II. 2. Increased Energy: When Denial Kills
Facing death can release vast stores of energy previously used to deny it.
The strangest thing about human beings, as the Mahabaratha noted 700 years ago, is that "all humans, though seeing death all around them, think they will live forever." We know intellectually we will die, of course, but live emotionally as if we will not. We ignore the advice of Tim McGraw's hit song, "some day I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying."
While it is understandable that we wish to avoid the painful feelings aroused by the idea of our death, we do not realize how deeply we harm ourselves by doing so. Acting as if we will live forever we procrastinate and put off much of our lives, deaden ourselves, unconsciously withdraw feeling from our relationships and sexuality, waste huge amounts of time, harm our children, seek false security, work at dead-end jobs, impede our creativity, and/or fail to realize our spiritual potential.
To live as if we are not dying, in short, is to sleep-walk through life. We are alive. We are ambulatory. But our consciousness is closed off to vast areas of potential experience, we are living a kind of half-life.
The most serious way our denial of death harms us is that it depletes our basic energy levels, vitality, and quality of aliveness.
A basic principle: repressing our emotional pain about our death requires tremendous psychic energy, particularly as we grow older. As we age, particularly in our 60s, death becomes much more of a reality, and it takes even more energy to repress our feelings about it than we were young. Death-denial thus deadens, deenergizes and weakens us and, by consuming increasing amounts of energy as we age, shortens our lifespan.
But the opposite is also true. As McGraw describes so eloquently in his song, if we dare to `live like we are dying' we release the psychic energy we formerly used to repress our pain. We gain access to huge stores of energy, vitality and aliveness .
We may not wind up riding an electric bull, climbing mountains or taking up fishing like the narrator in McGraw's song. But we will likely tap into vast stores of energy that we never before knew existed for whatever explorations we wish to pursue.
The most important result of facing death, many report, is a transformation in the quality of their aliveness. This is a phenomenon that can only be experienced and is difficult to put into words. But the experience of increased energy and feeling our pain about death combine into a poignant, deep, feelingful, awe-filled, and loving appreciation of life itself.
The kind of "psychic" energy we are trying to describe here is very different from sheer physical energy. The latter is on display all around us, as "type A" personalities rush about from place to place, entertainers and athletes disport themselves for our amusement and their profit, and politicians undertake grueling marathons to run for President.
Psychic energy is quite different. There are for example countless accounts of people with serious or terminal illnesses who, facing death, have found their experience of life transformed to hitherto undreamed-of levels of energy and aliveness, even though their physical bodies continue to decline.
An increase in physical energy allows us to "do" more. An increase in psychic energy may allow more doing, but its most pronounced effect is an increase in our ability to "be": to "behold", feel and experience.
We experience this phenomenon ourselves whenever we have a sudden burst of energy due to psychological, emotional, esthetic or spiritual inspiration. It is our psychic energy that has changed, not our physical energy.