Saturday, September 26, 2009

~ cool blue shadows ~

Approaching my clinical work
from an
existential point of view,
I am forever mindful
of each human's need
to come to terms with -
even make friends with,
their own mortality.

Regardless of what beliefs you hold
about an afterlife,
you must confront this unavoidable
given of human existence on planet Earth:
 your physical body
is mortal
and will, at some point
cease to exist.

If you avoid confronting this
because of the anxiety
that arises when you do,
many neurotic behaviors
that interfere with a peaceful life
may ensue.

Better to come to terms
with your eventual physical demise
than to dissolve into an
undignified puddle of
when death approaches.

Once you have truly faced
your mortality now
you can then proceed to
ask yourself the question:
Given that I will die, how then do I choose to live?

(Poem by Lew Sarett, background painting by BZ)

Just looked up this quote from Irvin D. Yalom, M.D. that eloquently adds to the point I am making above.  Yalom says:  

"I do not wish to advocate a life-denying morbidity.  But it must not be forgotten that our basic dilemma is that each of us is both angel and beast of the field, we are the mortal creatures who, because we are self-aware, know that we are mortal.  A denial of death at any level is a denial of one's basic nature and begets an increasingly pervasive restriction of awareness and experience.  The integration of the idea of death saves us; rather than sentence us to existences of terror or bleak pessimism, it acts as a catalyst to plunge us into more authentic life modes, and it enhances our pleasure in the living of life."  (The Yalom Reader, 1998, p. 188)

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  1. Mmmm.....Bonnie, as always, you challenge me to think. This has been on my mind lately, in truth. But mostly the last part. Of how I'm gonna live what remains. I'm so aware of how finite time is. I don't want to waste any of it. This whole blogging thing has been so great, meeting all of you, having these conversations. Thank you, Bonnie, for never backing away from the hard stuff, but always being there with an encouraging word. I love your blog! xo Barbara

  2. Barbara: Thank you. That is good to hear. Yes, as you say, there are really two parts to this psychological task: confronting our mortality, and then deciding how we want to live in view of the fact that we will die. Really knowing we will die, helps us make more life-enhancing choices about the time we do have left.

  3. I'm actually fascinated by death and dying, after experiencing the death of my mother as I held her. It was extraordinary. At the moment she stopped breathing, I felt as if her spirit expanded and surrounded us with peace. Dying doesn't unnerve me so much as deteriorating with age. I am staring at the possibility of knee replacement, in some ten years, if I wish to stay active. I'm not likely that possibility, so coming to terms with it is a struggle, to be sure. But I also realize there's nothing to be gained by struggling.

  4. This is a most challenging problem.....As a child, when I first got some grasp of what death means...I was schocked and I stayed so through all my years. Easy to say, difficult to come to terms with it! Though I'm 60 and lost both parents and some dear friends......I cannot yet see me in the situation...Theoretically, yes, I'm aware of my mortality.....practically, I'm not ready!
    I prefer, by far, to think of the days to come, make plans how to spend them to the full.

  5. Interesting post. I would rather just go to sleep some night and not wake up.

    Thanks for the comment about the red-bellied woodpecker.

  6. This has been in the forefront of my mind so much lately as my dad is rather preoccupied about what his "end" will be, and yes, because of that, in some ways, is not "living." I try to remind myself each and every day that the day was a gift. We are not guaranteed tomorrow or the next day, and so we really should live each day with no regrets. Death does not scare me in the least. When it's my time, I will go, knowing I loved and was loved. It will be the next great adventure. :c)

  7. hi bonnie - the words by sarett are very reminding and kindly. it's very true that the quality with which you live your life should be defined by the inevitability of flying away. my father spent the last year of his life preparing through buddhist retreats whose focus was to prepare the body for death and to release whatever energy had been inhabiting his body onto its journey once more. in a phone call with his sister just three days ago i mentioned that my father had not resigned himself to death as much as he had clebrated it through his actively improving the manner with which he lived each moment. have a peaceful day.

  8. When faced with a potentially fatal disease or illness we have the choice of making peace with this or fighting it. I chose to make peace with it, but realized I had been doing so years before. I lost my mother and then my younger sister (both much too young)and became familiar with life and living towards living and then dying.

    My challenge is now to help my children understand mortality. They do understand it but seeing me well and continuing to live a full life I don't want them to be lulled into a false sense about this. The younger one still has insecurities around this subject but will come to appreciate it as I do. Of that I am sure.

  9. Barbara: I have similar feelings - often finding myself asking, 'am I willing to give what time and energy I have left to that?'.

  10. Becoming aware and making peace with my own mortality was almost a given after having had my mother die in my arms... as Kathleen has mentioned of her own experience. My mother's absence from this earth and our lives has emphasized the future absence of mine!

  11. Kathleen: Yes, we should be gentle with ourselves and not turn it into a struggle. We do not have to confront death on a full time basis, we just need to own our mortality and then live life as fully as possible.

  12. I totally agree with what you have written today Bonnie. I think as one gets older and begins to lose ones friends confronting death becomes easier. It does also make it easierl to choose the right way of living.

  13. That is both the question and the challenge. And for me, it is much more than an academic, or philosophical exercise. In truth, somedays I have the answer right there before me, but on other days it is lost and very difficult to find.

  14. Gabriela: Yes the idea is not to sit around contemplating your death - but rather move out of the usual denial, own it and then as best you can, get to the exquisite task of making the most of every minute.

  15. Abraham: Me too. The perfect way to go. However, I wonder if a bit of the richness and sweetness of life is not lost if (no matter how we exit) we don't fully grasp THE IDEA of our mortality.

    Yalom says, and I quote loosely, 'the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us'. I think he means saves us from piddling our hours away.

  16. Steven: How wise of your father and what a beautiful example for you - and now that you have shared it with us - for us all.

    I'm not at the point of celebrating my mortality yet - but it would be a nice place to get to. But I do use awareness of death as a way to envigorate every moment I have now.

  17. Sherry Lee: Yes, life-threatening illness and the deaths of loved ones does force us to confront our own fragile grasp on life.

    Developmentally, we face issues around death in different ways. While your sons are forced to confront it before they might have because of your situation, they probably will not understand it or come to terms with it in the same way you have - just because of the difference in life experience and psychological maturity. They are fortunate to have you to help them.

  18. Wanda: Nature does present us with so many opportunities to deal with our own inevitable fate - the seasons, the life, decline and death of plants and animals we love, and, of course, the deaths of our dear ones.

  19. Weaver: Yes that's the gift in doing the hard work of looking at what is - the deep appreciation we develop for the tiniest of things.

  20. Barry: I can only try to imagine how for you it is so much more than a philosophical exercise.

    It seems to me that what you describe is the way of life. We grasp something, and then ooops it flits away out of our grasp, but it seems to spiral around and come back - often at deeper levels of awareness.

    When we have life-threatening illness we enter into a grieving process as we contemplate what we will lose and leave. Trust your process - it is yours and precious.

  21. I was really touched by this post, Bonnie. In fact, I've written and re-written a comment for it several times now. But I'll just go with this. It touched a chord in me.

  22. How odd to read your post today! While my husband and I were driving to get hay this morning and it being his birthday, I asked him "What if this is all there is? Are you happy and ready?" Both of us are quite aware of our mortality and have had a full life. Neither of us are into the use of medicine to prolong life. Each day is a blessing and I guess we believe that when the time comes, it is here. I think part of this is that we have been caring for aged parents that have been grasping at every straw to maintain any kind of life (90's, total loss of dignity, memory etc). It sounds harsh, but are they happy?

  23. Indeed! Confronting one's mortality gives one peace and power over life.

    Julie Magers Soulen Photography
    Blog of Note

  24. Alicia: The prospect of death is a looming presence in all of our lives. Some are just more aware and willing to talk about it - as you demonstrate. Such a primal act to cling to life - but it can become very hard for the caretakers! Thanks for your always insightful comments Alicia.

  25. Julie: Yes, power and time to make the choices that matter about living. Congrats again Julie for being a "Blog of Note"!!

  26. May all your days be happy

    Happy days

  27. I think I conquered my fear of dying when I was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago. I was surprised that I was more worried for my children than myself and told myself I had to do my best to get well for them but the other side of me felt oddly calm. I thought of all the things I had wanted to do but hadn't and then looked at what I had done. It balanced out. I'd love for my brain to be chemically capable to be that way again without meds. Loved the post!

  28. "Given that I will die, how then do I choose to live?" THAT is the greatest question indeed.

  29. Cathy: Perhaps you can make adjustments to how your mind operates - without the meds . . .

  30. Sylvia: It is a great questions that you can adapt many ways, for example:

    * given that I have cancer, how then will I live?

    * given that my income has been cut in half, how then do I choose to live?

    * given that my children have all left home, how then do I choose to live?

    * given that I am now divorced and at loose ends, how then do I choose to live?

    * given that my child has a chronic disease, how then do I choose to live?

    * given that I have all my ducks in a row, how then do I choose to live?

    * given that I struggle with depression, how do I choose to live my life?

    * given that I am looking after aged parents, how do I choose to live my life?

  31. Delwyn:

    My life has many moments of sheer happiness. However, what I seek is a life of wholeness, authenticity and integrity. Happiness is not always attainable nor realistic, but in the midst of life's challenges I can strive to be whole and authentic -- and savour the happiness and delight that offers itself throughout every day.

  32. Delwyn: I meant to thank you for wishing me happiness! Much appreciated.

  33. I wanted so to read each comment, but for now, I say this...

    The soul lives eternally and I am at peace with the fact that my body with cease in this life as I leave this life and this realm for another.

    I am fortunate that I do not fear death.

    Thank you dear Bonnie, for such great posts.

    Have a great week ahead~

  34. Hello Bonnie. Your post struck a chord for me too. Of late, death has been very present in my life and I've been quite preoccupied with the different ways people face it. Your writing was very pertinent and thoughtful.


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