lose ourselves in the mundane and profane, while sacrificing the sacred and the beautiful.
We cloak ourselves in delusions: flags, nations, religions. We play finite games (beer pong, marriage, prayer) while ignoring the only Infinite Game there is: Life. And all because we fear to face the “only true fact we have”: Death.
As Dr. Alexander Lowen said, “The challenge to modern man is to reconcile the antithetical aspects in his personality. On the body level he is an animal, on the ego level a would-be god. The fate of the animal is death, which the ego in its godlike aspirations is trying to avoid. But in trying to avoid this fate man creates an even worse one, namely, to live in fear of life.”
We’re paradoxical beings torn between flesh and spirit, finitude and infinity, wormhood and godhood. We cannot help but stretch our wings despite our earthbound roots. Death is our parenthesis. It is both our prison and our escape hatch.
Nothing is easier than death. Nothing is harder than life. And living a full life is harder still. But nothing is worse than ignorance to death at the expense of life. Nothing is worse than pretending to be asleep. Here are four ways to stop pretending…
1.) Foremost, do not ignore death:
“Much of our lives are spent running from our own shadow. The denial of death and the division of the human soul go together.” ~John Gray
Don’t run from your shadow. A death ignored is a shadow abhorred. Without the shadow onboard, you will falter. You will have no gumption, no fierceness, no teeth. And you will be forever lost in the delusions of your cultural conditioning, pretending to be asleep.
Use the howl of the inner beast as a wakeup call. It strikes like a cobra, sinking its fangs into the ripened fruit of everything you’ve been taking for granted. It is thunderous, empowering, cataclysmic. It rocks all boats. It tests all waters. It flips all scripts. It turns all tables. It pushes all envelopes. It thinks outside of all cliched boxes. It topples all ivory towers.
When you get the shadow onboard, you settle the score with death. True maturity is overcoming the denial of death. It’s embracing death in all its ingloriousness. Facing your death is facing your shadow. It’s the sacred ceasefire of the soul.
You wreck your mortality against immortality, but in the wreckage you become whole.
2.) Use death as a reason to celebrate life:
“Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live.” ~Kenshin
If life is a journey, then death is a compass. Let the journey be the thing by using death as a guide through the brambles, through the trials and tribulations, through the vicissitudes of life.
Let your death be your drive. Let it drag you through the dessert. Let it pull you up the cliffs. Let it kill you if it must. Let it reveal to you the abyss, where the secrets of life are hidden in the metaphor of the mighty Phoenix.
Yes! Use it as a reason to celebrate life rather than curl into a craven ball in the corner of your over domesticated life. Use it to shout at the top of the highest mountain with a brave heart, “Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives!”
Use it like a fist. Give the devil a black eye. Backhand the turned cheek of God. Punch through the pain, the fear, the anxiety, the stress, the existential angst. Use it to get out of your own way. Use it to recondition your cultural conditioning.
Perfection and goodness are chimeras of the first order. Life is too short not to live it to the fullest out of fear of death. Use death as a reason to celebrate your impermanence.
3.) Be diligent:
“To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.” ~The Buddha
The undisciplined mind (unintegrated shadow) looks at death like a beast it should fear. The disciplined mind (integrated shadow) looks at death like a beast it must ride into fearlessness.
Understand: in the tug-o-war between life and death, you are not on either side. You are the rope! You are the one being tugged. You are the one being dragged. You are both alive and dying. Living well is dying well, and vice versa.
Be diligent despite this. Transform setbacks into steppingstones. Convert the rope into a lasso in spite of the fact that it will one day be a noose. Lasso love. Lasso truth. Lasso wisdom. Lasso even death, and then ride it like those eight seconds were an eternity. Then reel it all in, knowing that you were the punchline to the cosmic joke the entire way.
Diligence is the only way to prevent you from pressing the snooze button on pretending to be asleep. Be persistent, unwavering, unassailable. Fall in love with what you love to do and then let it kill you. Rage, rage against the dying of the light and then embrace the coming night. Let death invite you as an old friend.
4.) Cultivate a good sense of humor:
“Death smiles at us all; all we can do is smile back.” ~Marcus Aurelius
There is nothing more powerful than a smile in the face of doom. In the throes of laughter, the entire universe is in you, vibrating through your throat chakra, howling at the moon, singing a language older than words.
When you’re laughing, you are in tune with higher frequencies. You’re a fountainhead tapped into the higher order of disordered order. You’re a beacon of hope in a field of despair collecting humor like ripened fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. You’re a devil-may-care cosmonaut in the whirlwind slipping all knots.
Laughter is an inverted mirror that flips the universe. It puts all the seriousness and pettiness into perspective. It keeps humor ahead of hubris. It puts the ego on a leash. It prevents you from putting all your eggs into one basket and clinging to it for dear life.
As Michel de Montaigne said, “Be equally laughable and able to laugh.” Indeed.
Go Meta with your humor. Tap the Oversoul of the Overman. Mock the gods. Test the tempests. Leverage holy shrines into monkeyshines. Trump your small picture beliefs with big picture imagination. Get above the rightness and wrongness of it all and contrast it with the healthiness and unhealthiness of the be-all-end-all.
Laughter transforms suffering into vitality and strength, into curiosity and wonder, into transcendence and awe. Have a laugh at your death. Carry your hard-earned ashes to the Phoenix nest. Then have a laugh at your rebirth. It’s all a cyclical comedy of compounding errors putting on heirs. So be it.
If as Voltaire said, “God is a comedian playing to an audience who is too afraid to laugh,” then simply make sure you are not afraid to laugh at the punchline that is your mortal soul. With God’s tongue in your cheek, of course.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Stop Pretending to Be Asleep) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.