Death, the one thing we’re certain of since the moment we were born, and yet it seems to take everyone by surprise. I’m not saying that it’s strange for us to fear death, as I believe our human reaction of fear is normal. What I am saying is that the fear of death is useless, a waste of energy, as it’s the one thing we all know we’re going to have to face at some point or another.
I used to be so afraid of death and the finiteness of life, that I spent months in panic and heavy anxiety, fighting that reality and feeling deeply depressed by it. Fear of death was how existential anxiety looked like for me, and though I haven’t figured out a way to escape death, I have found a way to cope with it, so that I can live my life in peace, being mindful of the limited time I have and spending it wisely.
It was the buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh that once said: when you contemplate death, you become more alive, and I can say for myself that this is true. Death makes life more beautiful once we accept it. It makes life more precious, less taken for granted, and lived with deeper gratitude.
The first question you can ask yourself in your journey of overcoming your fear of death is: if death is that one thing you really don’t want, what do you want instead? Because for many, the thought of living infinitely scares them even more. If we were to live an infinite life, nothing would be worth wile anymore, and everything would be taken for granted.
The only way of overcoming your fear of death, is to deeply accept death as a part of life, and embrace that reality with open arms. Fear doesn’t come from life itself, it comes from our reaction to it. You can’t change your reality, but you can change the way you look at it. Death in fact, as Thich Nhat Hanh says too, doesn’t actually exist in the sense that we interpret it. We look at death as something turning from being into non-being, which is not possible. Just like a wave crashing onto the shore doesn’t ‘stop being’ but just immerses with the water around it, we don’t actually disappear and die, but just immerse back to the bigger picture that we come from. Just like a cloud turns into rain, we turn into another form or shape, but our true identity stil stays the same.
Things you can do practically to help you overcome your fear of death are:
- Meditating: learning to meditate on death and connect to that deeper part of you that has always been there and will always be there. Your body changes completely every 10 years and your thoughts and feelings come and go, but what is that part of you that has always been there? By learning to deeply root yourself in this part of you, you loose your attachment to external things, and thus lose the fear of dying. Meditation is the best way to find your true, infinite self, which is free from anxiety and pure love.
- Accepting: Accepting reality as it is & embracing negative emotions when they arrive will make your death anxiety go away. Don’t resist anything in life, don’t fight reality and don’t fight yourself either. Learn to surrender to whatever the present moment brings you and you will discover true peace. As I said, true peace doesn’t mean you learn to manipulate life to the format you feel comfortable with, but learning to surrender to life exactly as it is and expand your comfort zone. You are more in control than you think.
- Open up about your fears to others and connect to them deeply by being vulnerable. Our worst anxiety comes from the illusion that we’re alone and not connected, but we are. We’re all light bulbs connected to the same power source, and by connecting to others and opening up about our fears and insecurities, we realize that we are all the same and that we’re safely connected.
On a societal level, I believe that the origin of existential or death anxiety is problematic. In many Buddhist (and other religious cultures), young people are raised with the awareness that they will die one day. They learn about selfless service, meditation, and consciousness. When regularly exposed to these existential themes, they develop a mental resilience towards the topic.
In contrary, in many Western cultures, people are raised not thinking or speaking of death, and when a person then dies, this brings about a lot of anxiety and feelings of despair. We hide from death in staying busy and distracting ourselves with alcohol, vacations, work, sex, … but the sudden realization of the fact that we will die one day cannot escape us, leaving many people stranded in despair, regret and anxiety.
As I’m currently doing research on the topic of this post: what are cultural and societal influences on death anxiety? I would love to have your take on this in the comments! Let me know what you think about this and what you would like to add/ask.
I hope this helped you!