The fear of death can be painful and crippling. It can arise just before you die, but in the extreme, it can haunt some people daily. Fear is a basic human emotion and evolved to serve adaptive advantages–keeping us safe. But the fear response is often our enemy, for like many unconsciously evolved modules of mind, it operates rather indiscriminately at times. Like all evolved systems, our mental modules are often good-enough for survival but not good enough to aid in our happiness. Evolution only cares about our genes survivals, not an individual’s happiness. So it is our challenge to transcend the non-discriminant functions of mind if we desire to gain some happiness.
The fear of death result from the working together of several modules of mind. The major module, for which we are usually thankful, helps us avoidance of death. This module can be a hinderance at the inevitable end of life, giving fear during the only precious time one has left.
Another module, however, is the fear of the unknown. These are tied together because death can hide within the unknown. So fear of the unknown has many benefits, but many times it can be a major hindrance. Certainly it is a hindrance when we go through unavoidable transitions in life.
Transitions offer us a chance to practice mini-deaths. These transitions offer us a chance to tame the fear of the unknown within ourselves. They can even allow us brilliant vision.
We have many selves which are composed of ideas, emotions and habits-of-relating. These modules are our anchors in the real world such as where we live, who we spend time with and what we do. When out outer world changes (new jobs, new relationships, new locations, losses etc) we can feel disoriented as our mind formulations new selves — new relationships between our modules. But in this transition state we can watch our minds in ways we never can. For most of the while, when the mind is not stress and operating well, it is also habitual and blind. When things are “normal”, we are strongly under the spell of our habitual selves.
But when abrupt changes occur, our hypnotism is broken and we have choices in our responses: We could crunch into fear, close our eyes and hope for it all to end soon. Or, the eyes-wide-open approach and learning to find pleasure in our mini-deaths.
I am reminded of this tonight as I went through boxes of books to finally give-away or sell. I will be getting rid of 5 boxes of oriental medical books (most of them in Japanese), I no longer practice this medicine, nor will I in the future. I remember as I slowly came to realize I was an EX-oriental-medical doctor. Oriental Medicine was a big part of my life for 7 years as you can see by my bio. When I decided to give it up, I slowly lost all my memories of the 360 some acupuncture points with all their various uses and of the hundreds of herbs and the conditions they treated and ways of compounding them. I also lost the whole culture of the world of those who practiced that medicine. I entered Western Medicine and have not really looked back.
When I first landed in Japan from India, where I was working on a Ph.D., I spoke about the Indian Languages I knew (Hindi and Urdu) to everyone. Every time I made a mistake in Japanese, I explained my error in terms of “how it is done in Hindi”. I was not enjoying being so dumb in Japanese after I had just got some degree of competence in Hindi. But a friend took me aside one day and said, “Sabio, no one gives a shit about Hindi–this is Japan.” He was right and from that day, I just embraced Japanese and let Hindi go. I let Hindi die. I embraced the mini-death. Life was much better after that.
As a Physician Assistant I have changed fields several times. Just eight months ago I stopped practicing Pediatric Dermatology which I had done for three years. My book shelf was lined with Derm books, most which I have now sold. I spent much time learning and studying. I published in Derm Journals and was a ghost writer for some speakers. Now, even after eight months, I feel much of my Derm knowledge slipping. And now I am studying urology.
The Derm doctors I worked with will practice a lifetime of Dermatology. In three years I was probably able to experience at least 80% of what they will experience during their entire life of Derm. I also worked with a urologist who has done Urology for 30 years, and again, within 4 years, I got a feel for about 80 % of his life experiences in Urology. So giving up the old stuff has only allowed me to live more lives in this short life.
Change of religion is a major transition. When I left Christianity, I lost all my friends and most of my acquaintances. Fortunately I did not have to face this mini-death head on, I moved cities shortly after admitting to myself that I was no longer a Christian. This move, away from people who have only known me as a Christian, allowed gentler mini-deaths. After the move, I felt like a new person and the new city with new friends allowed me to more fully explore that person — for which I am thankful.
I think fear of mini-deaths holds people from taking new jobs or moving cities. By practicing raw awareness and the joy of exploration during mini-deaths in your daily lives, you can slowly learn to limit the fears of large transitions — large deaths. This will broaden your pleasures and potential. I find that thinking of transitions as mini-deaths is helpful for me. For many Buddhist and Hindus, after death we are reincarnated to live yet another life and we rarely have any memories of the past life, we just carry with us our habits of relating. But in these reincarnations, usually the past life is totally forgotten. So when I have mini-deaths in this life, like changing jobs, language or cities, I think of how fun it is to have a new reincarnation and yet still being able to remember the old self. It has helped me to understand the illusory nature of self and the ability to find happiness at a level unattached to accomplishment, possessions and myths of who I am. Mind you, it is a small happiness, but every little bit helps.
- My cognitive Narratives: Views of self & beliefs
- En: the value of vibrant connections
- Ironically, 1 hour after I posted this, when talking with my son about my job, out of nowhere he asked, “Dad, when you left your jobs or moved from various houses, did it make you sad?” [he was thinking about moving] So now we are reading this post together. You see, there must be a Buddha — nothing happens by accident. (that is sarcasm, by the way – this post says why).