I. 6. EXPERIENCE COUNTS, NOT BELIEFS
Experience not beliefs is the key to deciding whether to affirm life by facing death.
As we have noted, there is massive evidence suggesting that your life can be transformed to new levels of aliveness if you are willing to surface and work through your pain about your mortality while still in the prime of life. This evidence includes:
o tens of thousands of case-histories recorded over the centuries of people whose lives have been transformed by facing death due to accidents, violent crime, life-threatening illness, surviving suicide attempts and engaging in combat.
o significant psychological research as to how children learn and deal with death, and the Terror Management School, which has published over 150 studies showing how the idea of death influences adults.
o writings by a wide variety of existentialist thinkers and psychologists, from Socrates ("Think Death!") to Soren Kierkegaard, Otto Rank, Ernest Becker, Robert Firestone, Irvin Yalom, Robert Jay Lifton and many others.
These writings are important to the extent that they convince us that it is worth experimenting with facing rather than denying our death.
n the end, however, whether you or I owe it to ourselves to seek true aliveness by facing rather than denying our most painful feelings about our eventual death is a question to be determined by our own experience, not reading books or engaging in intellectual debate.
No matter how intellectually convinced we may be of the need to face death in the prime of life, after all, it will not really transform our lives unless we do so in practice. And even if we deeply believe that there is no need to face death, our lives can still be transformed if we do so in response to a life-threatening situations.
People daring to experiment can engage in a wide variety of experiences that can help them face death in the prime of life, such as to:
- Reflect deeply on how they have been automatically denying death since childhood, and make a conscious decision as an adult as to whether they wish to experiment with changing this pattern;
- Pay close attention, particularly late at night, to their tendency to push away painful feelings about death, and to instead feel them;
- Talk openly about their own feelings about their mortality with family, friends, therapists and others who are willing to explore rather than repress emotional pain;
- Engage in practices such as meditation, activities such as visiting cemeteries, and exercises such as those published on this website, which can help bring to the surface long-repressed feelings about our mortality;
- Assist people who have terminal diagnoses, e.g., by volunteering to work at a hospice;
- Use exposure to the many works of art which deal with death - movies, plays and fiction, non-fiction, and poems - to surface our feelings about our own death, and to transform them in ways that affirm life.