Monuments to fear.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery Toronto, ON is one of the largest in North America and home to the city's famous and influential. You stare at their names etched into the granite and you think of a life that has ended and how one day you will end up here too and then it hits, the existential angst welling up as the you realize meaning of life suddenly ends under a giant slab of rock.
One day you're sitting on the bench, the next day you're under it.
It took me a while to understand that the overwhelming fear of death is somewhat unique to us folks living in western cultures. It has become front and center in the past year and the driving force of every thought and action we take navigating a pandemic world. I often wonder if this bug had shown up 60 years earlier, would we have had better tools to deal with what has become a giant social experiment in fear.
To me, the '60s had a much different vibe than today. Perhaps that feeling is skewed by the wonder of childhood. Still, I recall a stronger sense of self-reliance and community. Today that seems to be missing, and we've fallen into material worship and lost our sense of spirit.
The role of organized religion in daily life has declined steadily and maybe inevitable despite the public relation challenges of the church but we made a huge mistake letting faith in something bigger decline along with it. Materialism rushed in to fill the void, and we literally sold our souls to the gods of Flash Sales, Black Friday. We've gone from feeling a part of the universe to a constant state of fear and lack eagerly promoted by the 24/7 news cycle.
Is it any wonder why we fear dying? We've lost all sense of purpose here in the material realm and have relinquished our beliefs of eternal life to one that ends in misery if we don't own a Buick. I'm always amazed at the ease of the human mind to connect dots no matter how ridiculous the story. If only I had....... then I'll be...
What if we could drop all the conditions. What if we believed that we are everything and everything is us?
It doesn't matter where you get this idea, in a church, travelling through India or sitting on a cushion at home. What matters is you realize you're part of something bigger, and you matter, a piece to a much larger puzzle. When that concept grabs your attention, you suddenly realize that death is just another phase, and we don't look at it as a loss but more of a 'moving on' to the next adventure.
We do this without the Buick, without the $20,000 coffin, without granite monuments. In the end, we are just energy returning to the source. I think British philosopher Alan Watts, reframed our fear of dying the best with this powerful thought:
"Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up... now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep." ~Alan Watts
We can't die unless we live, and we can't live unless we die.