Dying is horrifying to us on many levels. It is a fearful prospect to suffer intense physical pain, and since we have all felt it, our minds recoil from experiencing more. The prospect of being annihilated, of disappearing into the void as experience comes to an end, creates perhaps the deepest fear.
In response, people try to escape awareness of mortality in all the ways we’ve become familiar with, from substance abuse to our culture’s endless fascination with youth and beauty.
Death as a fact becomes less brutal if you can accept that it is a necessary part of life. The universe recycles everything in the never-ending flow of time. The atoms that make up your body have found a temporary shelter only. Like birds of passage they are always in flight.
With your next breath you will take in several billion molecules of air once breathed by Buddha or Jesus, and when you exhale you will send molecules of air to be breathed tomorrow by people in China.
Every other atom of your body is borrowed and must be repaid to the cosmos. The reason that the ancient Indians worshipped Shiva, the god of death and dissolution, wasn’t out of fear alone, or a desire to placate him. The traditions of wisdom looked at nature and saw in its design creation and dissolution, the one inseparable from the other.
At the deepest level, everyone is borrowing and repaying all the time. The scene isn’t one of perpetual death but of life circulating within itself. When you realize how intimately connected we all are, the reality that life is a common possession, more like an eco-system than like a new car, hits home. Like my heart and my breathing, my mind is recirculating images and feelings that are shared with millions of other people. Without death, this renewal would not be possible.
Adapted from The Deeper Wound: Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2001).