About 20 years ago, I developed panic disorder.
I was constantly terrified of dying. Every quirk and creak in my body sent me into a whirlwind of fear about cancer, heart disease, stroke, choking to death …fears that my body would conk out and that would be the end of me.
I learned a lot about health and healing, which allowed me to help others. Constantly worrying about my own death also led me to the realization of my true nature.
But even though I realized that death doesn’t technically exist in the grand scheme of things, I still feared death. The fear became all-encompassing until I hit a crisis of meaninglessness.
That’s when, with nothing left to lose, I turned and faced into the fear. I made it my friend. Since then, when this fear of death comes upon me, it’s like a tunnel into Presence: that state that comes about when we get out of our minds and see how it is.
When I’m in the tunnel, I stand in two worlds at once. A part of me goes through the tunnel while another part of me anchors firmly in my body. I compare the two.
This is where I learned (remembered?) that death is our choice. That every death is a “suicide.” Because we do make the final decision whether to step all the way through the tunnel or not.
Just as, through a billion mostly unconscious choices, we call forth the situations that open the tunnel in the first place.
One day I learned that this is what the shamans do: go back and forth through this tunnel on purpose. I came to appreciate the whole experience, even though I do not enjoy it one bit.
I fear death every day.
I know that it isn’t real. It’s a transition from one idea to another: from the idea of “I am” to just “I.”
I also know that we die constantly. I’m not a fetus anymore. I’m not even the same person I was a year ago. I’m made of a completely different set of atoms. Where is that former fetus? Where is the Last-Year-Me?
They died. They are no more.
It wasn’t so bad, was it?
Perhaps it’s the suddenness of death that’s the real source of the fear. But we don’t need to worry. Just as we don’t suddenly stand up and walk one day, or suddenly understand how to be a doctor, or suddenly find ourselves sharing a household and life with a partner that we didn’t even know existed yesterday, death, too, is incremental. You have to make a billion small choices to call forth and then make it all the way through that tunnel.
Death comes to us every year as we step into new goals and close the books on old accounts. It comes every week as we say goodbye to the office and race home to get ready for a night out. It comes to us every hour as we transition from one activity to the next.
It comes to us with every breath that we choose to stop inhaling and transition, instead, to exhaling.
Death is part of the now. To live, we just have to stop avoiding it.