As I sat in quiet review, numb to the burning hot cider as it touched the tip of my tongue, I could feel the thoughts beginning to resurface.
Embedded into the very fibers of my mind, these thoughts were always there, almost as if they were a part of me, a part of my being. Yet they laid dormant most of the time.
As much as I tried, there was no escaping them, though my attempts to avoid them were no less valiant.
Over the years, I would cope by avoiding anything that might disturb or provoke the sleeping thoughts… a rather challenging feat. I avoided television ads, newspaper articles, dodged conversations, refused to partake in certain social gatherings, and isolated myself. I wanted to insulate my psyche from the resurfacing of these thoughts before I was ready to address them.
These thoughts were not new to me by any means. I’ve had a long tenured relationship with these thoughts… these… fears. I was an unusual child and had been inundated by these thoughts at a young age and to a degree that many don’t experience at all throughout their existence.
When I was a child, I would lie awake at night, consumed by fear and tormented by thought. I would clench my hands so tightly my palms would precipitate and knuckles would turn white. I would pull the covers over my head, sealing up any contact between myself and my environment. I would sweat and my body would overheat but I would keep the covers pulled tightly over me in an attempt to insulate myself from my fears.
But it didn’t work.. They somehow always found a way in. These thoughts and fears gave shape as an unshakeable, unavoidable, and imminent concept. It was the one concept that consistently evaded everyone and everything, yet, at the same time, the one experience that no one could evade themselves…
To me, the thought of death was disturbing. Not necessarily the act of dying itself, for that doesn’t scare me. But the moment after our human bodies are no longer running. The moment after the curtains close and the lights dim out. The.. unknown.
Not knowing and not having the ability to know was disturbing. The fear of death, or rather, the unknown has often lingered below like a predator hiding in the shadows, waiting for it’s opportunity to strike out and consume its prey. All it needed was a moment, an opportunity to jump out.
And it often found one before too long.
Fast forward 21 years later and the thoughts resurfaced, prompting a conversation with my father. But first, I want to introduce some thoughts.
No one has the ability to know what happens after our human bodies stop operating on an unconscious, “soul” level.
It’s an impossibility. We are subject to the confines of our minds and human bodies. We can only perceive and fathom that which we are capable of perceiving and fathoming.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say you did create a narrative that was “correct” about what happened after death – Even if that were the case, you wouldn’t know it. You couldn’t prove it.
You could, of course, create supplemental narratives to support the structure of your initial narrative, but that does not prove anything. It’s just additional stories you’ve told yourself to bolster up your first story. Which I’m not arguing is either “good” or “bad”, I’m just stating it “as is”.
Thus, when it comes to your regard of the concept of death, you really only have three options:
- To adopt or create a narrative surrounding death and what happens thereafter.
- To exist with the unknown. Which means either you accept the unknown as it is, understanding it will likely never be known, or you are in somewhat constant search of a narrative you can attach yourself to that solves the unknown.
- To not even address or think about it at all
Of course there are varying degrees within each choice and most likely there will be fluidity and transitions between each of the choices. A cyclical pattern that occurs throughout your bout of human consciousness. But those are, in fact, the only options.
Being someone who has never subscribed to deity or religion, I’ve only aligned with the second of the three options. To exist with the unknown.
However, I’ve done so fearfully. I haven’t accepted it. I haven’t leaned into the fear. I’ve often been in search of a narrative that I can attach to confidently that ameliorates my fears.
I’ve often wished I could just subscribe to a story that would lead me closer to acceptance, yet I can’t. I haven’t found or created one that makes “sense” to me… which prompted the following conversation with my father three days after my 28th birthday.
“What if I adopt or create a belief about death that is flawed and don’t realize it until it’s too late? That is, I don’t have that realization until after you and all of the people I care about, trust, and look up to die?
What happens if the very infrastructure of my beliefs becomes compromised, through reasonable evidence of otherwise?
Yes, in an attempt to eradicate the fear, I can either adopt or create a new belief about “afterlife” and convince my mind through habitual practice to adopt it as truth, but is that really the only option?
Because that then, lends itself to both external and internal criticism. It creates a theory that can be challenged… that can have holes poked in it…
I fear forming a flawed belief or narrative about death that others can poke holes in not in an egoic way, but in a sense of protecting my emotional state at a later time, when I may be more fragile… I want to have a stance that creates a sense of unshakeable security when I am faced with thoughts and scenarios of mortality.”
My father quickly replied:
Then develop a belief that is unpokeable.
To believe in narratives surrounding religion and deity in any societally constructed sense? Pokeable.
To believe in afterlife as a cultural construct of heaven or hell? Pokeable.
To believe there is an old white male who is omnipotent and omniscient and is in control of it all? Very pokeable….
To believe in being at peace with uncertainty? Un-f*cking-pokeable.
I looked back at my father in confusion.