Monday, September 7, 2009

The Facets of Dying

Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.
- A. Sachs

From the moment that each of us is born, we begin a truly unique journey through this existence. A great many things change in the first minutes of life - we feel the air upon our own moist skin, see light through our squinted eyes, and make our first gasps of air as we cry into the vast expanse before us. Through all of this, change is the first thing that we experience. Certainty becomes our greatest ally during these times, our parents being the refuge in the unknown - the ones that nurture us, sustain us, and protect us from harm. Certainty becomes associated with living, while uncertainty with dying.

Granted, all humans thrive on and need a sense of certainty, or else they'd do nothing. NLP experts include certainty in one of the most basic needs that humans require to do anything successful. Tony Robbins narrows it down to one of the six human needs. Robbins even goes so far to say that without certainty, humans would be stuck in Paralysis by Analysis over the most basic things, such as walking across the floor - would you walk across a floor if you were uncertain it would hold you?

The greatest uncertainty in all our lives is death, it raises the most questions that people are afraid to ask.

  • What does dying entail?
  • What does dying feel like?
  • Where will I go afterwards?
  • What will happen to the loved ones that I leave behind?
  • Will I come back to this existence?
These are all very important questions to be asked with such a monumental moment as death, but sometimes we put the same questions in different scenarios. If death is the biggest change after living, then any small change that happens in our lives is treated as a little death, with death being one of the most feared words in our lives.

Change will inevitably happen in our lives. We will have different homes, different friends, different lovers, and even we will change over time. The self that you're used to right now has evolved from changes - good and bad, small and large - through your life. Change will happen, to think otherwise is short-sighted.

Fear of change is natural, but too much fear can create a stagnation in one's life. The human mind can have an annoying tendency to get caught in a worry loop - spending all of one's time and effort worrying about some facet of change that they'd rather avoid. The certainty of what they have now is compelling and strong, and the fear of losing it might be too much for them to handle, so instead of thinking about how to forge forward and adapt to the change (becoming stronger in the process), they'll instead sit and go through the scenario over and over in their heads but be struck with indecision.

It's interesting that as a species, we greet one of the most certain things in our lives, death, with a startling degree of uncertainty. We should treat death with all the respect that certainty affords, and treat change in our lives likewise. The change might be unknown, but human beings are extremely adaptable - we are all strong enough to withstand change with the social networks that are available now.


One of the greatest facets of which we fear changes is with relationships. We see the social stigmas everyday behind concepts such as divorce, which gets an undeserving rap as being a failure and the 'death' of relationships. Humans can so easily be caught in doing counter intuitive things, lack of communication being one of them, that can ultimately hurt the relationship in the long run. Small grievances or issues that are kept silent under the fear of change and uncertainty can snowball into wrecking balls. We're so afraid as a people that even the smallest hint of being dissatisfied or angered at our mate(s) can lead to the death of a relationship that we'd rather sit back and worry, using energy and time that would be much better spent enjoying ourselves and our loved ones.

We had a relatively loose border in our relationship, which was poly in nature, that if we were interested in another person, then we'd talk about it before we did anything. This was followed relatively closely for many months until there was one day that I went to visit, and I saw that they were in the company of another. Personally I felt outraged at what had happened, and had a mind to just leave right then and there, but instead I was relatively calm and tried to blow the whole thing off. I didn't talk about it because I was so afraid of losing them, but I don't think I ever forgave them for what they had done. It wasn't until years later, after the relationship had already dissolved, that the subject was brought up again. They had taken my reaction to mean that I was ok with what they had done, since no anger was expressed at the deed. If only we had communicated then, perhaps we could have had a more meaningful relationship - a lot of our communication broke down after that day, and I wonder if that's what ultimately led to the breakup.
Relationships are the most meaningful bond, one that needs to be treated with respect and communication. Genuine relationships (friendships included) are built upon the idea of mutual happiness, and yet through no fault of our own, we're capable of making the easiest, simplest things in the world more complicated than they need to be. Relationships should not be a contest or a strength of wills, but a gathering of two minds, bodies and souls towards happiness. The greatest happiness can only be achieved through talking about our needs and our problems, so that we can solve our issues instead of being stuck in a paralysis by analysis.

I'm inevitably asked at this point: "Well, what if I bring this up and this *does* end our relationship? I don't think I could handle that." In response to this question, think of the following points:

  • Where are you stuck right now in the relationship? At this point, some are stuck in a non communicative relationship, where feelings are either not discussed from fear or actively repressed. This isn't a healthy way for anyone to live - humans grow by expanding, not by bottling up in fear and doubt.
  • How much of your time, energy and resources are you passively spending on worry, doubt and fear in the relationship? This could be better spent towards actively fixing the relationship, on you and your loved one, or even just on yourself to make yourself happier.
  • What would you *really* be losing if the relationship actually ended? The longer that you spend in a stuck state, the more opportunities for happiness will have passed you by.
This can also be applied to getting over abusive relationships.

I was so afraid of getting intimate after the abuse that I had suffered, I was afraid that I'd never be intimate with anyone else again. I had a brief relationship with someone while the abuse was happening, but I couldn't do anything, I would find myself on the edge of the bed crying. I would feel so guilty for doing this, for making them feel bad for something that they hadn't done - it wasn't their fault that I didn't feel secure. After that small relationship, I was deathly afraid that I would never be able to open up romantically and sexually to someone ever again.

I stayed this way for over a year, trying to avoid starting up a love interest, all while continuing to be abused. It wasn't until the abuse ended and I had found someone so loving and caring that I could open up about my fears in beginning a relationship. It's hard to talk about sexual abuse, and I was half afraid that they'd go running to the hills upon having the conversation, but it actually strengthened our bond. They understand what I've gone through, but they also understand that I truly want to be back on a path of having a mutual fulfilling relationship. It was well worth the risk of communication.
Other Facets

Relationships usually take up the bulk of advice in this area, but there are plenty of other facets in our lives that we can stop being so afraid of changes.
  • Work/School - This is a hard and touchy subject, especially in these uncertain economic times. Work and school keeps us occupied, gives us money/knowledge, and a sense of pride and accomplishment. With the stigmas out there of unemployment and welfare, some would rather live in constant fear instead of confronting change in the workplace. Embracing challenges brings growth, but don't compromise your values - one should never sacrifice their self to any job.
  • Personal growth - "Old habits die hard," as the saying goes, bringing death and personal growth hand in hand. New beginnings can only start from the ashes of death, so don't be afraid of giving the axe to things you no longer require.

Five groups might live, but the sixth will die.
- Go Proverb

New life and new beginnings can only be created by the death of existing beings, habits or conditions - one cannot start something new without ending something else. This is true in all facets of our existence - relationships begin when an old relationship or living condition dies, beginning work will be an end to a prior job or unemployment, and old habits really do die hard in personal development. It's only through embracing the power of change and walking calmly towards that which we fear that we can make the most of our lives. Change will happen, it will always find a way, so facing that change with a strong heart is healthier than being in stasis. A happy person is one that's always experiencing life for all that it can give - everyone dies but not everyone lives.

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