Allies, Attachment, Consciousness, Death, Dying, Enlightenment, Fear, Friends, Human Nature, Impermance, Life, Living, Lovers, Meaning, Meditation, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Transformative Experience

The Fear of Death and Dying

Disclaimer: The following opinions are my own — I am usually wrong about most things — and so you should examine these issues for yourself. On the other hand, only a boring, bumbling, berkle-snozer would disagree with me about anything.​

(About a 5 minute read)

It is my esteemed and noble opinion that the fear of death is a major factor in how folks experience life, and a major motive behind much of human behavior.

How much of a factor and motive, you might ask? Ernest Becker, the psychiatrist who authored, The Denial of Death, thought it unconsciously drove most of human experience and behavior. And here the word “unconsciously” is key to understanding the fear of death.

I do not agree with all of Becker’s ideas, but I am in complete agreement with him about the fear of death being very largely a hidden, unconscious fear. Ask ten people if they fear death, eight or nine will not be aware of themselves fearing it.

It seems to me especially easy for young people to be unaware of the influence the fear of death has over their experience of life and their behavior. As a rule of thumb, the younger we are, the less aware we are of our own mortality. But even older folks tend to be unaware of fearing death. As Becker observed, we hide our fears under a thousand disguises. That’s to say, the fear is never truly suppressed in humans but instead manifests itself in as many ways as it possibly can depending on the psychology of the individual humans.

I believe a common enough way in which the fear manifests itself is in the desire many of us feel to accumulate and possess many more things than we perhaps need (or perhaps in some case, even truly want). Not always perhaps, but so often the desire or greed for more and more things than we really need is a mask for the fear of death.

But how does the fear of death translate into a greed for possessions?

I believe we can be driven to accumulate things in order to aggrandize or “build up” our egos. Our egos of course, are our psychological selves, our sense of “I”, of “me”, of “myself”, etc.

Now, there is a profound sense — a very profound sense — in which the fear of death is not really a fear of death per se, but rather is a the fear of the ego dying. Put differently, if we humans did not have an ego, did not have a psychological self, we would be completely liberated from any and all fear of death — we would not manifest the fear in any form at all — it simply would not exist.

Thus, to strengthen, to aggrandize, or to in any way to build up the ego is in effect to guard against the death of the ego. That is, even when building up the ego is not intentionally to guard against the ego’s death, the effect of building it up is to do so.

One can build up the ego in all manner of ways. For instance, to psychologically possess something — psychologically possess anything — is to aggrandize the ego. “That’s mine!” is veritably a battle cry of the fear of death.

But so is psychologically owning a spouse, a pet, a house, a car, a religion, a politics, a friend, and so forth. Psychologically owning anything strengthens the ego — and can thus be a response to the fear of the ego’s death. To “psychologically own” something is to self-identify with it. It is to affirm something as in some way part of ones self.

Psychological ownership or self-identifying behavior almost always focuses one on the relationship between ones self and the possession. Indeed, the relationship usually becomes more important than the possession itself. When one psychologically owns ones spouse or partner, for instance, one typically does not so much affirm the spouse or partner, as one affirms the relationship between ones self and ones spouse or partner.

In all of this, the ego is strengthened.

Ironically, what strengthens the ego also strengthens the fear of the ego’s death perhaps for the rather simple reason that “I” now have more to lose. Once, “I” did not own a car and consequently had no fear of losing a car. But now “I” own a car and so have a new fear in my life — the loss of my car.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of ways in which the fear of the ego’s death influences us on a moment by moment basis in both how we experience life, and in our behavior towards life.

Now, there is a difference of opinion about whether the ego, the psychological self, is identical to normal, everyday consciousness. Some say it is, some say the two things are merely so entwined that the one cannot exist without the other. Whatever the case, it is a simple fact that mystical experiences — in which normal, everyday consciousness comes to an end, are also ego-less experiences. Moreover, people who experience such things sometimes — but not always — report both becoming aware of how they had been fearing death, and of simultaneously overcoming their fear of death.

I believe that were we to become fully aware of our fear of ego death, that fear would generally prove to be — depending on the individual — anywhere from anxiously unsettling to nearly crippling.That is one compelling reason NOT to precipitously rip the masks off our fear of the ego’s death.

Yet, the fear manifests itself in so many life denying ways, in so many destructive ways, and has so many undesired consequences. I do not believe anyone who refuses to deal with the fear is likely to live as fully and as happily as they are capable of living.

If anyone reading this is curious about what might be done about the fear of dying, I would recommend meditation as a start towards a solution to the problem.

At least all of the above is how I see it. I’m probably quite wrong about most things, and simple minded about the rest.

Comments? Observations?

27 thoughts on “The Fear of Death and Dying”

  1. Agree with Earnest Becker,when he says “the fear is never truly suppressed in humans but instead manifests itself in as many ways as it possibly can depending on the psychology of the individual humans”.You revealed the truth by Your observationervation that fear is the root cause of one being greedy. Since Most of us are not” a boring, bumbling, berkle-snozer”, we agree regarding most of the points you discussed .As for as I am concerned, meditation will help to some extent but not totally,since 100% death to individual Ego is not possible. Thanks for this wonderful truly thought provoking post.Wish many more such great posts !

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  2. I think the fear of death is the fear of the unknown. Therefore we strive to be great or remembered as great in life. Whether that be through accumulation of possessions, or an accumulation of people. The more we can influence today is the legacy we leave behind. Like the Vikings, Egyptians, etc. they attempted to take what they had accumulated with them to the afterlife. However; we are still finding their treasures today that never passed with their owners to the next realm.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Fear of the unknown”. I believe that’s a solid insight (for a conservative, you seem to have quite a few of those, BC! 😀 ). I would add a nuance to it. I think the fear has its deepest roots perhaps in the instinct for self-preservation, in the will to survive. But it is greatly — greatly — multiplied by fear of the unknown.

      Jiddu Krishnamurti seems to have been remarkable in lacking any fear of death. In fact, it appears he looked forward to it coming in the due course of things. He regarded it as the final and greatest of all mysteries. But he also lived by putting the past behind him moment by moment, which he considered a form of dying in itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can agree with that, it’s the same thought behind the idea of when you leave a job, they will be helpless without you. I would like to think that I would welcome death when it comes for me, the only fear I have, is what will happen to my children when I am gone. Will they be ok? Will they thrive or fail? Then again, this has been happening since time began. I can not control what I cannot control, yet I worry about my children. An interesting paradigm, yet it’s real.

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  3. Strange, no, I don’t see an ego in the play here at all, the only ‘fear’ of death that I can think of, – and I would equal it to embarking on an adventure, a travel to a really remote destination, landing an aircraft on your first solo flight, jumping on a bungee, etc. — is the wish that the experience is not overly, or not at all painful.
    Interesting comments.

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    1. Some people don’t, Mr. Nothing. In my experience, it’s usually younger people who don’t, but that’s not to say I presume you yourself are a younger person. Thank you for dropping by and commenting. Much appreciated. I hope you’ll do so often.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a nice little parable. Everyone says that they want happiness, but I don’t see everyone striving for it… sometimes what they really want is misery. And those people always get what they want!

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      2. I appreciate the compliment.
        Sometimes the storms of life have bent us in such a way that we do not want anything else anymore but to succumb to more of the same, often subconsciously and automatically.
        But even skew trees still reach for the sky and light.
        Perhaps for humans that ‘heaven’ is imagination?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Meditation FTW again.
    Many people find comfort in surrendering to a higher power. I think this is a fundamental part of religion. To give up, stop trying to control dying or not dying, and just accept things gracefully, as part of a higher plan.
    In a way, that’s also about surrendering the ego, but in a slightly different tack to what you were saying.

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    1. I think you’re right about that, although I also think a fair number of people merely use religion as an escape. Instead of surrendering to a higher power per se, they seem to make their surrender conditional on that power granting them eternal life. Of the course, the best don’t do that.

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      1. Yeah. I didn’t get it until i read the Tao Te Ching. Then I finally understood what the good side was to faith and all that, I could finally understand how my dad felt and thought about Jesus.

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  5. In a recent continuing education class I took (the one that I sat on my butt for 6 hours in order to get my certificate) I learned that people who are addicted to opiates fear the withdrawal process more than they fear death.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was quite a thought-provoking read. I really enjoyed reading the comments as well. I like how you created a connection between death & ego that most people don’t even consider. Just as the saying goes, ‘Your ego isn’t your amigo’ It’s clear that losing one’s ego sometimes surpasses fear of death & people don’t even realize it. No one wants to face the truth.

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