How often do you think about your own death? I think of mine constantly, every single day since my childhood. At first it used to be with disbelief and curiosity, as I strived to understand what it means to actually not exist. Later on, I used to panic in cold sweat at night before bed, as I struggled to come to terms with the end of my existence. It was of course nothing but my ego asserting itself, fighting for its survival. Thankfully, the church came to my rescue and placated my ego: This is not the end my child. There is more, there is an afterparty. Whether you go to heaven or hell, you will still exist. What is more, you won’t be alone. There will even be other people there, all the dead relatives that you missed. Nobody has died really. They all just went into the room next door, but don’t you worry, everyone is in there patiently waiting for you, at the usual reception for new arrivals. They are all behind that big, white door in the distance. Can you hear them? They are laughing and telling stories as they all wait for you to join them. Go on, open the door. There’s even canapes, champagne and goodie bags to celebrate. Yes, we do have capitalism in heaven. That was the whole point of religion.
Unluckily for me, I never bought this wonderful fairy tale. It all sounded too much like wishful thinking, and I couldn’t bring myself to believe that my “spirit” could ever possibly be separated from my body, much like butter is spun out of milk, when in fact spirit and body are one and the same thing. What the hell is a spirit anyway? This was all just extremely stupid and surreal: the fact that my body suddenly did not matter, had no substance or importance, and did not even get a courtesy invitation to the after party. This was disrespectful not only to my “body”, but to my “soul” as well, which I had to think of as being enslaved by my body. I had to accept that all this time, all of my life, I had actually been a walking prison. And that I was actually two things, not one Being, and that neither of these parts of myself had ever really liked each other that much. But now, all of a sudden, the soul had the opportunity to be “freed” from the slavery of the body cage. Wow. Amazing. We humans really know how to put together a nice story when we need one. All of this just so that we can believe that somehow we never die. We “continue”. Please form orderly queues for Heaven. We will find the best plan for you and your family based on your income and other circumstances. All major credit cards accepted.
As my internal BS detector was about to set a new record and catch fire, another important question came up: if there is no heaven or hell for the other animals and beings of this planet, why should there be one for me? It wasn’t long before I decided to clock all this as yet another Santa Claus moment. I’ll just pretend that I believe, so that my parents look happy and I get my present. Thank you, next fairytale please.
But even if you’re not religious, there are still many other ways in which you can avoid thinking about your death. Ways in which you can delude yourself that you are somewhat immortal. We all do this everyday. It is called distraction, and our society has been set up precisely for providing these distractions around the clock, under the pretense of shielding us, protecting us. It has made us think we have seven lives, and turned us into suicide bombers: smoking, drinking, killing, destroying nature, acting as if our own life and the life of other beings has no value, does not matter. It is ok after all as you are not harming your soul, you are just harming the “vessel”, which was a prison anyway. Our sophisticated health systems, although tremendously valuable, have played their role in reinforcing this idea: making us think that we are some kind of a lifeless machine that can, most times, be easily fixed. When we go to the doctor we are not taking ourselves to the doctor, we are taking our “vessel” to the doctor, as if its a car. As we distract ourselves with job titles, busy lives, plans, goals and consumer goods, it is no wonder that we forget that underneath those clothes, behind that heavily made-up face and made-up work personality, there is an organism made of some extremely perishable, sensitive material: soft flesh that needs to be constantly oxygenated. Blood cells that only live for about 120 days before bone marrow replaces them. And a heart that has learned its job well, but which cannot afford to skip a beat. We forget that our life is almost hanging in the balance, every single second that we live. Yet we choose to call this Being a vessel.
This level of disrespect for life, for our being and other beings, increases the more we fail to reconcile ourselves with our death. We either fall into the hedonism of consumption in order to “feel alive” and make death fade in the background, or enter into an equally destructive competition with our surroundings for resources, for exponential economic growth, in order to eat as much as we can before it is all over. We are therefore constantly alternating between two states: we are either in conflict and competition with our own death, or in denial of it. That’s a pretty messed up situation.
The ultimate result though is very straightforward: whether it is christianity, capitalism or our social and economic system, they all have a deep disrespect for life as one of their central values. By splitting the person into a “worthless vessel” and a “priceless soul”, the church was able to manipulate us, and capitalism embraced this idea in order to productise and monetise everything that is “vessel-related”: the vessel can be thrown away, it can be destroyed, but also bought and sold. And it just so happens that the rest of the planet’s beings, the non-humans, have no souls. It is all vessel. It is all “product” that can be razed to the ground, fished to extinction, exterminated, bought and sold. This was the grand moment where the church conspired with capitalism and gave us what we call civilisation. In our desperation to deal with our fear of death, our fear of ceasing to exist, we ended up devaluing life. Not only other life forms, but our own life as well. And ironically, we created the illusion of Eternal Life and Heaven at the expense of the entire planet, condemning it to climate change.
This meant of course the inability to grieve, which is nothing but a celebration of life. Just like a TV series that perpetuates into hundreds of pointless episodes for the sake of profit and never really ends, we were never allowed to witness the end of our own movie. To find closure. Because life is a movie with a beginning and an end. The point is not to keep the movie going forever, but to enjoy it. And to live that final, beautiful moment when the movie ends and the titles come up: it is a time of celebration, catharsis, relief and reflection as you gently pause, stretch your legs, and spend a few seconds thinking of the movie you have just seen. There are no words to describe that moment, other than fulfilment. You’ve laughed, you’ve cried. You’ve lived.
In the same way that our system disrespects life, it disrespects time. We are in a battle against time, rather than living harmoniously with it. We try to preserve the moment in social media posts rather than actually live it. We grieve the time lost before it has even elapsed. And we are constantly behind, on everything. This is another side effect of our fear of death: we are panicking, trying to do as much as possible before its all over. Along with stress and burnout, climate change is another way in which time is taking its revenge on us. We thought we could grow exponentially into the infinity of time. But Time, and Death, think otherwise.
Lack of awareness of our mortality and fragility, lack of acceptance of our death, leads to a disrespect for life. It leads to arrogance. By thinking of my death everyday, consciously, I feel alive. I feel grateful. I am able to value my time-limited, fragile life and that of other life forms. Because I am the main actor in my own movie. And I am literally giving the performance of my lifetime, and so are all the other beings on this planet. None of us are vessels. We are all sacred.
to be continued…(or not)