“Who needs to feel they will survive their death, either as a transcendent conscious soul residing in heaven or reentering nature again and again? What we are given is precious enough – a moment of awareness.”
– Andrew Olendzki
A while back, a friend told me of a new and disturbing conflict within him. He first mentioned what I already new about him — that he had never been religious — but then he went on to state how he was now for the first time in his life going to church.
After a bit of discussion, it came out more fully that the changes he was undergoing somehow arose from his love for his sons. Most of his life, he had focused on building his business, and that was more or less enough. But then, in his 40s, he had fallen in love with a relatively young woman, married, and had two children. He soon discovered that his sons were the most important thing in the world to him, and he even began to resent the time that his business took him away from them.
About when he turned 50, he began to spontaneously consider the meaning of death, and how it would separate him from all that he loved and especially from his sons. It’s then that he began to go to church, seeking metaphysical protection from mortality.
Now, as I understand my friend’s situation, he has become attached to the pleasure he gets from loving his sons. With his attachment to that pleasure has come fear it might end. To escape that fear, he has bought into the common and hopeful notion that something of us survives our death. It does not seem very complex at this point. It is even, in a way, pretty straight forward.
Faced with the same problem, I think I would address it by studying the nature of fear and attachment. I believe to the extent you understand those things, they become manageable. But understanding them does not so much involve thinking about them, as it involves looking at them, Seeing fear and attachment for what they are seems key.
We seem to have a problem — especially in the West — that stems from our reliance on, and preference for, intellectual knowledge. That is, we think thinking about something is the same as knowing it. But is that true? Does thinking about the more or less straight forward way in which attachment leads to fear, which leads to an attempt to escape fear, mean we understand the process? I don’t think so. I think to understand it, you must see it.
Now, let’s assume, for the moment, that my friend has lucked out and is actually right to believe there’s an afterlife. Even if that were true, nothing has really changed because his life at this point is in thrall to fear. He believes in his afterlife because of fear. The same fear will soon — if it has not already — invade his relationships with his sons. It will, if unaddressed, work it’s poisons into everything. All of this can and has been seen in other cases. There is no reason to believe my friend is so special he will escape the bullet. And that’s why I believe he must manage his problem — not by trying to escape from fear via the notion of an afterlife — but instead by working on the root of the problem.