Embracing the unacceptable

Charles Cowling

There’s a good piece over at Salon magazine which I’ve been holding over for a while to use on a slow news day in Deathworld. This is such a one. And what follows is a lot more nourishing than a bit of tittle-tattle.

The piece is by Fred Branfan and is titled Choose Death. What follows are extracts only – to whet your appetite.

This must be said about death: It is unacceptable. Who of us would design a world in which we spend our whole lives learning to live well only to die before fully experiencing our lives? Who of us, if we truly searched our heart of hearts, would really choose to die if we could live indefinitely in good health, able to learn and grow, in loving and meaningful relationships, doing work useful to our species, other living beings and the cosmos?

And what about the way it happens? This business of growing old, losing function and dignity, suffering, and pain?

A holocaust which will eventually claim the lives of every single person we have known, met, seen or heard, every loved one, every friend, every family member, every person who has lived before us and all who will follow us. Every one. Even us. Especially us.

And, sooner or later, we ask with Tolstoy, “How?” How, indeed, shall we live in the face of this knowledge, this outrage, this negation of everything we seek to be? Is there an alternative to denial on the one hand, and anger, bitterness, depression on the other?

There is.

Choosing to accept the unacceptable.

Choosing to accept the acceptable is very different from resignation, passive submission. Resignation is life-denying, a deadening, numbing reaction to life in which we die before dying. Choosing to accept is vital, life-affirming, an embrace of life.

No, it is our sweet, poignant and unique fate to alone have the ability to achieve genuine inner peace by choosing to accept what we know is unacceptable, reaching the outer limits of the creative tension between life and death, pain and bliss, love and fear.

It is as true as when Gautama Buddha articulated the Third Noble Truth 2500 years ago: It is possible to be happy in this world, through non-clinging, by experiencing life as we appreciate a sublime painting that we would not even think of trying to own, possess or control.

It is precisely because death is so unspeakable, so horrible, so unacceptable, that choosing to accept it can become our liberation, our pathway to the deepest set of experiences of which the human soul is capable.

Read the entire article here.

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At least someone today is thinking about this misleadingly simplistic. Of course the most reasonable psychological strategy with anything that is absolutely unavoidable is to attempt to willfully choose it. However the problem comes at an earlier or deeper level than choosing – at the awareness level. To make a good healthy choice, you first have to be consciously aware of a real problem. And conscious and effective awareness of death in humans – in all times but perhaps even more so today – is simply not present. We are mostly incapable of it. I don't say not willing, but… Read more »