Being a philosopher, I think a lot about death. But I don’t think about death in a grim, morbid sort of way. I marvel at its unique place in our conceptual scheme: it stands there both as a hard, undeniable truth, and as totally inconceivable. We cannot really imagine death, because imagination is itself alive. It’s hard to really believe in death, and yet every bit of the fear and anxiety that so permeate our lives betrays our constant awareness of the reality of death. Thinking about death can be a way of heightening our awareness of life.
I mention this today because my last posting ended cryptically but intentionally with the pair of sentences, “I don’t want to strive anymore. … I want to live.”
The last sentence in particular haunted me: why pair living with striving, when usually we pair living with dying?
The answer is that lately I feel like I am finally starting to come alive. A life of striving can be a life narrowly-focused and driven by some kind of anxiety. An image came to me as I was writing, of tunneling along a narrow but winding path until one day it just ends with death. This is not how I want my life to be.
It is not that I think that all striving is bad. My own striving has always been well-intentioned. I admire others who strive in well-intentioned ways.
But I am coming to see how much my own striving has been linked to difficulties I have had in trusting: myself, others, the world, and maybe even God.
I’m in the midst of establishing a profound new relationship with anxiety. Anxiety has always been my constant companion. After a time of life in which I was in fierce battle with anxiety, I finally accepted him (yes, for me, anxiety is a “him”) at first grudgingly, and then even cheerfully, as a constant companion. I realized that he only wanted to protect me, and that if I let him rule me too much, that was my mistake: never a role Anxiety himself particularly liked to play.
But something new is happening in my relationship with anxiety. Anxiety does leave me altogether sometimes. It is a disconcerting feeling, at first, because even something troublesome, like anxiety, can be comforting for being familiar. The loss of anxiety can, oddly enough, be anxiety-provoking. Anxiety likes to be needed, and happily comes trotting back when we call.
But it is the times I have let Anxiety stay away for a while that have had me experiencing life in a dramatically new way. (I’m not in such a state at the moment, right now, so I’m straining to remember, like trying to remember a powerful dream.) During these times, I truly don’t fear death; and yet I treasure life like never before. In fact, the line between life and death seems to blur. During these times, I know that death is not the end. I know this for a fact. But instead of this awareness making me indifferent to life, I treasure it all the more for what it is, for all its magic and beauty, for the vast and complex interwoven story that is underway. All death is, I think during these times, is stepping out of this story. It is better to stay in as long as we can, because only in the here and now of this life are conditions ripe for our taking the next steps we need to take to further us along our way to …
Everything in our soul’s history to this point has prepared us to be where we are now, experiencing what we experience now. We are free – so much more free than we realize. We can play our lives creatively, learning what we need to learn, growing in the ways we need to grow, connecting with others in ways we and they can benefit from.
There will be a time for each of us to leave this story: that moment does not have to be either feared or forced. But until then, while we are here, this is where we are meant to be. We each have something to learn and do, regardless of how we may happen to feel about our life in any given moment. Whether we feel expansively happy and free and clear, or frustrated and hemmed in and anxious, life quietly holds gifts and opportunities before us at every moment.
Despite my noble words, I have regressed in recent days to anxiety-clouded vision. This makes it hard for me to write, but I don’t feel insincere, because I still do believe all that I have said.
5 years ago