The consolation of philosophy?

It is ironic that I have called my blog ‘no such thing as never’ when, at the moment, I am so aware that there is a “never”.

Life ends.

I am not very good with the thought of death.

Whilst I used to swallow the fear or convert it into something tangible, I have noticed that the real source has been harder to avoid in recent months. I have found it increasingly difficult not to allow the fear to swell –

I know, only too well, that it can stop you from living.

Critchley (in the wonderfully titled ‘How to Stop Living and Start Worrying’) says that, today, death is still taboo. I have found an unexpected consolation in philosophy texts. I expected psychology to provide a few answers but it has, instead, been older wisdom that has resonated the most. When death is a reminder of the ultimate isolation, it helps to find connections which are a reminder that the experience is shared –

To some extent.

It feels morbid to write about mortality, uncomfortable to acknowledge how much it plays on my mind. It is frustrating, albeit understandable, that the more I find to love about living, the more aware I am of just how fragile and precarious the whole thing is.

I have been trying to understand how other people experience this. How they accept the limitation. How they manage or find relief from the fear. The answers are similar. That the tension only arises when you believe that you can control the uncontrollable. That life is a gift and the best way to experience it is to live within that moment. That death is easier to consider when you live a life without regrets. That it is the finite nature of life which makes it so precious and provides the motivation to make every minute count. That loss is sad and painful – but part of the deal.

I feel like I should have worked all this through 15 years ago, but I am still finding myself resisting the terms.

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11 responses to “The consolation of philosophy?

  1. Best way of dealing with death is realising that you won’t know any different. You’ll be here, then you won’t. You won’t be around to see all the could’ves and should’ves, it’s not like that, you won’t be around to grieve your own life. You’ll just be gone. Best we can hope for in death is that it is quick and relatively painless. Or find religion and believe that there’s something better afterwards, that always seems to make it easier for people. Personally I enjoy inventing comedy scenarios, and pray that I am off-ed in some hugely undignified manner which will cause a great deal of mirth, but little mess.

    I also think deaths a great thing. I don’t want more than 80 years, life is great, but I think by 80 I will have had enough. 🙂

    • My GP said something similar. That the very old people he treated often felt they’d had a good run and were ready to go. I think that’s a good way to think about it – I think I’ve also kidded myself that we have more control over when that day comes than we do, and that’s why I’m finding it hard. Critchley writes about something similar too. How we have convinced ourselves that we can be materially immortal and, therefore, death is harder to authentically conceive.

      Thanks for your comment. I regretted pressing publish cos I thought I sounded more mad but, actually, it really helps to hear these perspectives. xx

      • You need one or the other. Total denial to the point of delusion (If you go down this path then go for being a vampire because they are cool) or partial acceptance. I don’t think anyone really totally accepts the fact they are going to pop their clogs at some point, but endlessly obsessing about it is as good as being dead already.

  2. Yes. I have reached that conclusion. Doing the take every day for what it is thing at the moment but hoping it becomes less conscious at some point soon xx

  3. theuphillstruggle

    I wish more people would write so openly about life’s great inevitable demise. For the past two years I have intermittently suffered from thanatophobia – a morbid realisation of my own mortality. Death frightens me, as does the uncontrollable nature of when and how it might happen – but it has also made me realise how very precious life is, and how important it is to enjoy the short time we have.

    • I wonder why it’s so hard to write about. Thanks for your comment – really relate to what you say around realisation and control thing. And also that treasuring life is the best response within those boundaries.

  4. As a violent (?!) contrast, I actually find acknowledging mortality to be inspiring and, at times, very helpful. I think death is frightening but when you confront it or acknowledge it it becomes liberating. It allows you to free your mind and makes you live (at least it does if you’re not morbidly obsessing about it in a fearful way).

    Thinking “death is going to happen and is a natural thing so make the most of life” is actually an uplifting thought, to my mind (as others have said). Sorry if that sounds callous or doesn’t help. In my experience, it’s “living death” that’s worse than actual death and being aware of your own mortality is an important, grounding and galvanising thing.

    Anyway, that’s just me. The main point is, yes, life is precious so enjoy it and just go with it whatever it may bring before it’s over.

    • Not callous at all. It’s really interesting to hear about an experience of conceiving death that isn’t as fearful as mine. I do understand the living death thing and certainly have moments of the first paragraph feeling (ie why worry or be scared when it’s all so short…) – I just find them frustratingly hard to hold onto!

  5. No-one has ever really acknowledged death though. Cavemen thought they would go and join the other dead hunters amongst the twinkling lights in the sky, the vikings thought they would party forever in Valhalla, the modern christian right think they’ll know everlasting redemption when the rest of us are doomed at the Rapture and Islam still grants some hypothetical number of virgins to the righteous in paradise. China is seeing a Confucian revival, India has never stopped believing in various shades of punitive or redemptive rebirth, the earth’s allegedly billion catholics imagine themselves amongst the saved. Humanity’s relationship with death has ever been to deny it. To believe in your own oblivion is to be one mortal amongst a million immortals, whether the form of your imagined perpetuity is corporeal, magical or otherwise.

    • Interesting. Agree it’s hard to conceive of your own mortality and it feels a bit like the I’ll definitely win the lottery feeling (ie it will / will not ever happen to me) but ….even if you deny something though, you do know it’s there at some level. And maybe the extents to which people have created afterlifes or comforting beliefs is an indication of how extreme the fear is?

  6. Thanks for this – there is not a lot we can do about it so therefore the old truisms about making the most of everyday, love, life etc are all vitally important to us. As someone above commented it is the hope for a quick release and not a slow lingering death from disease that many of us hanker after. The key to a good life is health. Then it is happiness in any form. Best wishes.

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