Friday, June 4, 2010

Death As A Way of Knowing Life

         For centuries, scientific linear thinking has been dominating our way of understanding the world.  Linear ways of knowing life implies a beginning and an end.  This process has led us away from understanding holistic harmony with the earth into an area where life is understood only through isolating its parts.  Linear ways of knowing life implies a beginning and an end.  Thus, if life is going to have an end, we do not hold ourselves accountable for it and feel no need to understand ourselves on a deeper level since it will end anyway.  
            To understand what I’m saying more clearly, consider an elephant.  Linear thinking requires that we kill the elephant and study its individual parts by removing them from the body such as its heart, lungs, etc.  In that process, we have removed the elephant from its interaction with the environment in an effort to understand the elephant without the extraneous contaminating influences that surround it.  However, a holistic way of understanding the elephant would be to observe it in its environment and consider the environment as an essential component of what it means to be an elephant.  
            We are now challenged to take accountability for our actions and reawaken through holistic ways of knowing to understand our harmony with life.  Our linear ideas of understanding our world are being challenged through our encounter with death.  For linear thinking, death is the unquestionable end.  In holistic thinking, death leads us back to the beginning; it is part of the environment that is an essential component of what it means to be alive.  Through understanding death, we are brought into a search for greater meaning in our lives while being directed to reconnect with the world around us. 
            That we are born implies that we will die.  However, the knowledge of our own demise is a subject we choose to avoid in our current thinking.  Such thoughts only raise our level of anxiety since death is perceived as the end. 
            As children, we generally have no knowledge of death before the age of three.  By the age of nine, almost all children realize the inevitability of death.  How a child relates to and handles the subject of death has much to do with the influence the parents and society have exerted about the topic.  However, the fear of death seems to be a universal one. 
            Death brings with it a sense of powerlessness that can be terrifying to the average person.  It is a fear that is only made worse by our current linear thinking about death.  Linear thinking distances us from what we want to know in order to understand it.  This form of thinking removes that which we want to know, death, from its natural context of daily life.  By doing so, our scientific thinking has actually removed death from our daily lives, thus removing the familiarity and understanding that comes from such intimate contact with it. 
            Scientific thinking is linear.  It affords no hope of rebirth from death.  To that way of thinking, death is the end.  Such ways of knowing death can strike terror into the heart of the average person.  It is therefore not understood as a circular part of life as holistic ways of thinking would have it, but it is removed from life and becomes a stranger to our existence.  It is a stranger that we fear.  Since we do not have control over this stranger, we decide to remove it from our sight completely.
            In the 15th century, linear perspective was developed and vision became the primary way of knowing.  That tradition of linear perspective continues today.  We choose to deny death by removing it from our line of vision.  We do so by removing the elderly and placing them in nursing homes and placing the terminally ill in hospices.  We even remove the process of dying from our vocabulary.  Many people cannot even say the word cancer when referring to a dying acquaintance, or if they do, the words are mentioned in a hushed voice.  The action of whispering implies the removal of the dying from our lives and consciousness.  We do not want to know death when using scientific thinking as our way of knowing, because it means the end.
            Nursing homes are frequently established in areas zoned for business away from the daily life of neighborhoods.  Therefore, they are removed from our daily lives.  Hospices, however, are designed to be established in residential neighborhoods affording the terminally ill the sense of belonging in a community. 
            Both cancer and AIDS hospices have extreme difficulty opening in neighborhoods.  The neighbors are highly resistant to these facilities being place near their homes.  Their resistance does not come from any trouble these facilities have been known to cause, or because they are capable of spreading a disease in their neighborhood, but because these facilities are a reminder of death.  Hospices are places were people go to die.  They represent the helplessness we have over death.  Thus, the neighbors fight, because they do not want to know death.  They wish to remain innocent of its existence.  All forms of knowing set up a tension between the call to know and the desire to not know.
            However, we cannot hide from death.  We have consciousness, and with consciousness, comes awareness of our own demise.  Knowledge of our death, has forced us to leave the paradise of ignorance.  To gain knowledge we must leave the paradise of innocence.  To leave this innocence for knowledge we are cursed and wounded.  The wound is the awareness of our own demise.  We are then cursed to carry that knowledge with us the rest of our lives.
            Our scientific ways of viewing death have cut us off from our intimate understanding and awareness of death.  It is no longer a part of our lives; we have removed it from nature.  It is isolated and relegated to the world of hospitals and doctors.  It is relegated to the world of science.  Death is treated as separate from life and thus it is removed from our lives.  We have lost our holistic connections with death through scientific thinking. 
            Today, in the 21st century, we are being confronted with our own mortality on a massive scale through natural disasters, disease on a massive scale, war and environmental destruction.  People who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer are directly confronted with the knowledge their own mortality. The diagnosis of cancer is on the rise.  In fact, a recent study states that by 2030 the number of cancer deaths that year will be double what they are today.  The diagnosis of cancer is on the rise.  Those of us who are aware of someone with cancer are confronted with our own mortality.   
            It is impossible to not be aware of cancer if one is connected to society.  Cancer is mentioned on a daily basis on the television, radio, newspapers and magazines.  To be connected to society today, one is connected to cancer and death.  Knowledge of death is being forced into our lives on a massive scale.
            People with AIDS more than any other disease are shunned from society.  Stories of firebombing homes and pulling children out of school where a child with AIDS attends are commonplace.  These people are unwelcome living reminders that we live with death.  Rationally, people know that AIDS is not spread casually.  Our logical minds tell us that we are in no danger from those people.  People just do not want to know death and they are willing to go to extremes to avoid being confronted with their own mortality.  
            Holistically speaking, death on a massive scale is brought into our living rooms every night through war, terror and disease and it confronts us with the cycle of life.  It becomes a step in our growth.  Death then becomes a part of the cycle of life and rebirth. 
            Modern man does not want to know about himself.  Such knowledge would only lead him deeper into self-awareness and feelings that would lead him out of the paradise of ignorance into the curse and wound of knowledge.  Man has become lazy as far as understanding himself and looking deeper into his meaning.  Terrorism and war have become a way for consciousness to dramatize the fact by striking those considered with the most life, civilians and soldiers in the prime of life, with sudden death.  This, in turn, causes the rest of us to search deeper for the meaning in life. 
            The death of the elderly is easy to over look.  We expect the elderly to eventually die, and we can remain numb to the fact through our own youth by not being able to identify with them.  However, war and terrorism strikes down mainly the young and the healthy.  Death has now moved from the unidentifiable realm of the elderly and has entered into the world of youth.  Youth is the section of our society that we most wish to identify with.  Now, to identify with youth, we are confronted with death.  In many ways, our view of youth is superficial. We mostly focus on outward youthful appearances.  Our having to confront death in the face of youth leads us deeper into Self and away from superficiality.
            Constant war, terrorism and environmental destruction have become symptoms of the world losing contact with its soul.  Our linear thinking has pulled us far away from our connection with the earth by separating us away from that which we want to know. 
            We have lost the holistic way of knowing our subjects through intimacy and love.  We have "tortured Nature for her secrets" and removed all sense of soul from our discoveries.  Humankind has become more self-centered and less community oriented over the past few centuries. 
Individuality involves the capacity to experience the physical, as well as, emotional differences from others.  To experience individuation, one must be left in the original context of his environment, as individuation implies the preexistence of a relationship from which one is to individuate.  Scientific thinking does not have the capacity to acknowledge differentiation in terms of relationships, since scientific knowledge is derived by separating the subject from its environment.  Therefore, as scientific ways of knowing are dominant in this culture, the differentiation of individuals is not an encouraged way of being. 
            Scientific thinking has led to our alienation from one another through distancing.  This form of knowledge does not allow for emotions to assist in our understanding.  In scientific thinking emotions are moved outside of one's self. Holistically, death is a process that leads to the withdraw of our interaction and towards our individuation due to the change in our environment.  Thus, death becomes a way to force those left behind to individuate.  It forces us to experience our individuation and confront our anonymity.
            The disfigurement of the body by diseases such as cancer can correspond to the disfigurement we are wrecking upon the earth.  The earth, like the body of a cancer victim, is dying from wounds, toxins and neglect. 
            The soul of the earth, like that of man, is calling out for more connection.  The affliction of cancer, terrorism, constant war and wide spread disease are causing some people to get in touch with their compassion and love for others and for the Earth.  True acts of compassion for those suffering from disease and disaster are taking place.  Disease and disaster are helping us to reconnect with the compassionate and loving parts of ourselves that we have long neglected. 
            A person with a terminal illness realizes that his or her time is short and so often will drop the pretenses and superficial values of the world for more honest and intimate quality time with those they love.  In doing so, they reintroduce us to the value of intimate relationships and drop the walls of anonymity that keep distance between people. 
            It has been found that those people who eat more whole foods and take more rest and move with the rhythm of life with a more accepting attitude while letting go of anger live healthier longer.  From a holistic perspective, they have become messengers of the collective unconscious directing us to simplify our lives and reconnect with the earth. 
            The afflictions of constant war, environmental disaster, terrorism and cancer have brought the awareness of death into the hub of modern society and away from the isolation of the elderly.  It has become a symptom of suffering by the soul of the world.  It is a sign to draw our attention away from the superficialities of life and to look deeper into the interconnectedness of the world.  It  is drawing us away from linear scientific thinking and its separation from nature to a more holistic way of knowing which embraces life and moves in harmony with it.   It embraces life and all that goes with it.  To live with harmony and respect for all life and its forms while remaining open to feeling and hearing the voice of the world is to live holistically with all life.  That seems to be our greatest challenge and lesson of life today in knowing our world through holistic understanding and preserving our future.

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