Monday, June 20, 2011

The Art of Dying

Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle, but when it comes to my more existential side, it's George Harrison to whom I usually turn. This week I'm going to post a Harrison song every day, starting with one of my favourites - "The Art of Dying".

I've always had a fascination with death, and what may or may not come afterwards. I think anyone who tells you that they don't think of it is lying. We all do, even if we won't admit it. The central question of human existence is whether this life is "it", and what that means for us, one way or another. For the longest time, the idea that death might really be the end frightened me, but then one day my father said something to me, with his usual blunt common sense, that started me on the path of being free from that fear. "Paul" he said, "it's nothing to worry about, because if there's nothing after this, then you'll never know, will you?" Without knowing it, my Dad was all zen with me at that moment, and it resonated in a way that no sermon about the certainty of a life eternal, ever could. The truth is that we don't know, and we can never know... until we get there. And then, if there is something else, we'll know, and if there isn't... well, we'll still never know. So why be afraid?

Being freed from the fear of death opened the door to an actual consideration of what might lie beyond. I accept that oblivion is certainly a possible outcome, and that's a sobering thought (particularly when the left arm starts to tingle). But I also think that there might be other outcomes. As there's nothing I can do about the prospect of oblivion other than to try to live my life to the fullest, which I do anyway, it's those other possibilities that interest me, and that I explore, because perhaps there are clues in our lives, and the world around us, that might just indicate that there is indeed, as the pop poet Bryan Ferry famously wrote, "more than this".

"It is not more surprising to be born twice than once." - Voltaire
The truth is that we're all dying, each and every day. What lies beyond is unknowable... but it is not unimaginable, and that is a critical difference, because in the imagination lies the true "art of dying"... and the art of living.

Indeed, the two might just be the same thing.

Paul Kimball


Michael CP said...

Interesting article, thanks Paul.

Not sure if the truth is unknowable, though I guess it is if the only valid evidence is objective.

Do you think its possible to know the truth subjectively? Some say if you quieten the minds incessant thinking the truth of ones non-material nature is revealed to one..

I think this is at the heart of Science v Religion debate

DyingSun said...

That title ('the art of dying')was how we were gonna call our debut...Thank god it never saw the light of day, but I find it quite stunning that Harrison put out something like that, especially named like that.

Live never ceases to amaze..

DyingSun said...

That is one part beauty and one part sadness. In other words, a Tragedy. Even if we (the human species) get wiped out by whatever we or someone is throwing at us, we never left this rock unsung.

Red Pill Junkie said...

But what if, like some ancient esoteric traditions propose, we need to make an effort in this life, in order to assure our continuous existence onto the next one?

The idea that the soul is some sort of energy that requires discipline and mastery to prevent its dissolution, after the physical body is no longer able to maintain it, is something that has puzzled me ever since I read the books by Carlos Castañeda.

Maybe that's what dreams are for: to help us prepare for death.