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Our Fear of Death

Last week, I mentioned that breathing is living. And, of course, the opposite is true as well: “Not breathing is dying.” Even when we hold our breath for a little while we are experiencing a little death.

Speaking of dying, human beings spend a lot of time during this time of the year thinking about death and having fun with the afterlife. I often walk or ride my bike to the Center and along the way the neighborhoods are decorated for Halloween, the celebration of the ghosts, goblins, haunted houses, spiders, and grave markers—all the things that trigger fear and remind us of our greatest fear--DEATH.

It is fascinating how many people get so much joy out of scaring others or being scared. A huge rush of adrenaline happens in us when we get scared, just like the rush of adrenaline that comes from eating refined sugar in candy. The two go together because that adrenaline sets in motion the fright, flight, fight mechanism in the body.

It is as though the culture is addicted to adrenaline. People often say that they don’t feel “alive” until they have the morning cup of coffee or the afternoon bottle of Mountain Dew. Each of those triggers a flow of adrenaline throughout our bodies and minds. That adrenaline gets us in motion and active—just ask teachers after Halloween weekend candy.

Maybe that’s the reason we spend so much time, and even religious energy, focusing on death when the warm summer season ends, and the leaves fall dead to the ground, and the “zombie” movies start to re-appear. We might be feeding our desire to stay or feel alive.

As a human culture we even ritualize the reality of death in order to relieve our fear of death, which is called “abhinivesha” in the yoga tradition. It is one of the afflictions (kleshas) that oppresses humanity. Humans are all afraid of death. Maybe that is what we are doing by making such a big deal of Halloween? Whether Halloween began as a Celtic pagan response to the Christian All Saints and All Souls Holy Days on November 1st and 2nd or as the usual celebration by Christians on the eve of their holydays, lots of attention is given to the dead at this time of the year.

The Mexican three-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), which begins today, is a time of prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died and helps those Mexican Christians deal with their fear of death. All the ancestors live on after death and even come back to eat at the table of food that is prepared for them.

Another expression of the way people deal with this fear is the “young-looking, no-wrinkle” practice that people use to keep them away from that moment when the body starts to decompose and mind stop functioning adequately in this physical world.

What is the Yoga Tradition’s response to dealing with the human fear of death? Yogis know that life, not death, is the true reality because they have experienced the core essence of themselves in meditation. They realize in that experience that they are one with that transcendent reality. This yogic experience of union with the core of life means union with eternal life for the yogi.

Yogis know that humans never die!

We never die!

Our true self continues on to wherever or whatever the Source of Life calls it.

Alleluia! Life is it!


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