I’m dying, you see.

Yes, I am. I accept it. I embrace it. I realize it. I also keep forgetting it. The realization of my death came to me one day while I was in a movie theater. It was an indescribable overwhelming feeling. It was so overwhelming that I couldn’t react. I couldn’t share, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even move. I wanted to leave but I froze in my place because I felt that there was no where to hide from this unstoppable monster, this terminator, madly running after me; and I’m in an empty desert where there’s no where to run or hide. Of course, as soon as something else caught my (short) attention (span), I forgot about the whole ordeal.

Until it hit me again.

It seems that there is a certain uncertainty about death, an uncertain certainty if you will. It’s as if we know we’re going to die, but we don’t really know it. We don’t truly realize that one day, possibly very soon, we will leave everyone and everything we fight hard to acquire. Our hopes, our opinions, our political and social affiliations will suddenly lose all relevance. But enough with the word game. I’m going to die soon. I need to use every moment I get. I’m just not sure what to use them for.

The realization of death can make you hungry for life, but only for a while. It will eventually lead you to stop and think, find a balance, stop doing things because you’re pushed into doing them or because everyone else is doing them. You gradually stop giving in to reactions and habitual tendencies and start acting with heartfelt intent. Of course it can also lead you into a frenzy of looking for God’s approval in extreme actions and places. This can be dangerous especially when coupled with stupidity.

So how can one use such a realization?

I believe the first thing to do is to reinforce it. Keep bringing to mind the idea of impermanence. Use it as an antidote to anger and other poisonous attitudes. The biggest illusion we have may be that we are permanent. Actually, from the moment we are born, it is truer to say that we are dying than to say that we are living. Birth is above all the first step towards death. So what’s the use of carrying around grudges and hatred and issues, and of constantly increasing the size and weight of our baggage when we know it will all be irrelevant one day soon?

Death reinforces the idea of life. It can be the crowning moment of our life. Of course, the interpretation of this depends on one’s philosophical approach to life, but I have come to see that, if taken from a certain angle, most of those approaches coincide in their interpretation of death. But this is a digression. The importance of the realization of death is not about death itself but about life. The level of fullness of life depends to a certain extent on the level of realization and acceptance of the fact of death.

The illusion of permanence is not all that we can be relieved of with the realization of death. Other illusions that can be dispelled are:

1. We’re constant: In fact, every little moment brings another “me” into existence. Our body is made of matter made of molecules made of atoms made of particles made of energy that keeps appearing and disappearing. All matter can be broken down the same way. A Buddha and a trash can are the same in essence. The flame of a candle and the light emitted from a bulb are also the same. A very slow camera would show us that light appears and disappears trillions of times in a moment, giving us the illusion of continuity. Everything we see or hear or think about is made of the same thing: energy particles that keep popping up and burning out, trillions of times in a given moment. Solidity is nothing but an illusion. What we refer to as the I is actually non existent. It’s a label we use to refer to this illusion of a solid mass we think is who we are.

2. We’re pure and clean: Just go without a shower for a few days. Our bodies are inherently dirty. We are decaying. The daily shower is nothing but a -necessary, lol- mask for our inherent yuck. This is not about hygiene though. This is about us being component beings, not independently existing or created entities but relative and compound phenomena. This leads us to the next point.

3. We’re independently existing: “I” is nothing but a label that we use to create the illusion that we exist independently. In fact, I have been searching for years for this illusive “I” to no avail. It is nowhere to be found. Instead, “I” have found a set of ingredients and conditions that can be broken down infinitely. “I” exist only relative to those ingredients and conditions. Change one little thing thousands of years ago and “I” am gone. For example, “I” depends on all the food I have eaten, which depends on all those who made it and on all those who have planted it, made it, fed it, processed it, on the soil, on the animals and the animal feed and the rain water and the chemicals put into the soil and the farmers and their families and their families and the food they ate and the people who planted it, made it, fed it, and processed it, and on my parents and their parents and the food and the rain and the sun’s light and, and, and… In fact, “I” is made up of everything that existed in this universe until my formation. That means every phenomenon in the world except for one: “I.” The most mind boggling of truths is also the simplest. I am the only ingredient that’s missing from my I.

4. We’re free: Freedom is as relative as the rest of us. Absolute freedom does not belong in this world. As far as our mundane world goes, free will is a myth. If nothing, our habitual tendencies rule over us. How many times have I wanted to go eat a healthy meal, only to fall into the burger and fries habit? How many times do I decide not to fall into certain traps only to walk into them with my own “free” will? Are my opinions really freely formed? Don’t they depend on the media I watch and the people I know and in which part of the world I was born and in what part of society I was brought up? What we say and do is relative to the conditions around us. We cannot exist independently of them. The definition of freedom needs to be reconsidered. But that is a different post.

5. We’re happy: A re-examination of the term ‘happiness’ is long overdue. I remember a song I used to love a few years back. It went: ‘happiness seems to be loneliness.’ I used to love that song. Now I know why. I tried to see where my happiness is and I found that what I call happiness are nothing but momentary addictions. Buddhists refer to what we call ‘happiness’ as the ‘suffering of change,’ the addiction to small comforts that turn to suffering shortly after being acquired. I have reduced happiness to things that I acquire and places and situations I pretend to own and belong to. None of those things, places, people, or situations, has made me any happier today than I was a few days or years ago . They are just not it. Moreover, when I don’t get those things I subject myself to the suffering of being denied of them. I submit to anger and agitation. My teacher always gave the example of chocolate cake: waitress tells me they’re out of cake and I feel the empty hole in my stomach where that cake is supposed to be. On the other hand, she gets me the cake and I quickly realize I need something else to really take me where the cake couldn’t. So what is the definition of happiness? Happiness is not the opposite of suffering. It is simply the absence of it. This in turn leads to the next point.

6. We own: Objects come and go. The more we hang on to something the more likely we are to enjoy it and also to loose it or loose its desired effect. If anything, it will disintegrate, or be forgotten, or go out of fashion or just become useless.

The above can seem a bit depressing. On the contrary though, it is liberating. To see the truth and accept it is nothing but liberation. We can turn this knowledge into a launch pad, a starting point for another stage of living, the next level in the game: the level we call Living in the Know.

  1. I am a very dense person. You’ve also kind of disappeared for a while with narry a word. And now this post. I need to get something clear, my virtual friend: is this a hypothetical death we are talking about here, or are you going through something really tough at this stage in your life? It’s not too much to ask, is it? I mean – you put yourself out there, and now I have an anxiety attack because I’m not sure if you are being philosophical (in more ways than one) or if you’re trying to come to grips with … what?If you don’t want to answer this publicly (although I suspect others who are just getting to know you are as anxious as I am), at the very least puh-lease email me (if you’ve lost my address, it’s on my profile).Affectionately,RKB

  2. You are not a dense person. You are a very caring person. Thanks for the beautiful emotions which you infused in your reply. The answer is that this is not about being in a specific fight with a disease or a condition, except of course for the greatest one there is which is simply the condition of being. I have no health problems that I’m aware of. This is about something bigger. In answer to you question; yes, of course, I am coming to grips with something. I am coming to grips with life. So please calm your anxieties my dear virtual friend. I’m OK for now. But i still have to say that yes, i am dying, just like everything else in the world. I have stopped thinking of dying as a negative word, because I have found that it also carries the meaning of living.Let me add something, if nothing, to be true to my blog post. Please try to use those anxieties to get to know your own mind, you own fears and worries and to try to get over them -as I am doing. Please try to transform this experience into an enlightening one. I know you will.

  3. Thanks for answering, my dear. But now you owe me a few hours of depression (just kidding, ok?).Mmmm, yes, life does have a way to remind us of how finite it is, and how essential it is to live well while you can. Thankfully, in my advanced age, I’ve only had to relearn this lesson a handful of times.Glad you’re writing again – missed that. Hope you were away from Beirut the last few weeks and that everyone’s ok. Talk about life and death, or the living dead, or the ones who wished they were dead, or whatever…

  4. Nice contemplation Mazen! I just would like to add to the illusions that you beautifully enumerated and that have a lot to do with death and our way of looking at it. What exists dies, what does not exit never dies. “I exist” is another extreme of our mind that tosses it against “I do not exist”. Both are extreme views that the ordinary mind can not transcend. It seems to me that as long as grasping and fixation take hold of our view, death will keep haunting us. Impermanence and death are the counterbalance for our grasping at eternalism.

  5. Excellent comment Patrick, thanks.

  6. Hey Mazen!!! Really loved your post…Always like your writings, totally agree with you, in fact, when I was young, I used to think that we are born with a specific number of heart beats so you can imagine my refusal to do any cardio activities by fear of wasting heart beats! 🙂 (of course, that was a long time ago, got over that now, lol) Take care!

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