Don’t Fear The Reaper

Recently, and for the first time in several years, I had been ill to the point where I was basically
bed-ridden at home for four or five days. With the help of a dear friend who cared for Sonny, and
because of how amazingly supportive the staff are at our studio, I fully allowed myself to rest.
Aside from sleeping, I wasn’t up for doing much of anything, including reading, so as is the thing
to do these days, I had my inaugural dive into a binge on Netflix. At the suggestion of a friend, I
watched a four season series called Vikings. This isn’t typically my theme of choice for
entertainment, though I went for it partly because it came recommended, and partly because
some of my lineage originates in Norse heritage.

To avoid fierce criticism from staunch historians and fanatic LARPers, I expect the producers of
the series paid close attention to the representation of many details of Viking culture, including
the general fearlessness that was said to come with taking up battle with other tribes. According
to Viking lore, a core belief was that fighting for honour on the battlefield meant that your death
guaranteed you entry to Valhalla, the Viking heaven where your honourable intentions are
forever celebrated. Considering that a sincere belief in such a place existed, and that to go to
war would mean that whether you live or die, you pretty much win either way, it would be
understandable that such a fearless attitude toward death existed in their culture. This made me
think a lot about the contrasting attitude that the majority of we humans now appear to embody,
which is an emblematic fear of death.

There is an approach in psychology which perceives that the majority of us humans either
directly or indirectly make most of our big life decisions based around our fear of dying. Some of
the indirect (read unconscious) life choices range from striving for what we believe is a proper
education, finding the right partner by a certain age, owning a house, having a particular amount
of money in the bank for retirement, and finding ways to hide the aging in our bodies.

Hinduism makes reference to the fear of death as being arrogant, i.e. the arrogance of having
some idea of knowing what happens to us after we die, and in particular, that it is something to
be feared.

If our societal fear of death is sourced in fear of the unknown, as in ‘the mystery of what awaits
us on the other side’, then why do we not simply choose to lean in the other direction? Since
none of us knows for sure what actually awaits us in the great beyond, if there is a beyond, why
not (as did the Vikings) use the fuel behind our fear to trust that, because each of us did our
best under the circumstances each of us was given, what lies beyond the door of death is going
to be incredible beyond description?

Or consider what may be more true: that we’re afraid of death because we generally feel that we haven’t truly lived yet. If you don’t think you’re part of that crowd, try doing what I did: Take at least one full minute and make a true meditation out of sitting with the imagined scenario of, after taking some diagnostic tests, your doctor informs you that you have maybe a few weeks remaining in your life. Don’t think about this—feel it. Feel your body sitting in your doctor’s office as you look into their serious eyes. Notice what changes in your body upon hearing their words. See in your mind’s eye the calendar days you have left. Take special notice of who and what flashes through your mind. If the translation of the who and the what sounds anything like, “But wait! I still haven’t done this or that yet!”, this is your wake-up call. It’s time to stop thinking about it, putting it off, and start making some serious changes.

As for the outcome of my own meditation, if you’re curious, check back in next month’s newsletter. Skål! 


See you in the practice room,