Fully Living • Fully Dying
I wanted the plane to crash.
I was flying to Southern Spain for the world premiere of my first feature film, The Texture of Falling. Enveloped into the hard-bread-cushioned seat, I was overwhelmed by the strangest and strongest longing for the plane to crash—strange because I was not depressed or suicidal, the urge seemed to appear out of the blue. I immediately felt guilt; if the plane crashed all the other passengers would die too. I let go of my death wish, until an involuntary bolt of yearning ran through me at the first sign of disturbance.
I believe this irrational impulse at that particular time was my psyche preparing me for a major internal death and rebirth I was about to experience. I will delve into this in a subsequent blog. In short for the moment: at the film festival I fully awoke in my own life dream, which at the time felt more like a nightmare. Yet because of my lucidity I had a deep humor about it all and have never felt freer.
The days leading up to the film festival I could feel it coming on…something major. I entered a small depressive state, which is always a sign to me that vital change is imminent. So I softened my stance, a deep weeping in my heart as I swam through the cerulean seas. It didn’t match up—my emotions and the golden glow of the Casa del Sol, but perplexingly, I wandered like a lonely ghost through the vibrant new land.
In my experience with depression it has revealed itself to me as the companion of death—the small and large deaths throughout life; deaths of our identity, our ego; the security of the known; deaths of relationships; physical deaths of loved ones. If we allow the death-rebirth cycle to run its course the depression is a temporary gatekeeper. If we resist the change depression can become a sort of new identity we cling to. (Note, I am not including chemical imbalances in this statement, which are to be addressed for their biological roots).
As I lay in my Spanish bed at night, compulsory images of various modes of dying flashed in my head. With life juxtaposed against death that closely, though imaginarily, I sensed that choosing to live was also like jumping off a cliff. It is as radical of a choice as dying. The desire for death actually indicates the desire to be truly alive. In fact we are always fully living and fully dying. Paradoxically, death and life are one.
I have known this for a long time, at least cerebrally, but my mental exposure therapy to dying was revealing more deeply how my avoidance of uncomfortable experiences—the humiliation of rejection or failure, the nakedness of fame, the unfamiliarity of success, the possibility of social annihilation—stemmed from my fear of death. It was unleashing courage to face all the unnerving sensations that kill my small identity. Because, why not? If choosing to live is as wild a choice as choosing to die, I might as well jump off of the proverbial cliff and actually live. I felt as if there was nothing to lose.
When you realize you are the observer watching everything, and that "life" as we know it is simply sensation coupled with thought patterns, all sensations become ok, further, they can become pleasurable. This is what allows me to enjoy my dentist visits—a perfect petri dish for practice.
Aging is a cruel joke that plays itself on everyone. The naivety and pride of youth are not enviable, but rather, foolish. The purity of ageless consciousness is where true wisdom and freedom lie. The more you experience “time,” which according to the theory of relativity does not actually exist in a continuum but is an inextricable part of four-dimensional space-time, the more you can feel that which is timeless.
A common refrain I hear from people who have aged to some degree is that they don’t feel their age. The body ages, but there is a watcher that does not. You can feel the nonexistence of time by experiencing the existence of time. You can sense that you are not your body when your body involuntarily, without your volition or control, changes of its own accord and those changes baffle another aspect of your being that is not doing that aging thing at all.
This aspect of your being isn’t the same as the brain, which is also the body, but it is the observer, or consciousness. I am not trying to wax spiritual here, I do not think of these things as spiritual, but rather logical and open to observation and scientific explanation. As Einstein stated, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
When you can feel this contrasting juxtaposition between a part of you that is timeless—the observer that does not age and is perplexed by physical changes—and the part of you that is time-based—the corporeal you, you can sense the relativity and illusion of time, and more importantly, you can sense your freedom. You are not bound to this body. You are not even fixed to the particular point of reference that identifies as, or in, this body.
One of my favorite quotes comes from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, it reads:
“Beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it. It’s the ephemeral configuration of things in the moment, when you see both their beauty and their death.
...Does this mean that this is how we must live our lives? Constantly poised between beauty and death, between movement and its disappearance?
Maybe that’s what being alive is all about: so we can track down those moments that are dying.” –Muriel Barbery
I believe there is always a choice. A choice to be dead while alive, a choice to actually die, or a choice to undergo the many invigorating ego/identity deaths that come with being fully alive.
All of the consensual societal norms that people take so seriously are just agreed upon fabrications. When you perceive how absurd this amazing existence is (why are we even here for god’s sake?) you realize you can chart your own course and risk...
...all of the electrifying results of that.