Released September 12, 2019, this Reflection is about the medicine that is death and the healing that comes with an understanding of our own mortality. I hope that you enjoy!
We all suffer from physical illness from time to time. It is pretty much a guarantee throughout this life. In fact, most of us leave the world courtesy of an ailment or two. And we tend to despair at the thought of it.
My own youthful nightmare about disease came courtesy of my mother. I have a vivid memory of being a seven- or eight-year-old boy, speaking with the lady who gave me life in our living room. She told me that I needed to watch what I ate and to exercise, otherwise I could wind up like my grandfather: having a heart attack in my forties and needing bypass surgery.
I cannot tell you how much the idea of having a heart attack haunted me throughout my life. When I began to develop serious anxiety in my early twenties, the sensation of tightness in my chest that heralded a panic attack caused a vicious cycle. I actually went to the hospital at one point and they tested me and told me that I was fine. And so I was, for a time.
Still, it sucked. Nowadays, I rarely think about it. And when I do, it is never in the way that I used to. Sure, I may indeed die of a heart attack one day. Or I may be hit by a bus. Or I may go in my sleep. Or any of a myriad different ways of leaving this world. And I am completely fine with it.
We desperately cling to life. It is simply part of being alive. We want to stay alive – of course we do. It’s a biological imperative. And yet, most of us do not understand the wisdom of death until it occurs. The thing, though, is that it is constantly occurring.
I am not the man I was a decade ago. Scientists will tell us that our entire body recycles every seven years, so physically that is most definitely true. Mentally? Without question. My neuroses have drifted off into the ether, I am skillful where I was once inept, and where I could not find the path I am now well on my way.
Joseph Campbell once said that for religions to be of value, they must be understood metaphorically (that is paraphrasing it). One of the more popular religious stories in our culture is that of Jesus. As we all know, he was killed on the cross and was resurrected. He sacrificed himself for the sake of humanity. That story, taken literally, has more in common with some Voodoo tale out of the Carribean than most of us would like to admit. Zombie Jesus memes are everywhere on the Internet. But I don’t think the value of Jesus’ story is of value in the explicit deification (and inherent separation in such a thing) of a dude who told us we should love one another.
You can have a metaphorical experience of death. I certainly did. It was deeply personal, and it was the death not of my physical body, but the idea that I was separated from the world in any way at all. What died were all of the trappings of my identity as Andrew.
It was horrific. Seriously. I cried hot tears at the idea that I was all alone, so completely did I merge with unified consciousness. Without any sense of the other, of duality, how could anyone help but feel isolated? But then, after a while, it abated. And instead I felt a growing joy. Because I remembered why the world is the way it is, why we all appear to be separate and yet are unified beneath it all.
So that we can all be together, here, now, forever. The first and only real monster we slew was loneliness, which is what we keep killing over and over throughout eternity. That’s what this whole game is about. It’s why we have this world of poles and apparently different people and things around. Seriously, that is it, the way I experienced it. But don’t take my word for it – or anyone else’s for that matter. My truth is my own and if it resonates, great! If not, awesome! Rest assured that if you do go seeking your answers, chances are you will eventually find them, whether in this life or after you leave.
What to do, after figuring out the game? I mean, why do any of us have our experience of unity, of enlightenment, of whatever you want to call it? Heaven as some apotheosis of understanding is fine, but we aren’t here to simply have that experience and hold it in from the world.
In Joseph Campbell’s description of the Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey, the last step on the path is the return of the boon to the community. That is generally what people do, after experiencing unity in its fullness. It is part of the deal – we become creatures in service to each other. To help others up the mountain of Self-recollection. We guru-ize, in our own ways.
When I struck out on my own adventure, I never thought for a moment that one day I would be writing shit like this. Between my strange blend of fiction to these soul-baring raps about philosophy and a life well-lived, I simply did not see it coming. And really, the Andrew that was alive at the time when he dreamed of ‘one day becoming an author’ – this is an impossibility for him. He could never have done any of it.
What he was had to die. The delusions of weakness and insufficiency and ignorance had to go kaput. Something different had to be born. A second chance, a do-over, a resurrection – that is what was needed for me to blossom into the role I am playing now.
Jesus’ story isn’t the only resurrection tale in the myths of the world. From Osiris to Odin, there are plenty of stories of deaths and resurrections. And from those resurrections, medicine flows. But it is not medicine for physical ailments. Medicine for the wound of separation – that is what we bring back from the realms of the gods.
Musical, literary, visual – all kind of art is made in this way. How many stories have you read, songs have you heard, paintings have you seen? And how many of those creations gave you goosebumps, made you wonder, made you feel? Do you think that these things come from the minds of men and women trying to act in a certain way? Or are these artists people who have indeed become what they have always been?
Medicine for the soul by necessity comes back from the realms of death. It has to. What you think is the most important in life – actually being alive – you cannot truly feel the fullness of what it is unless you taste death (preferably metaphorically!). You need that contrast. Whether it is from your own experience or vicariously through the art of a person who has penetrated the veil, it is the reconciliation of the poles – of life and death – that gives us the ultimate experience. Unity, in all its glory.
So let’s make sure to take our medicine.