Philosophy, Religion, Spotlight

He did not fear death

Photo credit: Twitter

This is an excerpt from an article by the late Roger Ebert, on the topic of his own death.

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

…Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. “Faith” is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I am 69, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

And with Will, the brother in Saul Bellow’s “Herzog,” I say, “Look for me in the weather reports.”

Many people shared a touching cartoon of Ebert’s old friend Gene Siskel welcoming him to a movie theater in the afterlife. (I shared it too.) But, like me, Ebert didn’t believe in the soul or the afterlife. He neither expected, nor wanted, an eternity of movies and seeing old friends. 

Many people ask me how I can face death—or life—with no belief in a soul. “Easily,” is the answer, but it’s hard to say. These words, from a man who has now been annihilated, express it better than I ever have. 

I hope you will read the rest of the article here.

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

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Andre Sólo, New Orleans

A Dream

Photo by Milad Gheisari

I died and I was buried.

Except I was not dead. I woke up in the sarcophagus, in a mausoleum. It had been sealed from the outside. I had seen the funeral that Saumya and others held; I saw the offerings that they made. I knew they were outside, and they knew I was within.

I believe they knew I was not dead. But there I was.

I opened the sarcophagus and stepped down into the mausoleum. It was large and roomy. I didn’t mind being there. I didn’t feel trapped or lost, but I was unsure where to go.

I walked its little hall. Tall stone walls, with tiny windows at the top. For fun and to scare the people outside, I pounded on these windows. I knew they would not open the door for me, and I didn’t want them to.

I walked to the end of the mausoleum. I’m not sure what I found.

I don’t attach psychic or prophetic significance to dreams. This one woke me up and remains clear in my mind. It feels important, whether it is or not.

Want to hazard an interpretation?

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Spotlight

James Altucher on Age and Death

So this soul thing. I used to believe in a soul, I no longer do. This causes some ruckus (why? why can’t we just believe what we want?) and people want to know my reasoning.

Here are some thoughts on aging and death from James Altucher.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE STRESS OF GETTING OLDER?

[A reader asks:] James, how do you deal with the stress of getting older and the feeling that the years are flying by?

ANSWER:

Aging, decay, death, is a horrible part of life. And it happens to every atom, cell, molecule, animal, human. But it’s horrible. Eventually, about 15 trillion years from now, all of the light will be extinguished from the universe, everything left will just be a lifeless husk. It’s sad that such beauty was created and there is no other course for it other than eventual imploding despair and nothingness. I can relate that you are afraid of the decay that will happen. And it’s not just the decay, it’s the uncertainty of which things will break first, which memories will be forgotten, which bones will be the next to break, and finally, the ultimate question of what happens next. Knowing that we will never know until it’s too late.

But I hate to tell you, I love getting older. Because the years that preceded my current advanced age of 44 were really not that great for me either. Or for  many people.

0-5 years old: you shit in your pants and you are dependent on other people 100% of the time to move, to eat, to bathe, to sleep, to wake up, to communicate. It’s awful. Those were probably the worst years of my life. Particularly the shitting in my pants part because sometimes it happened in front of my friends. Or on top of them. I still remember that. My mother comforting me when all the other kids on the block were laughing at me.

5-13 years old. What a nightmare. The fear of first grade. Of school. Of my father telling me: first there’s school until 18. Then college until 22. Then graduate school until 26. Then work until 65. Then you die. What the hell! And then, at age 13, junior high school! That was like a prison. I was getting acne, braces, glasses, and random kids that had beards at the age of 13 were fighting each other in the hallways until there was blood. And girls started getting pregnant. And now I have a 13 year old! This is horrible!

13-18. Disaster! High school. Teenage years. Constantly lusting after every girl. If you’re not a guy you might not even be able to imagine. All I could think about was girls. It doesn’t matter what the teacher was saying, I was pressing up against my desk to get constantly excited. And then I would eye every girl in the hallway with the implicit question: “will you have sex with me”. From 13 to 18. And do you know how many girls eyes back with a “yes”? ZERO. What a nightmare.

18-25. College, then graduate school. Horrible. And the sex, while plentiful, is not even that great either. Nobody knows what they were doing and I knew even less. And then when you start to get a job and you have to pretend like you know what you are doing but you know nothing and all you want to do is cut every corner and quickly retire. At least, for me.

25-44. Career. Family. Debt. Responsibilities. Fears. The first time I ever thought of suicide. Squashed dreams. Failures. What are so great about these years? I mean, I’m glad I have two kids now. Did I want them? No. But now I’m glad they are alive so they can torment me for a few more years.

I’m 44 now. I think maybe I enjoyed 5% of the years that came before this year.

What do I have to look forward to now?

Ahh, bliss. I have Claudia so I hope the next 40 years are good in that department. My kids are older and soon they will be adults so finally I can be their friend instead of just their dad. I legitimately like them so I think that will be fun. I’m wiser do I don’t make the non-stop stupid mistakes I made from 25-44. Persistence is not about sticking with something, its about making mistake after mistake after mistake until stop making them anymore. Hopefully I’m at that point.

Health after 44. Several good things. I am much more aware of my digestion now than when I was 21 so it means I eat better. I also sleep better because I realized that drinking was one of the stupid mistakes from 25-44. I also have now accumulated enough positive people in my life (after 44 years) that I don’t have to hunt for too many more in order to enjoy my friendships. The good thing about maintaining health is that every year I probably move up in ranking in the looks category among people my age. When I was 21 I was probably in the bottom 10%. Now maybe I’m hopefully at the 50th percentile. That’s a big improvement!

So I figure this is good for the next 20 years and then maybe other health issues start to happen. Like cancer or something. Bring it on, bitches! No chemo for me. Chemotherapy rarely works and just makes you more sick. I’m looking forward to morphine, hospice, saying goodbyes to people. Making jokes about it.

Maybe I’m looking at it too lightly. What does death mean? It means nothing. Literally nothing.  There’s a big ocean out there. My life is a single wave on that ocean. A wave that laps into the beach, disappears, and then gets drawn back into the infinite ocean, where all life began. I’m looking forward to the welcome home party.

So there you go. It means nothing. Enjoy the life you have. Learn to enjoy it even though you’re making mistake after mistake. Mistakes are the basic condition of learning.

Also, please check out the Altucher Confidential for answers to more reader questions and essays on the human spirit.

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Religion

What do you do the morning you return from your grandmother’s funeral?

0700: Our car pulls into my parents’ driveway. Yes, I’m in a car and yes, I’m back in Wisconsin. The woman who gave birth to my dad stopped living and that seemed reason enough to pause the Adventure. Pausing an adventure—what a very American concept, I don’t bother to think as we pull onto the gravel. Instead I think: I don’t want to unload the car; I do want to sleep; I need to do work. We just drove 16 hours back from Pennsylvania where the funeral was.

My grandmother, Mary King Jacob, at her wedding in 1946.

0708: Breakfast of chocolate-covered graham cracker cookies and, if I remember correctly, nothing to drink, not even water and definitely not coffee.

0712: Set to work on my laptop in my parents’ den. “Work” in this case mostly means procrastinating by checking online games, email, new photos of old friends on Facebook: anything that does not involve writing about a basketball player’s DUI after my night of driving through thunderstorms. I complete my work incrementally and in fits.

0822: Submit articles and an invoice. Accept that, as I’d feared, my brain is now firing way too much to sleep. Have a great idea for an art project involving women’s faces as they masturbate. Try to search for women’s masturbation faces without getting only porn. Fail. Wonder if my art project can truly be liberating and empowering and low-key erotic or if it will just be smutty. Am too tired to trust my judgment.

0831: Agree to go with my mom to her haircut appointment later. Maybe there will be spring rolls at the neighboring Asian market.

0836: Discover that my mom also intends to combine weekly groceries, liquor store stop, gas station, and bakery run with the haircut trip. Begin to regret my decision to come. Consider cancelling. Decide spring rolls are worth any tariff. I commit to being ready to go at 9:30.

0910: Mom begins the first of several knocks on my door, certain that I will not be ready at 9:30. I go back to sleep.

0935: I am not ready, but explain to Mom that this is because I’m looking for a cord for the iPod I gave her which will let her use it in the car. She is about as excited as if I told her I can get accessories for an iguana terrarium.

0940–1332: Long pile of errands. The Asian market does not have spring rolls. I cringe and read a book.

1344–1406: Drink four bottles of beer while eating as many slices of pizza. This is an alarming beer:za ratio but ends with a pleasant mild buzz. I eat cookies both before and after the pizza/booze orgy.

1432: Excitedly send off an email making Friday plans that involve pizza, beer and cookies because the hit machine will never stop, right.

1435: It’s somehow still cloudy and cool outside and I want to go for a walk, but it’s Thursday and I need to create a blog post because that’s my deal. Shit.

1439: Instead of creating something philosophic I hastily write a post using my dead grandma to prey on reader sympathies. She has been buried only 24 hours and this is already not the first time I’ve leveraged her death. I remind myself she (a) would understand and (b) is no longer around to understand or not. I focus my thoughts to exclude my recent swing of opinion toward believing there is no soul. That would make the meat of a real blog post, which this is not.

(But seriously, guys, there is no such thing as a soul and that makes the language of mourning over the past 48 hours ring absurdist and lip-bitingly innocent in my ears.)

Feel free to wax faithful or philosophic on your thoughts on the soul: I’m going for a walk (followed most likely by beer) and will be sure to respond in kind. But really, FYI there is no soul. The gods told me so.

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The Heroic Life

The Oracle Said To Me

Today’s soundtrack: here.

Monday I posted a story about the dream after the dream, the life I’d like to live after adventuring. You can see it here if you like.

The story ended with the confession that I won’t live to see that dream come true.

Death and the Oracle

This message from Rogue Priest reader Lorri was quite touching:

Hi Drew. I just read your most recent blog. I am wondering… Do you know that you will die young? Do you want to? …Are you [seeking it]?

Do I know that I will die young? Not exactly. An oracle told me that I will die at 46, which I consider to be a short life. I’m 30 at present. I was told this when I just 22, having lived almost one half of my projected life span.

Do I believe that? Well, I wouldn’t say that. But I decided life will be more awesome if I live as if I believe it. To do everything relentlessly and get as much in as I can before that expiration date.

Do I want to die young? No. It is very poetic and all but the truth is I can think of enough things to do to fill 100 lifetimes. The world is my lover and I feel good every day I look into her eyes. She makes my heart soar. I would never leave her if it was up to me, but it isn’t, so I spend every day loving her while I can.

I do, however, recognize two important factors. First, bravery is the most important virtue to bring me through my journey to its goal. I cultivate that by meditating on my own death. To write out my retirement dream and then declare I’ll never live to see it is a powerful practice.

Second, I recognize that preparing for my death can’t just be a mind game. If I am truly committed to the Heroic Life than I must be willing to risk myself to help others, unflinching. My joyful life is merely on loan to me. It really belongs to others. That’s the way I’ve chosen it and that is probably how it will come due.

So, I take the chance of my death as a very real thing. At the same time I don’t want to do anything to make it happen. I’ll just keep playing and training and loving life till I’m given something worth fighting for.

If I live to celebrate my 47th birthday it will be a hell of a party indeed. And yes, every single reader will be invited.

Thanks everyone for reading along with this strange priest as I try to understand what real heroism is. I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this.

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Personal Development

To Seek the Force of Youth

There’s a force that permeates the time of our youth. A feeling that colors the world.

I’m not sure if we feel it in the moment, or if we add it to our youthful memories much later. Does it matter? The decline or absence of this force in present life strikes the soul like hammer. There is something that fades, and we miss it horribly.

Breaking Meditation

I’ve practiced awareness meditation for a decade. In time, that meditation has branched and evolved. It’s allowed me to experience the amazing heights and depths of the human heart. It became possible to look candidly at what I am, and make effective changes to my being.

Recently I asked myself the question: what laws of my reality are actually circumstances I’ve chosen?

It’s amazing what parts of the world you can change with your mind when you have the huevos to call Reality a big fucking liar.

The answer, for me, is my concept of age and purpose. I “lost” six years by not pursuing my dream. Part of me resents it bitterly. Sometimes I think: I missed my chance. I mourn for a twentysomething who never was, but whom my 14 year old self was convinced he could create.

How sad would it be if I spent the next 10 years grieving for how I spent the last 10 years? A wasted life. Avoiding that fate requires a choice.

Do I do what I’d always dreamed of then, now? “Better later than never”?

Or settle upon different goals for a different stage of my life—leave behind youthful endeavors as the stuff of a different age?

It’s a question of fatal struggle versus stoic peace. I always side with fatal struggle, and there I find my serenity. To me, struggling against the odds represents knowledge: it’s the only way to know your true potential. Stoic peace seems like fake peace, an artifice to comfort us in our defeat.

Rekindling

So this is the project I put before myself: cultivate youthfulness.

Today I began to meditate on fond youthful memories. I paid attention to that force that colors them. What is this force? Where does it come from? What about then-me is so admirable?

How do you feel when you feel young?

And can you sow that feeling?

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