The Relationship Between Mortality and Eternity: Transcending Fear of Death
As a child, I was told that every time a year was coming to an end and a new year was about to begin, the “old man” year died, and a “new baby” year was born to take his place. I was remarkably saddened by this story and wept for the frail old man, who, in my imagination, helplessly awaited his demise on his deathbed. I wept for the innocent baby, who would be doomed in twelve months’ time.
I think it was then that I began to suspect that everyone I loved would grow old, diminish in vitality, and weakly accept their end. To my mind, this was a tragedy, a travesty, and a cruel way to treat good-hearted people—I was affronted and grief-struck. At some point soon after that, it dawned on me that I was inextricably on this same relentless path.
The relationship of the old man to the baby
Many years later I was introduced to the concept that each ending is an instrument of evolutionary transformation. A rosebud dies, a rose blossoms. A seed cracks and a stem shoots up. A caterpillar retires in a cocoon and a butterfly emerges. By observing nature, we learn that life is ever-changing. Through change, the end of one state is necessary for the emergence of a new state. It is in this way that life continues to evolve.
Essence and appearance
Transformations take place within a continuum. Like hydrogen and oxygen rolling through sequences of gas, liquid, and solid (as gas, water, and ice), the ultimate essence of life flows on with only its appearance changing.
In 1798, William Wordsworth wrote these words that I have excerpted from his poem “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”:
“…something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man, A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things….”
Life is ever-changing
This perspective of life rolling on is helpful for us to consider when taunted by the prospect of change, let alone death. However, the specter of death is still frightening because we are very attached to the current state of things—our whole experience of reality is embedded in and limited to the perceptions of our senses and circumstances, not the underlying essence of reality within them. Imagine a self-aware ice cube that doesn’t know it is essentially H2O and suddenly noticing that it is starting to melt—scary!
A key understanding for me is not just that transformations occur within a continuum but also that the continuum is within the various transformations—they are inseparable. If we can get the experience of—and become deeply familiar with—the ongoing non-changing eternal aspect of life, then we can begin to experience freedom from fear of death—and, generally, from fear of change.
Transcending the field of change to experience the changeless
If life is ever-changing, then the key to finding stability and peace in change is located in the word “ever.” “Ever-changing” indicates that there is the phenomenon of change and also the phenomenon of forever. Our thoughts are always changing, but our inner consciousness—the observer and source of thought—remains unchanging. So, to transcend the dynamic changing side of life in our minds, we need only to dip into silent consciousness by following a thought to its source in consciousness.
To transcend means to go beyond. Meditation’s purpose is the liberation of the meditator’s mind from the field of change—from fear, sorrow, stress, and suffering—by acquainting her with her inner Self, pure consciousness, her infinite unchanging nature. Techniques of meditation that involve concentration, contemplation, or mindfulness of what’s going on, prevent the mind from transcending thought by keeping the mind engaged and active.
The mechanics of the Transcendental Meditation technique allow the mind to effortlessly settle down to fainter levels of thought wherein the mind is less bound by them, and even to transcend thinking completely, resulting in silent awareness. Even a beginner immediately experiences subtler levels of engagement with thought and can transcend to the changeless state of pure consciousness. With daily repetition of these mechanics, one begins to identify with the unbounded, unchanging field of life that has been within us all along. Change is still a characteristic of our experience but now changelessness can have equal status. Through the TM technique, the ability of the mind to identify simply with an invincible infinity of non-changing Being saves it from fear of change, like being anchored deeply in the ocean saves a boat from being tossed about by waves.
Whatever our conception or imagination of death may be, it is certainly going to be a change. As one friend said, “Our clothes won’t fit anymore.” The only preparation is to be secure in the essence of life that “rolls through all things”—the internal unchanging transcendent level of our Self.
About the Author
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals, a division of TM for Women in the USA