Crazy Adventures

Death Defying

Salto by Pinchak

A few months ago I took a workshop on “becoming friends with Death.”  I know.  Not the most pleasant of course topics, but I enrolled in the class because I considered it time Death and I developed a better relationship.

You see, Death and I aren’t exactly buddies. Nope. The few times we came close to meeting one another were unpleasant experiences and I dunno, I guess you could say that Death scares the living daylights out of me.

But I figured that I might as well get acquainted with him now, rather than wait until I’m 80 and in bed with him, (get it, “death bed”?) and it suddenly occurs to me that we’d never even been formally introduced.

I’d read once that our fears are like layers of an onion, and if you peel those layers back, what you get behind every petty fear of abandonment or loss is a fear of the Ultimate Loss: the loss of life.

So I figured, what better way to eliminate all of those small, insignificant fears than to the eliminate the root fear that’s responsible for them all?   I’d scratch “fear of death” off of my list with a workshop on dying, like someone with a fear of water overcomes it with swimming lessons.

Well, apparently it doesn’t quite work that way.

Or so claimed the famous Budhist writer who taught my class. And he would know. He’d not only met Death personally but he’d authored several books on the subject and had even been a guest advisor on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  Which is why I found it so surprising to hear him admit that before he’d undergone open-heart surgery last year, he’d been terrified.  Terrified. This, from a man who owned a hospice and had once died and come back to life on the opperating room table.

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted him as the crowd of 60 people swiveled around in their chairs to see who had spoken. “You mean to say that even you, as wise and spiritually-evolved as you are, are still afraid of Death? I thought that the whole point of becoming friends with Death was so that you didn’t have to be afraid anymore.”

He laughed. As did the rest of the class.  And I began to feel like perhaps I’d been too hasty in signing up for a course taught by a hippie, Richard Gere look-alike.  I mean, what kind of death expert was afraid of dying?  If he hadn’t figured out a way to overcome it, than what hope did I have?  I considered walking out right then and there and enrolling in a sky-diving course instead.

But then his answer stopped me.

“Just because I’m older than you or because I’m teaching this course on death and dying, doesn’t mean I know the answers. I don’t know anything more about death than you do. The only thing that makes me ‘wise’ is that I’ve learned to accept that I don’t know the answers.  And I’ve learned to be okay with that.”

That struck me as so profound.

I’ve spent most of my life believing that if I searched hard enough that one day I’d stumble upon the truth. That one day I’d reach an age where I finally felt like I understood the world and felt comfortable and confident in my place in it. To hear from a Zen Master that that day would never come and that I’d feel no more enlightened in 50 years that I do today…well, that wasn’t an idea sat well with me. According to him, in order to find wisdom, I’d have to give up the search.

He then went on to explain that I was missing the point entirely if I thought that I’d ever be able to overcome my fear of death. Because that’s impossible. The only thing I can do is to overcome my fear of fear. Let go of the need to struggle against it and instead, embrace it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what he said since I quit my job  last week and decided to relocate to Central America. While I have a vague plan to enroll in a Spanish course in Antigua, beyond that, I have no idea what I’ll do there.  I’m not sure where I’ll live or how I’ll make ends meet and a big part of me worries that I’ll blow all of my savings on canyoning courses and Mayan jewelry and end up broke and desperate enough to accept a teaching job in South Korea.

Before I quit my job, I made a list of all terrible outcomes that could result in my decision to move to a developing country by myself, with a limited amount of cash and zero Spanish skills.  And along with all the usual fears (I could get mugged, raped, kidnapped, forced to sign my life away to a South Korean hagwon) was that old, familiar fear of Mr. Grim Reaper.

So yeah, I’m afraid.  But I’m not going to let that stop me.

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