A Primer On Death Part 2

Before you begin, read Part 1 here.

Socrates believed that death was a passage to another life. This would explain his calmness when he was sentenced to death. But Epicurus, born about sixty years after the death of Socrates, outright rejected the concept of an afterlife. He did not see death as being good or bad in itself. Being a materialist philosopher, death was just the end of sensation to him. Consider this thought by Epicurus:

“Death is nothing to us, for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.”

What he meant was that, on dying, we stop feeling. Our senses stop working and the abstract concept that is “you” or “me”, the person, ceases to exist. From this point on, we feel nothing, so we don’t feel death at all.

I think that the concept of an afterlife or an eternal heaven is, in reality, a means of sating our fear of death. We want to believe that death is not the end. So if death is not the big bad thing that we thought it was, then that leaves us to our devices with nothing to fear. But that leaves us with a quandary. What to do with the time that we are alive?

You can spend your life in a way that minimizes your suffering. This is what The Buddha strived for. In Buddhist philosophy, it is not death that is the big bad thing. It is the endless cycle of rebirths and lives spent suffering that is to be avoided. It is not necessary to believe in this concept of reincarnations, but you can see the appeal of living a life with no suffering. Over in the world of Western philosophy, Epicurus and his school of philosophy called Epicureanism, also tried to live a life free of pain and suffering, with friends who would always stick by you.

So not only were there thousands of people thinking about death long before you and I, they were also thinking about the most basic of questions: how to lead a good life? The simply answer to that would be, while you are awaiting death, lead a life with deeds that make it a good life. Or as the Stoics would call it, a virtuous life. What they meant by the term ‘virtuous’ is quite different from what the word would mean to us. A virtuous life was a life that was lived in accordance and in tune with nature and its flow. Not surprising, considering that they thought of the Universe as an all-encompassing God.

It is here that Stoicism diverged from Epicureanism and moves closer to Buddhism, in its total indifference to the events that happen in your life. Nothing that happens in your life is good or bad. By practising a strong detachment from everything, as in Buddhism, the Stoics were able to remove emotional reactions from all events and view them as objective actions. The goal was not to be a rock without feelings, it was to treat every situation with the same calm and to experience happiness from any situation.

More than anything, Stoicism is a philosophy teaching us to be strong enough to endure anything and still be tranquil. As Lary Wallace writes,

“Joy and grief are still there, along with all the other emotions, but they are tempered – and, in their temperance, they are less tyrannical.”

This is a good way of living life, according to Stoics, because it acknowledges that life is not always a bed of roses and that there are events that might be labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but you decide to look at them as just events.

But this does not mean that we simply while away our time detached from everything. It is about leading a life in accordance with nature, as the original Stoics said. That would need updating for our times, but it simply means that you go about your life, doing good deeds, and an indifference that would amaze mere mortals.

But what is a good deed? What separates it from a bad deed? What meaning or value, if any, does a good life hold? What meaning or value does our existence have? A discussion on that, next week.

Check in next week, for part 3 of this little meditation on life, death and everything in between. If I haven’t put you to sleep with my ramblings, please like my Facebook page. If you’re one of the cool kids who don’t use Facebook, follow this blog via email. You won’t have to worry about spam, because I’m inconsistent like that.


A Primer On Death

“Every breath you take is a step toward death.” – Ali

Death, the one thing that comes to us all. The one thing that we keep ignoring, because don’t we all have other pressing matters to attend to? We insulate ourselves from the concept of death right from childhood. When we do come to terms with our mortality, we realize that death is the worst thing that could happen to someone. Thus, we begin living our lives, ignorant about our impending demise. One could almost say that we are ignoring our deaths, rather than being ignorant about it. But none of us can tune out that little itch at the back of our heads in its entirety. That low voice reminding us that death is creeping nearer every passing second.

But here’s the thing. We never engage ourselves in thoughts about death. We do not think about it the way we should. Our minds are like dragonflies that keep shuttling from one twig to another. When we let our minds wander, our train of thoughts might take us to think about death and mortality. But our conscious mind makes it no more than a fleeting thought, flying off to a different thought, like the dragonfly. At this point, there are two statements that we need to consider and accept as facts. One, we will die. Every last one of us. Two, most of us are scared of death, of our mortality. We try not to think about it, or somehow try to postpone it, only to fail.

So great is our fear of death, that some of us go to extreme lengths to delay or even avoid it, without any success. As Ernest Becker has written, everything we do in our lives is a way of managing our fear of death. This death denial is central to our lives and the lives of people we create. Popular culture is full of such characters mortified of their own deaths. This irrational fear of death drives them to act. By avoiding death, they become immortal, which sets them apart from everyone else. Voldemort, attempting to be immortal, creates horcruxes by splitting his soul. Even the name Voldemort translates to “flight from death”, thus foreshadowing his fear of the end.

Even as a child, Anakin Skywalker is afraid of his mortality and that of his mother. This fear clouds his judgement, which Yoda sees through. It drives him to violence, to kill, and gives him a semblance of control over death, though momentary. He is then confronted with two systems that have differing views on death. The path of the Sith, to indulge in passions and seek control over death, is tempting to Anakin. The Jedi, as we know, are more resigned to death, treating it like a friend, an inevitable event. In the end, Anakin chooses the path that he thinks gives him control over death. This tension within him, that fear of death is what drives him to the dark side.

We fear death, not because we stop existing after we die. We fear death because we know we will miss out on the future. Call it existential FOMO. It is hard to accept that there will be, in the future, conversations, events and moments that we will not be part of. As James Gleick has written in Time Travel,

The past, in which we did not exist, is bearable, but the future, in which we will not exist, troubles us more. I know that in the vast expanse of space, I am an infinitesimal mote – fine. But confinement to an eyeblink of time, as an instant never to return, is harder to accept.

But this existential FOMO is nothing more than a constructed fallacy, if you think about it. As Thomas Nagel says, if you don’t feel a deep sense of loss, at what you missed before you were even alive, why should you feel loss at what you’ll miss after you die? You have missed thousands of years of human civilisation, so why feel sorrow at missing out on the future?

But long before you and I, Socrates rejected the fear of death. According to Socrates, death was not something to be afraid of, so men should face it with calm. He proposed that death could be one of two things. Death might either be an eternal dreamless sleep, or it could be a passage to another life. If it was the former, it would be a pleasant experience, a nice rest after a long life. And that is not scary. If death was the latter, a passage to another life, then we would get the chance to hang out with other people who have already died. And isn’t that a wonderful experience in itself, Socrates thought. So either way, death was not a scary ordeal, it was just something that happened to every one, a great equalizer.

“And they die
An equal death, – the idler and the man
Of mighty deeds.” – Homer

Continue reading, with part 2 of this little meditation on life, death and everything in between. If I haven’t put you to sleep with my ramblings, please like my Facebook page. If you’re one of the cool kids who don’t use Facebook, follow this blog via email. You won’t have to worry about spam, because I’m inconsistent like that.

Unopened Doors

I opened the door and quietly sneaked in. I now wish I hadn’t.

What happened to me wasn’t some eldritch horror. It was a routine call, pretty late at night. It was a few degrees above zero, but my skin told me it was much colder than that. I answered, arrived at the location and got in. There were people inside, walking around, being busy. Or at least, they were doing a good job of pretending to. Nothing had been touched, they said, in so far as any object can be left untouched. But then, nothing needed to be moved. Continue reading “Unopened Doors”

A River’s Death

I remember when the plains used to be.

I remember when the plains were not.

I remember the river that once flowed, tirelessly creating its path. It cut through forests and grasslands on its way. It met rocks, huge ones. The river could not move those giants, but it did wear them out, shape them according to its will. But the river did not care, for it did not find meaning in what it did. It just flowed. At least, that’s how I looked at it.

Continue reading “A River’s Death”

In Which I Search For Ideas

What’s that I hear you asking? No motivation to write?

Not exactly. It’s just that when I do write, I have both the motivation and the inspiration to write. Right now, I’m incredibly motivated to write. Given a topic, I could probably tackle 500 words without a break. But as (bad) luck would have it, I’m all out of topics right now. I guess I could use the daily prompts, but the thing is, single word prompts aren’t exactly my style. I could never have imagined that my own words would come back to bite me in the ass.

Continue reading “In Which I Search For Ideas”

I Suck At Being Productive

What’s the best way to be productive and get work done? Probably not the way I get things done. The way I get work done is a trademarked method involving tons of procrastination, lots of general incompetence and an obsessive attention to detail that actually gets in the way of completion of said task.

Everyone seems to like pictures of desks with laptops and journals in productivity essays.

I’ve grappled with motivation issues for as long as I can remember; completing assignments on time was never my strong suit, unless my parents were behind me ready to whoop my ass. My phone is littered with dead drafts that never got to see the light of day only because I either lose interest and/or motivation halfway or my internal editor kicks in right when I’m writing.
It’s like another personality inside me that pops up occasionally, but I can’t seem to tune it out. Talk about demonic possessions! Maybe I should see someone about it. Which usually means I won’t.

Now that we’re talking about demonic possessions, I’m proud (and ashamed) to announce that I’m addicted to The Black Tapes Podcast. I’ll admit I’m incredibly late to this party, two seasons too late, and to literally every party I get invited to, which is not much. The Black Tapes is a fictional docu-drama about a reporter who investigates paranormal cases. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you, but binge-listening to podcasts is another reason I haven’t been diligent with regards to my work.

This has always been one on my weaknesses, if you discount the crippling social anxiety, depression, addiction to dank memes and my pathetic athletic abilities, that is. Any time I’m flooded with work, I indulge myself completely in something totally unrelated, like getting drunk and paying a visit to the coastline. In this case, it was podcasts. Lots and lots of it. Enough to justify me purchasing Pocket Casts.

Anyway, while I was powering through entire seasons of different shows, my work load increased and languished in obscurity. Come to think of it, this whole post is another way for me to avoid thinking of all the work that’s pending. All this is not to say that I a complete mess, I’m not one yet. I do manage to get things done at the last moment, like a true procrastinator. The quality of work that I set upon myself at the outset is miles above the quality of the final product, but I beat myself up so much by the end, that any work done seems good enough.

This is how I look like when I’m trying to get my work done a week after it was due.

I’ll let you in on a little bit of a secret now. This post has been in my drafts for a long long time. But it took me just 30 minutes to get past 50 words and publish this, quality be dammed. 😅
Image: Bram Naus on Unsplash

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Being Abnormally Shy

As I read Nicole Sundays’ (Is that even her real last name? 😜) experience of running to catch a premiere of ‘Moonlight’, I found myself admitting a truth I knew all too well, out loud. I’m not into running. Or any sort of physical activity. Or social interactions. I’ll tell you what I am into. Being abnormally shy.

Involve me in any conversation and you’ll see first-hand my uncanny ability to transform even the most mundane of interactions into an awkward mess. It’s something I can’t help, I just have no conscious knowledge that I’m wrecking the conversation. Combine that with the rookie mistake my parents made by enrolling me in a boys only school during my early years and you can begin to understand the trainwreck that is me talking to the other sex.

Not that I’m complaining though. Sometimes I do say something funny, a random quip here and there, that gives me a +5 Interesting-ness buff for a short time. So yeah, sometimes I’m funny, and most of the times I’m plain boring. Just like every other human out there.

And though the odds are stacked against me, what with the shyness bordering on crazy and my lack of athletic skills, the greatest pleasures in life lie in facing these challenges. And afternoon siestas after a hearty meal. And writing that tries to be funny, but really isn’t.

Despite being a 22 year old man-child with nada on his resumé, I tend to blush at the slightest provocation. Hard. Lots of people tell me it somehow makes me more endearing. And cute. I try to brush it off as a sympathetic compliment from them, but I know for a fact that it is true. Innocent no more, eh? 😂