Death can bring about new life and lead the way to our unchanging self.
We think of life as a continuous stream of events unfolding — some events may be in our control and some not so much. It isn’t until we encounter an event so supremely out of our control that we crumble beneath it, crushed by the power of it.
The event I’m talking about is, of course, death.
Having recently experienced the end of an eight-year relationship, I mourn that relationship as if someone had truly died. I lost a piece of my life, and could barely find a part of me that wasn’t shattered. I mourn the life that we had. In doing so, I’ve made some revelations about what it means to live and what it means to die.
Life: Finding Your Self
Any hardship or traumatic event leads to growth and exploration, and so naturally, I took this opportunity to re-discover who I am, who I was before I merged my life with someone else’s.
The not-in-a-relationship self. The who-you-were-before-you-met-him self.
I can hardly even remember that far back. I remember feeling like there was something missing in my life and that he filled it. But there’s something about being committed to someone else that makes you lose yourself.
I wanted to dissolve into another person to avoid existing as a solo self. I found that the more you try to capture and hold onto something as complex as another person, the more they will escape you.
The same could be said for your own self — the more you try to hold onto a past version of yourself, the farther away you get from that version, and the more you will struggle to find yourself.
It takes years and years to get to know someone — including yourself — and as soon as you feel like you have a grasp on someone, they surprise you (and often in the most displeasing ways).
They change their ways when you don’t want them to, and they remain the same when you want them to change. Flipped around on ourselves, we can become caught in a spiral of self-loathing, stagnation, and trapped in an existential crisis.
So who are we really in this life?
Think about when you meet someone for the first time. You might know certain facts about them ahead of time. You might know that they are a teacher and that they have two kids. But that really doesn’t tell you much about who they really are. It doesn’t tell you anything about their energy, their attitude, how they really exist in the world. In other words, the part of themselves that is at their core.
There’s very few people in the world that have ever seen my core self. Perhaps that’s another reason why the death of long-term relationships are so difficult, because we no longer have that one person who has seen so many facets of ourselves that they can put together a true picture of us.
In the end, everything in this universe changes and challenges us, with only very brief interludes of equilibrium. We must keep coming back to the version of ourselves that is unchanging. The essence that we can’t describe with words. It’s the person that we can feel, a presence we can’t escape, that puzzle that eludes description.
Your mind, your body, your feelings — all have changed with time. But something has not changed, and you know that something has not changed. Something feels the same. What is that? — Ken Wilber No Boundary (CW1, pp. 553–555)
It’s comforting to know that despite all of this loss and death around us, there is something inside us that is unchanging. When you sit with this unchanging self, anxiety disappears. The details of your circumstance disappears. Bad decisions, tragic relationships, difficult jobs. All of that disappears because you are no longer dependent on these details to form a picture of yourself. In fact, the picture itself disappears. You’re left with a feeling, an energy, an overwhelming presence.
You’re free to be fascinated with the intricacies of your life, of cause and effect, and of randomness. You’re still free to cry and mourn, which will always and forever remain a crucial part of life.
But what you’re left with is a way back to your unchanging self.
Death: The Other Side Of Life
The silver lining of death, if there ever is one, is this: That as much as death takes away, it also gives back in equal measure. It takes away stability, happiness, certainty, a known existence, but it also gives us something that we couldn’t experience without it, and that is meaning.
There is no life without death, and vice versa. Life and death are two sides of the same coin. Life wouldn’t be so valuable and meaningful if there was no death; one can’t exist without the other.
Since they coexist so perfectly in the same cycle we call ‘life,’ then death is not really the end of that life. It simply moves us along the spectrum of our experience, the cycle that is our life (and death) experience.
The law that states that matter can be neither created nor destroyed rings true in this scenario, and that is what brings me the most comfort in times of loss. That everything that has existed still continues to exist, but in a different form, and will forever be a part of the fabric of existence itself.
Death is not a lack of existence, as we are naturally prone to think, but a different form of existence. It is the breaking down of our bodies, our physical selves, and from that springs new life, a new structuring of physical selves, new forms of existence.
In this way, death does not just mark the end of a certain life, it is also marks the beginning of new forms of life.
I have applied the same principle to the death of my relationship. My relationship didn’t just disappear off the face of the earth. It’s still inside me, changing me, fascinating me. It alternates between causing me pain, and causing me joy from the love that I still have for our connection and the eight years of shared life experience.
More importantly, it’s brought me into my self again. The death of our relationship is already propagating new ways of experiencing life. I never would have been so grateful for the time that we had together if it hadn’t ended. I love him just as much, if not more, now than I did before, and I can finally learn what it means to love myself.
Death can bring you back to who you were before you lost yourself. The self that you can’t even begin to describe.