Anxious About Dying? Beyond Mindfulness

Posted on: September 15th, 2015 by Paul

Anxious About Dying?

There’s a very enlightening scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) between McCoy (the Doc) and Spock. In the previous film, Spock had died and then was mysteriously regenerated by a device called Genesis. It was detonated on the planet where Spock was buried. McCoy is curious and wants to share Spock’s experience of death, here’s the scene:

McCoy: Perhaps, we could cover a little philosophical ground. Life.

Death.

Life.

[Pause]

McCoy: Things of that nature.

Spock: I did not have time on Vulcan to review the philosophical disciplines.

McCoy: C’mon, Spock, it’s me, McCoy. You really have gone where no man’s gone before. Can’t you tell me what it felt like?

Spock: It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame-of-reference.

McCoy: You’re joking!

Spock: A joke is a story with a humorous climax.

McCoy: You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death?

Spock: Forgive me, Doctor. I am receiving a number of distress calls.

McCoy [Grinning]: I don’t doubt it.

I think McCoy was referring to distress calls happening inside of SpockFunny, those two never stop bantering!

While there are many people who have had NDE’s (near death experiences) and have come to terms with dying, there are also many people who have had similar experiences—without nearly dying—through spiritual or meditative practices. These groups of people have less anxiety about death and often time tell stories of being able to experience death while still alive.

How?

They have the same problem trying to explain their death experience as Spock had explaining his to McCoy: it is impossible to explain without a common frame-of-reference. If we are able to switch our perspective into one that is less ego driven and more “other” driven, the problem becomes easier to solve.

For instance, if your fear of death is driven by all the unresolved conditions you will leave behind that you’ve become deeply attached to—like a partner, children, business, financial planning for family, bucket list, and so on,—then the fear is ego driven, and roots are in attachments and expectations. We know deep down that we can overcome them with a change of our frame-of-reference.

We also know partners will either find other partners or happiness in living alone. Children will be loved by others and create a life of their own. A businesses can sustain itself if it’s a viable one. And financial planning for the family can be resolved with a life insurance policy. As for the proverbial bucket list, start now! Get some of those items ticked off the list. And if you don’t get to them all, then only you will know.

Perhaps you may want to add one more to the bucket list:

XX. Change perspective about death.

The change of perspective is written about in the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu, translated more frequently than any other book except the Bible:

“All things return to the One. What does the One return to?”

In that one sentence, the entirety of the circle of birth and death are defined. It is especially frightening for our egos to consider that it may end one day. Consider this metaphor: say that the universe is one big ocean of water. Within your ego frame-of-reference, you think of yourself as a drop in that ocean. But—in reality—we are not really a drop, if the universe is filled with water. There is nowhere for a drop to form. Right? It is only through our ego illusion that a drop can exist. Otherwise, it’s just an ocean of water—one body of water.

In other words, our ego creates an illusion of identity and simply separates us from everything else. If we realize that we are not separate drops of water and we are the ocean—in a universal sense—then we do not need to nearly die in order to stop fearing death. Thus, change our frame-of-reference.

BEYOND  MINDFULNESS

Again, let’s imagine—if you will—our awareness
is like the ocean. It is everywhere in the universe. Imagine it is everywhere so the universe can sustain itself and continually recreate itself, like a fabric of particles. If we were all separate beings, we would have a dualistic reality. Science, including the latest discovery of the god particle (Higgs Particle), is telling us that the universe is non-dualistic. Every physicist agrees that there are no separate things, only interdependence and codependence amoung sub-atomic particles wrapped in a Higgs fabric, if you will.

We are all the ocean, even when we die.

Back to awareness, The Pali Canon is one of the ancient collections on which Theravada Buddhism is based. It says that “even in dying the last in-breaths and out-breaths will pass consciously, not unconsciously,” which refers to mindfulness at the time of dying. Mindfulness allows us to experience a change of perspective through awareness. At some point, awareness of the ocean becomes the common frame-of-reference which Spock mentions..

When you are no longer the drop, you can understand the following from the perspective of the ocean:

He who knows how to live can walk abroad

Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.

He will not be wounded in battle.

For in him rhinoceros can find no place to thrust their horn,

Tigers no place to use their claws,

And weapons no place to pierce.

Why is this so?

Because he has no place for death to enter. [Tao Te Ching]

Change your frame-of-reference to indentify with your awareness, not your ego. And while your ego may die, there will be no place for death to enter!