James 4:15 [Message]: “You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”
The Cost of Wasted Time.
The most costly illusion is that our mortal lives will not end. I know everyone will say he or she understands the reality of death, but I’m convinced most do not believe it. I don’t. I see its evidence everywhere in everything. But this “I,” this ego bearing my name, is grounded in an illusion. Something so precious and unique as “I” could not just enter annihilation.
You may say “nonsense.” Who can deny the reality of death? My answer would be that the evidence is overwhelming that whatever we say we believe about death, our actions say we are in denial. The illusion is strengthened by mass societal behaviors that reinforce an individual’s illusions. We waste hour upon hour, day upon day, year upon year, sharing a daily “routine” of work and play. We place priority on the same meaningless events, diversions, concerns or news to give substance to our collective illusion. When death happens, we sanitize it, remove the evidence quickly, and detach from any possible connection to ourselves.
Freedom to Create.
A writer who has explored our denial of death is Otto Rank [1884-1939] who was in Freud’s inner circle. Rank broke free of that circle to explore his own modified theory of neurosis, focused on finding mental health in the balancing of these two antipodes: separation and merger. According to Rank, the neurotic personality is in a whipsaw of fear of life, and fear of death.The solution, Rank implies, is the ability to move skillfully between these extremes without oscillating wildly. We create by separating, but we connect by sharing what we have created. This form of creative individuation followed by connecting with another who receives and shares in the insights of the creation is love. It seems twentieth century psychoanalytic theory and the teachings of the ancient religious masters have much in common.
In 1974, the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer prize for The Denial of Death (1973), which was based on Rank’s post-Freudian writings, especially Will Therapy (1929–31), Psychology and the Soul (1930) and Art and Artist (1932/1989).
My own recent concerns with art and the use of time reflect a predictable psychological process of aging: the regret over wasted time. Beneath the illusion that I will not die is a more core illusion: that I am alive at all.
To overcome the fear of death, overcome the fear of life. Be willing to challenge your current beliefs. Step out of your patterns. Create something new. Especially as you get older.
One Artist’s Path to Re-Learning Through Loss.
Here one person’s story that exemplies the willingness to embrace the reality of loss in order to discover a deeper way to live. Track this woman’s journey as she moves skillfully between the antipodes of individuation to create art and connection through love. She had to unlearn one way of seeing the world by a sort of psychological death in order to find her new creative expression. Otta Rank might have said: She overcame her “fear of death” by overcoming her “fear of life.”