Death studies for college students. Now that is an uplifting thought.
But actually it is. As members of a death-denying culture the introduction of THE subject that makes us all uncomfortable is absolutely necessary. It seems natural to avoid pain and the subject that we choose to distance ourselves from only takes on more importance and power through our denial.
There are stories about Buddhist priests who are novices. Apparently there were placed into rooms with corpses in varying states of decay. The shock was intentional. Once they faced up to the reality that our physical bodies are temporary and impermanent, they could move on to explore the world of spirit.
Kean University in NJ is at the forefront of such classes. Besides visiting cemeteries and coroners offices they are required to write letters to deceased loved-ones and compose their own eulogies.
Facing death does not mean becoming obsessed with it. It does not lead to morbid thoughts or actions. It can allow us to experience the death of loved-ones with a deeper understanding and acceptance. What cannot be changed must be accepted. Of course death can be tragic. We tend to categorize deaths by cause and age. Of course we can accept the death of a loved-one more readily if they lived a long life or were suffering towards the end. But ultimately we need to keep the prospect of death in its proper place–acknowledge its inevitability and use it as a tool to embrace the gift of life.
How do we ascribe value to the intangibles in our lives. They must be ephemeral, not guarranteed. Love and life are like that. The awareness that physical life is temporary gives it value. Death does just that. It also opens us to explore the world of spirit. Death has less sting when it is viewed from a greater perspective.
In an age where information is but a touch away, is there still a need for professionals? What I mean is simply this…..If I can get unlimited medical information from the internet, if any legal question, tax question can be answered, if I can use etrade, legal zoom, turbotax, online real estate, investment advice etc. etc…..do I really need to pay a professional to advise me on any of it? The truth is—it all depends. There are simple legal issues, tax issues, medical issues, investment issues which can be handled directly by the consumer. But when the situation is not so simple, when too many opposing opinions are obtained or when the issues are technical enough that the layman clearly is over their head, that is the time to rely on the professional.
The internet does empower all of us. Knowledge IS power. The problem is that the internet offers information, unlimited information. It does not guarantee accurate, useful, wise information ie. knowledge.
This is why I encourage my patients to present whatever information that have gleaned from websites. I only recommend that they hear my interpretation of what they present. If I know my business I should be able to convince them that my position is one they should follow. For this interpretation of information I deserve to be paid. I would suggest the same is true of other professionals who have the training, certification, experience and knowledge.
The February 12 NYTimes article by Christy Wampole effectively re-states what my two prior posts have done. Entitled “In Praise of Disregard” she advises the reader to learn to analyze their life’s challenges, difficulties, criticisms, take wisdom from the ones that can help and disregard the rest.
This is an active process. As I have written about previously, the Serenity Prayer sets the model for dealing with life’s adversity. Serenity is a term like happiness, peace and contentment. It represents an ideal state of being. It is the goal of spiritual leaders since the dawn of time. Wampole states, ” it is possible to subdue those ideas that do violence to us. Ideas are given credence only when they are entertained. By disregarding them we can erode much of their influence.”
A crucial aspect of this willful act of disregarding is to recognize the nature of the mind. Essentially we can only hold one thought at a time. Contrary to the belief that we are engaged in multitasking on a continuous basis, the truth is that when we believe we are multitasking, we are merely alternating thoughts rapidly. Once we realize that thoughts and feelings can only be experienced one at a time, we can appreciate why being able to disregard, or practice nonattachment through conscious action or the meditative state leads to healing.
It is necessary to distinguish this activity from denial. Ignoring real world problems because they are difficult or painful is just foolish. But having acknowledged them, made every reasonable effort to deal with them, we need to let them go. It is the obsessive rumination, the constant worry, the resultant fear of the future and the unknown that leads us to suffer in the present moment. When suffering and tragedy find us (as they inevitably do) we can experience them then, in that moment, and hopefully not too soon.