V. 6. Daring To Explore the Unexplored
Learning from death can help us dare to take the risks necessary to transform our experience of life, and may help us accept the unacceptable.
Our journey toward true aliveness during this lifetime only ends in death. A life-affirming death awareness that sees us feel our pain and transform it into ever-greater love for life goes from now until the last moment of our lives. And, if we dare being truly alive, it does not simply improve our experience of life. It transforms it, to ongoing and previously unimagined levels of energy, feeling, appreciation, awe and mystery.
Key to transforming not merely improving our lives is to move beyond our fear of change, to be willing to take ever-greater risks so as to expand our experience of aliveness. We are not talking about external risks here such as braving physical danger, although they are certainly not excluded. The deepest risks we need to take if we wish to be truly alive are usually internal: being willing to experience emotional pain, go beyond our comfort zone, risk the disapproval of others, be a beginner rather than expert, be vulnerable rather than continuing to perfect the emotional shell and social identity we have adopted to keep us secure, commit with passion to that book we were always going to write or trip we've always wanted to take, etc.
Facing death in a way that affirms life has, over the centuries, given people a needed perspective on separating the petty from the meaningful. When we really face our short and precious life is by facing our pain about its loss, we tend to be less driven by our conscious and unconscious fears. Relatively minor concerns - how we look, what people think of us, having more money than we need, redecorating our home - become far less important than knowing that we have wasted as little as possible of the precious and limited time we have left on this earth. We stop procrastinating about activities that are important to us. We focus more on how lucky we are to have a mate and how precious is our experience of them, than their faults- however real. We are less able to tolerate a job that doesn't give us satisfaction. We find ourselves willing to take greater risks to achieve what we really want. Exploring the unexplored becomes more attractive than simply continuing activities that we have already mastered and have become routine for us.
We also place a greater emphasis on expanding our experience of life rather than staying with our familiar.
Most people in our society who have excelled in a given field have often ignored much of the rest of life. They may derive satisfaction from what they know how to do well, but at a cost of limiting aliveness. If we wish to transform our experience of aliveness, it is useful to psychologically, socially and spiritually throughout our lives. And if we have emphasized one journey at the expense of others, it is often more enlivening to explore our unexplored journeys than to continue as we have until now.
In undertaking our psychological journey, we would not only seek to become more energetic and feelingful, enjoy deeper relationships and sexuality, and develop our wisdom and creativity. We might also, at some point, challenge ourselves to be societally involved, and explore a spiritual journey that enlivens.
If we have succeeded in our societal journey, e.g. found meaningful work, served others, or been involved in politics, we would also go further. If successful in politics, for example, we would seek to develop ourselves psychologically, avoiding the trap of loving "humanity" more than actual human beings. If we are environmentalists, we would seek to feel as much for human beings as we do for nature. If working on Presidential campaigns, we would follow a campaign with extended meditation retreats and other opportunities to go within.
And if we are enjoying the kind of spirituality that enlivens, we might challenge ourselves to become involved in social or political work, and seek therapy so that we can also liberate ourselves from the childhood defenses that affect even the most experienced practitioners' adult feelings and behaviors.
If we are younger, we would avoid the trap of taking a job and looking up 30 years later to discover that that we had not really lived outside a relatively narrow world of career and family. We would commit now to taking all three journeys, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes sequentially. And we would bring our learnings from one area into the other areas of our life.
If we are older, especially in a position to retire, we would not necessarily continue with our familiar. We might remember back to earlier years, to activities or learnings that interested us but got deferred, and explore now doing what we have not yet done. We will also, if we develop a genuine life-affirming death awareness, find our experience of life in the present so transformed that we no longer find ourselves regretting the past.
The process of consciously transforming death-pain into appreciation for life, and then acting upon it, can become habitual over time- infusing every moment of life with a poignancy, preciousness and reverence that is not quite but almost as different from our conventional experience as is physical health from illness.
What is most transformed when we develop this kind of life-affirming death awareness is our attitude toward death. There are few consolations for those who love life and dare face their anguish at its eventual end. But they can draw some small measure of satisfaction if they have used their knowledge of death to transform their experience of life.
It is neither possible nor desirable to speak of welcoming, triumphing over, befriending or fully accepting death. But it is possible to understand death as a teacher - if we face it and allow it to teach us to how to transform our experience of life. And, if we can say at the end of our that we were far more truly alive because we learned from death, it may help us to accept death's unacceptability.
If we allowed death to teach us to love immeasurably more deeply because we dared feel our pain at the prospect of losing loved ones, it may help us accept death's unacceptability.
If we learned from death that there is no point in failing to follow our life-purpose because we dared experience our anguish at the shortness of life, it may help us accept death's unacceptability.
If the horror of death spurred our spiritual awakening, it may help us accept death's unacceptability.
If death taught us as no other teacher how to love and appreciate our moment by moment experience of life, it may help us accept death's unacceptability.
In the end, as in the beginning, we are our experience. Facing death in a way that affirms life, and acting upon it, can transform that experience. It is why we take our journeys. It is how we take our journeys. It is where we journey.
And it is, in the end, what this life was, and is, all about. Our possessions, our accomplishments, our careers, will mean little in those final hours and days.
What will matter in that final moment, as in this moment, will be the quality of our experience of it and how we act upon it.
There is still time, there is still time, to embark on this journey to transform our experience of life and act to save it. What is important is not how many moments we have left, but how we live them.
If we have not yet begun our journey towards facing death in a way that affirms and acts for life, it is long past time to do so.
And if we have begun, we do well to redouble our efforts. Life is indeed short. And precious. We really do want to live every moment as fully as we can. We really do want to dare to live our dreams and explore the unexplored.
And dare we can.