On: Gratitude… and Death (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two part post.  If you haven’t read the first part you can do that here.

In Part I, we explored how the process of looking a little more deeply into the world and ‘unpacking’ those things we habitually take for granted can enhance and upgrade our experience of life, wholesale.

At the end of that post I wrote that there was something else you could do; something that would exponentially compound this sense of joy, this new vision, this greater depth.  Something that would trammel it all into your regular day to day, and render it’s habitual application both automatic, and effortless.

Would you like to know what that ‘something’ is?…

PartII

It is: to understand, consider deeply, and keep in mind the fact that: you are going to die.

Just stay with that for a moment.

OK.

You could be forgiven if your first thought was that this statement seems: negative, maudlin or downright depressing.  As a culture we have not historically had the best relationship with the concept of death.  In truth, our knee-jerk reaction has typically been: to resist at every turn the stark reality of our innate fragility.  To take the knowledge of our inevitable demise and push it as far away from us as we can.  Essentially, to avoid it at all costs.

So we keep it behind closed hospital curtains.  We keep it locked away in rooms of sterile chrome.  Or we bury it as deeply as we can, both in the unconscious depths of our psyches, or in the muffling darkness of the earth; quarantined and forever imprisoned in countless hermetically sealed caskets.

Why do we do this?

Well, whilst there are countless books in both the spiritual and psychological ouvres, filled and being filled with ever more complex and confounding theories; each, any, and every answer to this question is merely a branch connected to a tree which rises and is held upright by a single ever-hungry root.

And that root is Fear.

Put as simply as possible: the thought of death engenders fear to a greater or lesser degree in nearly 100% of the human population.  Said differently: fear is the natural reaction of the human mind to the idea of death.

So, given that it’s a natural reaction, why shouldn’t we stick with it as our response?  Why shouldn’t we resist the thought of death with as much willpower as we can muster, whilst simultaneously seeking out ways to either: temporarily escape, or ignore it as best we can?  What’s wrong with simply doing our best to put it out of our minds?

Glad you asked, because Here’s The Thing:

The further we push the idea of death away from us the more space we leave for ennui to creep into our lives.  The more time we spend wishing things were different, the greyer our existence becomes.  And the more we seek to escape and ignore this most fundamental of truths, the more we allow the growing and necrotic cancer spawned of boredom and complacency to take root in the heart of our everyday lives. 

And here’s the rub.

Whilst potentially terrifying, and: stomach-churningly, skull-leeringly, nausea-inducingly random, the knowledge of our death can also be… helpful.

Actually, even more than helpful.  Because the truth is: unless you can consciously own the fact that something is transient and finite, you can never gain the full measure of it’s beauty or worth.  The tree exploding with cherry blossom, a first kiss, or a last kiss, would not be even halfway as beautiful were they not: rare, unique, and fleeting.

Life is transient by it’s nature, the only constant is change, and our time runs ever-short.  You, me, and everybody we know will one day die.  We are each of us sleepwalking thru the richest meat of our lives; past jewels unmined, wonders unseen, and opportunities ever-lost to the black and silent fingers of time.

Wake up.  It is much later than you think.

I wish you well.

– J


My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist.  If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music.  Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.

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74 Replies to “On: Gratitude… and Death (Part 2)”

    1. This is really beautiful. ;-)
      I have listened to, and read Sam Harris before and enjoy his point of view very much, but hadn’t seen this video.
      Good luck with the Vipassana – And thanks for taking the time to connect,
      – J

      Like

  1. Ha, this is the perfect post for someone in a midlife crisis ;-). The first 40-or-so years are for trying out, the next 55 are for REALLY having a fantastic and true-to-yourself time.
    Great and insightful post, as always.
    P.S. Don´t worry, I know you are much too young for a midlife crisis, therefore I find it really inspiring that you think about these edgy topics despite your youth

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    1. ;-)
      Thanks a lot. I am always really happy to hear from you, and I’m flattered beyond measure by: your words, and your assumption of my youthfulness. ;-)
      How are you doing, sculptress of the woods?
      – J x

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      1. ;-) ah well, we are only as old as we feel, eh? When it comes to energy, I´d say you “are” somewhere in your twenties, but from an older conversation we had I assume you are somewhere in your early 30ies, no? Makes me feel REAL old but usually I feel like 35.
        How am I doing? Hm … let´s say the woods have been a bit dark lately but I do not stop to hack some holes into the bushes to let the sun in, grab handfuls of bramble to munch or make crumble with it, chase the squirrels and sculpt curious creatures in my hut to stay “alive and kicking” and sane and positive …
        How are things with your new lover, still infatuated and commited to produce some great tracks? And hey, I can imagine there will be parties in your town all around in the next days after today´s voting no matter how it turned out, no? Will you join the frenzy ? ;-)

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        1. Hey there,
          Sorry to hear that the woods have been dark – it’s good to have things to do that keep you sane tho. Making crumble is magnificent. ;-)
          Things with the new lover are going very well. I had my 23rd practice with her today, and have been recording, so we will see where it goes.
          There are probably parties and tears, but I will be going for a run and then doing my work. ;-)
          Big hug for you, Cris of the Nemeths,
          – J x

          Like

    1. Totally poignant. I think about that a lot. It is my go to when I’m having an argument with someone I love – it puts everything into perspective very quickly.
      Thanks for taking the time to connect.
      Hope your day is full of awesome,
      – J

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  2. Mr. Radcliffe —

    When I saw your tweet talking about studio time the other day, I had pretty much given up hope you’d ever get around to Part II for another month. And seeing Part II as I was about to work out the response I was holding off with since Part I in my journal (as the response)… Well, I guess the artist in you can’t help but draw attention to the one thing people spend a lifetime avoiding: Death. *chuckling* All that harmony through conflict to invoke passion so many artists I’ve encountered in my life seem to be drawn to — like a moth to a flame. But I digress, this will be a bit long, as I’ve been contemplating on this a while.

    For me, having died once (DOA in a car accident when I was just 20), I guess I already knew (intimately) about the transient nature of life as well as what it is to die. So without total fear and total denial of everyone’s inevitability, I worked out where to go from there.

    The questions to you are: what is it that you do to help you live your life to its fullest? How do you overcome your fear of death/oblivion/ending?

    And following is the answer I was holding off on, while waiting for Part II is this:

    It starts with this quote:

    Turval, “If I told you climb a mountain and bring me a flower from the highest point and you will die after completing your task. Would that be meaningless?”
    Minbari, “Of course, it’s trivial.”
    Turval, “And if there are a million people waiting at the base of the mountain for whom, that one flower was a symbol of their freedom and they would follow that symbol at your death into a struggle that would liberate half a billion souls. Would that have a meaning? You see, we create the meaning in our lives. It does not exist independently.”

    Works into this quote:

    The true gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self‑control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

    And ends with…

    And the only measure of your words and your deeds
    Will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.

    Always,
    Michael Andrew Baldelli

    Like

    1. Michael, this is a phenomenal comment.
      If I gave prizes for the best comments, you would be getting one. ;-)
      Firstly, I love all three quotes, and find them to be quite beautiful.
      Now, to your questions, to which I have a few a few answers:
      I do try, as much as I am able, to keep my own death in mind. I don’t know if it’s really possible to do fully, but I do as best I can. As for what I do to live my life to the fullest, that would be: creating things of value, connecting with people from all walks of life, and giving them those things.
      When I was younger, I used to imagine lying on my deathbed, looking back over my life. I wanted to understand what I would consider to be important from that perspective, and what would, in fact, be spurious.
      When I had solid answers to that question, I molded my life around them, refined it as I went along, and now find myself to be genuinely happy. It has taken a while, but you can only start from where you are.
      I hope that helps. ;-)
      Lastly, I have to say that I am very honored that you have taken so much time, and put so much thought into your response.
      Thankyou, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart.
      – J

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      1. Mr. R —

        It’s the occupational hazard of being a part-time philosopher and and avid follower of metaphysics. I’ve had more than two weeks to contemplate and refine the answer. I had also built up the energy on my answer and was about to post a response on my blog… A rather long and passionate response based on my perspective. When you posted Part II this morning, I simply changed focus, brought about a more terse answer and put it to comments.

        Your answers help. I can sense the peace behind the purpose. As I understand by the quote: “how we face death is at least as important as how we face life…” however, I have been always curious on the aspect of life — in that quote — and the perspective that comes from each individual as they try to comprehend and give meaning to their own life and the lives around them.

        When you understand the purpose I have in my life, then perhaps you’ll understand why I put so much thought into everything that crosses my path.

        Thank you kindly for the praise…

        MAB

        Like

  3. I found the ending of this piece rather sombre. ‘Wake up.’ Jeez. I hate it. Are we really all sleep-walking through life? It’s not a very nice thought. What you say rings true though, does it not? It’s just all about living in the moment, knowing everything is indeed finite, as thus, every moment should be precious.

    Wise wizard.

    Like

    1. I am sorry you found the end of this piece to be sombre. Poor Yeti. ;-)
      I don’t know whether it has to be a bad thought tho. Mostly I enjoy waking up. I find that it can be, like many things, very pleasurable indeed. ;-)
      Every moment is precious, but it is important not to make ourselves wrong. We all do the best we can, and that’s good enough.
      Big love up y’all, ;-)
      – J

      Like

      1. Your sympathy and compassion cries through abound, MusicMan ;)
        No, waking up certainly isn’t a bad thing. No one wants to sleepwalk forever, surely, or indeed simply sleep forever. I’m not sure what it was, there was just something in your post that almost made me shudder. Maybe that sounds too extreme. I don’t know. It was just something. Maybe it was because I had that accident. Who knows.
        Not to make ourselves wrong? And how do we go about that?
        I await your words, mister ;)
        x

        Like

        1. You just take whatever your experience is, whether you label it ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and work on accepting it.
          Non-acceptance is really just another way of saying that you are arguing with What Is – and that is a losing fight for anybody.
          Part of the deal is getting yourself to a place where you can say: OK. That just happened. Let’s move forward. ;-)
          Be kind to yourself – you deserve it.
          Thanks, hugs and kisses,
          – J x
          P.S. I will make words.

          Like

          1. I see. Very true. However, I would just like to add, accepting is still not the end of the road. You can accept many things but still be somewhat haunted by them; the key is accepting and letting go. And fully, 100% letting go is much, much harder than many people would have you believe ;) It takes a long time. I think humans are very inclined to hold onto something, good or bad, because if they feel like they’ve let go of whatever is it that is a ‘part’ of them (good or bad), then I suppose it’s easier for them to feel like they’ve lost a part of themselves, which is scary to most people. Am I just rambling, or is this making any sense?

            Are you saying ‘Be kind to yourself’ in general or directly to me in this instance? If it’s the latter, you’re the second person in a day to have said that to me. Funny how things go ;)

            Words are good.
            Love to you x

            Like

            1. Words are good.
              You make perfect sense, and I agree with you 100%. The key IS letting go, which can seem really hard for a human being. This is not a ramble. But I do enjoy your rambles.
              I was saying ‘Be kind to yourself’ to you. But it’s a solid piece of advice that I think has a wide application.
              Expect words soon.
              Big hug,
              – J x

              Like

      2. Psssstttttt, by the way. You don’t do awards, but even so, I would like you to that… Mr. DRAGONfly… I think you’re a dragon ;)

        Like

  4. Recently, I was seriously ill and hospitalised. During this time, I consider death in great depth. Frankly, I discovered that I don’t fear death whatsoever. I have been fortunate enough to experience 42 very interest years, and if the black curtain fell tomorrow, I would be satisfied (not that I would probably be capable of such a thought in death). My only regret would be not having the time to spend further with my wonderful wife.

    All in all, my Zen practice has also helped develop my mindfulness for now, for which I try to life every moment to its fullest.

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    1. I find it really incredible that you have achieved a state of fearlessness in the face of your own death, that is a magnificent achievement, and I am so pleased that you have made your peace with it.
      Best wishes to you my friend,
      – J

      Like

  5. Incredible post, James. Just incredible. I read every word and what you say really makes sense. Fighting the maudlin in life gets more difficult with age for society overall deems old age has worthless. Being treated as such really does a number on your head, and before you know it, one sinks into numbness. Why do you think so many people die a few years after they retire? Death by boredom. It’s true! I am SO utterly grateful for my camera and my blog, for both have given me Purpose again in my life. Due to a severe back injury that swept my life away as I knew it, I had to build a new life. So I know what death is like. This PASSION in my Heart to fulfill whatever purpose I came here to fulfill, to make a difference, gets brighter not dimmer. SO many people give up seeing old age as “that’s it” and of course society beats us over the head that old age you no longer are a person. I really was touched by this post, and it brought to the surface my own thoughts about death. Thank you SO much for writing this. Yes, Gratitude is a Choice, and it is an Attitude, one in which someone can do anything and I mean anything that person puts his or her mind to. You just motivated me to get my next BIG photo shoot going here. Thank you from the bottom of my Heart. Love, Amy

    Like

    1. Hey Amy,
      First, thankyou so much for such an in depth response. I am so glad that you took something positive from the post, it makes me very happy. I am so thrilled for you, in that you have found something that you are passionate about and can share with the world, the things that test us can, indeed, sometimes be the greatest gifts.
      And I am very glad that you are Not Bored. ;-)
      Have a really great day, Big hug,
      – J

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      1. Thank you, James!!! You really got me thinking with your words. Bored? No. Overwhelmed some days, um yes. Photography is just a portion of my Life. There will be a time in the future when I will have more time to apply to my photography. There will be a price for that, so even if I am overwhelmed sometimes, I Treasure those that are in my Life NOW. You have a great day as well!!!! Again, thank you!!! Love, Amy

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  6. As a person who has been pronounced dead twice in this lifetime, I wholeheartedly agree with your statements here. Death is not “the end,” but merely the beginning of the next phase of spirit. Chrysalis to butterfly, if you will. I have such a profoundly different view of life having experienced death…and try every day to impart that to others.

    Liked by 1 person

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