“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
Isn’t it ironic?
Ernest’s book, The Denial of Death, is an absolute masterpiece and I urge you to read it.
Picture an amoeba, happily floating around under your microscope lens. Now, imagine placing carefully, with a needle, a tiny bit of chloride on the solution it is floating in. As the chloride comes near the amoeba, what do you think happens? What do you imagine?
Repulsion. tssssssss (sound).
The Amoeba is instantly repelled from the toxic, deadly substance. And so it swims away, filled with microscopic fear.
Human beings are no different. We are repelled by death. Our whole lives are lived avoiding it. We wouldn’t be here were that primal fear not be deeply embedded in us. We naturally fear death.
Unlike the amoeba though, we can think, subjectively, about our existence. We do not feel ourselves merely as bodies, we picture ourselves in our heads, and extend beyond the physical realm.
Think about this for a minute, “about yourself”.
You are thinking, I’m sure: “what about me? Well, of course, I’m Charles, I’m an engineer at this company, I also have a wife and two kids, I’ve accomplished a lot, you know”.
In doing this, you have successfully, and healthfully as well, I might add, created a persona. You’ve gone beyond, and painted, crafted, sculpted, a subjective being, that, if successful, will likely outlast your physical being. Your fear of death made you embark on an immortality project.
An immortality project.
“When we are young we are often puzzled by the fact that each person we admire seems to have a different version of what life ought to be, what a good man is, how to live, and so on. If we are especially sensitive it seems more than puzzling, it is disheartening. What most people usually do is to follow one person’s ideas and then another’s depending on who looms largest on one’s horizon at the time. The one with the deepest voice, the strongest appearance, the most authority and success, is usually the one who gets our momentary allegiance; and we try to pattern our ideals after him. But as life goes on we get a perspective on this and all these different versions of truth become a little pathetic. Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumphing over life’s limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man, and he usually tries to win a following for his particular patent. Today we know that people try so hard to win converts for their point of view because it is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.”
― Ernest Becker
And so we try our best to outlive ourselves, in the ways we see best.
Because of the inevitability of death, we create immortality formulas.
The Stoics thought about death a lot.
They believed that by thinking often about it, we would come to see clearly what is really of importance.
Mmm… it may be that doing so makes you think harder about your immortality project? Put some light in it?
I’m thinking about mine, as I write this, and I’m sure you are thinking about yours as well. It’s hard to think about it, for we are complicated creatures, but, the question, to better question ourselves, I think would be: What is truly important for me?
If you’re answering yourself somewhat like me, you’d surely come to a series of values. Such as creativity, courage, love, and the like. But, how are those immortality projects?
I’m thinking right now about the people that die in the name of their ideals, such as for their loved ones, or for their country. They merge themselves into the love of the family or the country and in doing so, they become something bigger than themselves.
What is bigger than yourself? What is it worth dying for?
We start dying when we have nothing worth living for. And we don’t really start living until we find something worth dying for — Mark Batterson
But you have to figure it out yourself. But to be honest, my friend, we all come back to the same old strings of humanity’s hearts. There’s a reason why we all get emotional and shed tears while watching The Lord of the Rings and movies where the human spirit triumphs. We are human after all, and the love of humanity is carved on our souls.
It’s hard while watching the news, Ukraine, the lies, and all that we live day to day to still want to follow our hearts, to lose hope on our brothers elsewhere, but as Sam said.
“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
― J. R. R. Tolkien
The courage to live fully.
What does “living fully” mean to you? Driving a Maserati? Boasting your money around? What a cheap immortality project, isn’t it? Why don’t aim higher?
Question yourself and don’t be afraid of the response.
Only by living your fullest life, your fullest love for humanity, for the world, for the universe, will you be able to live without being afraid of dying. For you are living for something larger than yourself, and you don’t care if you die doing it. For you’ve done what you came here to live for.
Hope I made something click.
Until next time,