Many of us find it possible to turn a blind eye to offending phrases we can more or less ignore them and move on to more interesting, or at least more agreeable, themes. Some of us do that for a time, perhaps some continue in that way. If you don’t feel that the points in question are central perhaps justification for ignoring them can be found only a few lines later in the same chapter: “Nor should you argue that you dislike my way of presenting things, for you do not criticize the peel when you like the fruit.” If we experience resistances, and rationalizations when confronted with these claims that the author can tell us more about how we feel than we ourselves know, then how much more will we find in front of dealing with our own demise?
Of course many, many people say (or have said) things like: “I don’t fear death, only dying” or, “it doesn’t bother me anymore than my non-existence bothered me before I was born”, and so on. Are these claims true? Are they forms of denial? Should I see them as manifestation of exceptional clear headedness, or rather of a spiritual anesthesia, or at least a failure of the imagination? Perhaps, they are just examples of confusing the register of an experience with thinking about that register.
I have found that mixup to be a trap with many variants: I for one can testify that one’s registers can be so confused that it is possible to mistake dreaming of being awake, with actually being awake.
There are of course other possibilities. I vividly recall how, at one point in the very particular context of a two month long retreat, I set aside time over a number of days for an extended kind of “meditation” (The Work with the Force). The first day I continued with that work until, to my amazement, I felt that in any moment I would “cross the threshold into another world”. A little while later I was even more shocked to realize that I had somehow convinced myself something was wrong, and I must stop there and not go any further. Over the following days I would repeat that same work and somehow each time find myself at that same point and to my chagrin each time I would find a compelling reason to stop. After each session I would be shocked to realize what I had done, and would assure myself that tomorrow I would not be deceived by these resistances that presented themselves as reasons — I would, as I had so long dreamt, enter that other space. But it didn’t happen. The same pattern repeated again until I finally drifted away from that work and moved on to other things. Some weeks later I had the opportunity of discussing that, very disturbing experience with Negro. Years before I had promised myself that when it came to Silo I would refuse my habitual pretence, and preening, and never try to hide anything from him. So overcoming my desire to not appear to him as a fool or a coward I described this series of experiences and my inability to go past a certain point. Among other things he said something like: “Yes, it’s hard to let go of the world, and enter into the unknown”. I objected that this was something I had sought for many years. He replied: Yeah, but it’s very different to think about that situation than to actually find yourself there”. There was more to the conversation and it lead to other observations and comments that I have described at other times. The point here is that dying, especially one’s own dying, is always like that; it’s one thing to think about it, and quite another thing to experience it.
Not you? Well, that’s certainly possible (lets not have those absolutist sentiments), but consider how even the true believer, the life coach, the great, and the humble, the rich and poor suffer with the fear of losing even the smallest things. How we howl over the loss of our keys or our phone, our wallet. But of course we don’t suffer in the face of losing our own body, everyone and everything we love, our entire world. Such a calm response seems unlikely, but nonetheless we act as if it was perfectly reasonable. Does that ring true: that I suffer when I lose the smallest thing, but I’ll be fine with the loss of everything?
My apologies if all of this seems a bit of a downer… but really we are just getting started, so hang on to your proverbial hats.