Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Are We Afraid of Death?

By Chris Mcals

Dealing with the Fear of Death

Having lost my Dad and my husband to cancer, I know, from first hand experience, that many people who are terminally ill don’t want to hear that they are dying. What they need and what they want is hope that somehow they will go on indefinitely, despite all odds.  

Fear of death is archetypical (the beginning of all fears) and the only people who are more or less immune to it are those who have had a near death experience, those who have powerful Mystical experiences and those who are so unhappy in this life that they need to hang on to hope in a future, better life. Other than that, hardly anybody looks forward to the end of life as we know it. In fact people in Western cultures often avoid the subject of death as much as possible. 

I disagree with that stance. I was taught about Jesus' Death in early childhood, and so death has always seemed a normal, if sad, part of life to me, and I raised my four children with the same awareness of death that I had when I was growing up. They turned out to be perfectly adjusted adults, with a wonderful sense of humor.

Death happens to everyone. One hundred years from now, the vast majority of those living today will not be around. The children of our children's children will be the new face of the earth, and then they too will leave. Does this observation scare you, or does it offer you hope and respite?

Whether we regard death as our friend or foe, the fact remains that death is our individual end of the world we know it. How liberating do you think it would be if you were able to answer a few basic questions that will help you see how you have programmed yourself to deal with the inevitability of death? 

Here are a few questions for your consideration: do you believe in the afterlife? Many people do, in fact belief in the afterlife exists in every culture. If you believe in the afterlife, do you think that when you die you'll go to Heaven? Where is Heaven located? Is it a physical place? Well, how could it be a physical place since you will not have a physical body when you get there? Do you regret having to die? Some people would love to live forever in this earth, and they swear that they wouldn't get bored because they'd be forever learning new things. Maybe you are one of those people who believe that even though your body dies you will always be a part of the Universe because once something exists it always exists. 

Learning about different philosophical approaches to death can be a positive thing because we can learn something helpful, so why keep it a taboo? And why go through it alone? 

When I look back at my husband's months preceding his death, I don't see him sharing with me how he felt about dying. He kept it all inside. Was he in a perpetual state of denial? Was he afraid? I don't know, but I wish I had known, because I could have tried to offer him some support. He was an intelligent man, surely he had seen the X-rays of his cancer-ravaged liver hanging on the white lit glass wall in the doctor's office. I know I did! Why didn't he want to talk about the inevitable? Was it because he was too afraid of death to talk about it? I tend to believe that to have been the case.

Everyone has to go through the experience of dying alone, but not everyone must die feeling alone. True, all the nice, uplifting stories we may have heard or read about will be of little comfort to someone who has been given four to six months to live, because the fear of death, which is meant to keep us alive, now emerges as a sharp awareness of imminent doom. However one can voice that fear and see if there is anything anyone can say that can help mitigate it. If you keep it inside, people don't know what you are thinking, and they don't know what to say to you, because they don't want to offend your sensibilities by saying too much or too little.

Of course there is no need for a dying person to voice the obvious feelings of sadness and hopeless doom that comes with the realization that it will soon be time to say the last goodbyes. Everyone you love will continue without you, and you have to come to terms with the fact that, regardless of what you might have thought, the world will still go on very well without you in it. Preparation for death is a deeply humbling experience.

Everything you did and cared about, everything that you called your own… none of it matters anymore. Your books, your brilliant mind, your keen political views, the daily news, your whole world are nothing more than a whisper in the wind now. No matter how you look at it, death is a departure, whether you like it or not. Preparation for death is profoundly bewildering.

Will you miss your body when you are gone? It may not be much to look at, but it’s housed you since you were born. Will you retain any consciousness of what attracted you when you lived within the dimensions of time and space? Will it be dark where you are going, and will you be aware of the darkness, or will you be in a perpetual dream state? You don’t know. Death is the great unknown, the abyss in which you are about to plunge, and you don’t know what’s on the other side. Preparation for death is a confrontation with our fear of the unknown.

If you lived a life of faith, you will be supported by your beliefs, and death will not spell doom for you. Yes, it will still hurt to leave your loved ones behind, but you know you are only saying au-revoir and not goodbye. 

If you have made peace with the concept that when you die you will simply go into the ground and turn into dirt and bacteria, none of this will matter to you; indeed thinking about death will seem like an exercise in futility and a mere waste of time. 

There are those who listen but don't hear, and look but don't see! To such people there doesn't seem to be a shred of evidence that life will go on after we die, and this realization makes death appear to be an enemy to be feared, rather than an event chockfull of new possibilities. Some of these people believe that humanity is so afraid of death that it has created comforting stories of the afterlife. They are firmly convinced that the afterlife is unnecessary, because we continue living through our progeny. 
Although death is inevitable, how we approach our mortality makes a great deal of difference in the quality of our life, because to live without hope is to live in despair. Hope is a beacon of light shining in the darkness of doom, while hopelessness is a sign of depression. Hope concedes the possibility that death is a transition from one state of being into another, so why reject that possibility? How can the acceptance of hope in the existence of the afterlife hurt our sensibility? Either our sensibility is way too delicate, or it's so inflated that we believe it to be bigger than hope. 

When we resist the temptation to define death as an absolute finality, then we are keeping the door open for other possibilities, and therefore, we have hope, and hope is what makes life worth living with a smile.

The Existence of Other Dimensions

We are now well into the 21st century. Kids born at the beginning of the third millennium are in Middle School. Thanks to the Internet and social media, today we are a global society, meaning that we have integrated many other cultures into the spectrum of our consciousness. 

We have become sophisticated enough to look, without suspicion, to the mind-opening discoveries of many illustrious personalities that are channeled almost daily into our living rooms, through the Media, Entertainment and the Internet.

Brilliant theoretical physicist Dr. Brian Greene, professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University, for example, talks in great detail about the discovery of the superstring theory in his “String Theory” Nova series that was aired by PBS a few years back, as well as in his excellent book, “The Elegant Universe.”

Since I’m a fan of Brian Greene, and have watched his series a few times as well as read his book, I would like to introduce him to you through his own words:

(Interviewer) – “So, being an intelligent person, you could have chosen many careers. Why did you choose physics and why, out of all physics, string theory?” 

(Brian Greene) – “Well, I think as an adolescent I had many of the questions and concerns that many adolescents do, you know—what’s it all about, why are we here, what are we meant to be doing with our time and so forth. And it just occurred to me that many people much smarter than I had thought of these questions through the ages and come up with various solutions, none of which I guess were completely satisfying, and it didn’t seem to me that I was going to come up with a solution to those particular problems.

“But it seemed to me that if one could gain a deep familiarity with the questions, a real profound understanding of the questions themselves—that is, why is there space, why is there time, why is there a Universe—then at least that would be the first step towards coming to answers. And physics is the field that has these questions as its real central motivating force behind the work that is done. So that was the main reason for physics.

“And then string theory—well, I was a graduate student in 1984 in Oxford when John Schwarz and Michael Green came up with the first real evidence that string theory could well be the Final Theory, the Theory of Everything, and there was nothing more exciting to work on at that point, and I’ve stayed with string theory ever since.” 

In his biography, Dr. Greene gets a little more specific about his studies: “The superstring theory has the potential to realize Einstein’s long sought dream of a single, all encompassing, theory of the universe. One of the strangest features of superstring theory is that it requires the universe to have more than three spatial dimensions. Much of my research has focused on the physical implications and mathematical properties of these extra dimensions --- studies that collectively go under the heading ‘quantum geometry’. 
”Recently, we have formed a new institute at Columbia called ISCAP (Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics) dedicated to understanding the interface of superstring theory and cosmology. One primary focus of ISCAP is the search for subtle signatures of string theory that may be imprinted in the precision cosmological data that will be collected through a variety of experiments over the next decade.”

As we can see, through the language of math, and the ability to ask the right questions, quantum physicists like Brian Greene and many others are able to peer into whole new worlds that vibrate at a different rate than ours, and abide by different rules, or no rules at all! In fact some of these worlds are chaotic in nature, although even the chaos might be some sort of order in its own right, an order we don’t understand, yet. 

They have already discovered the existence of eleven dimensions corresponding to separate Universes, which they call “branes.” Mind boggling, isn’t it? Until these discoveries can be proven in a laboratory, they are still theories, nevertheless the exact language of math doesn’t lie. The fact that such discoveries haven’t been proved in a lab yet is because they are relatively new, and the process is extremely challenging. 

The final frontier? Not at all. As stated by Brian Greene, science is pushing on toward the discovery of a theory of everything, which had initially been proposed by Albert Einstein, who didn’t live long enough to see it through. 

Just imagine, if we humans can conceive of such marvelous, horizon-widening ideas, despite the limited power of our minds, (it’s well known that we only use a small part of our brain) what will it be like if we could just catch a glimpse of the whole picture of reality from the perspective of the infinitesimally small to the infinitesimally big? 

This sort of scientific research presupposes that the whole picture does, in fact, exist as part of the Universe in which we live. That’s what finding the “theory of everything” is all about. The exciting part (for me) is that we don’t know where these scientific findings will catapult us. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took us all the way to the very edge of the spiritual realm of existence. By studying the works of God, science might quite possibly one day point us to the Author and Creator of the whole Universe Himself. I believe it’s inevitable, and that will be the final fronteer, because to advance to the next step, one would have to cross beyond the threshold of death.

There is so much that we don’t know, so much reality to discover, so why be afraid of death? Perhaps it’s through our transition from one state of being into another, that we will be finally able to see for ourselves what scientists are now working so feverishly to discover. It’s a possibility to consider.
The String Theory, along with other similar studies such as finding the elusive Higgs boson, is the purpose why the Cern Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, also referred to as the European laboratory for particle physics was built. The LHC is the world’s largest highest-energy particle accelerator. Its purpose is to find super symmetric particles, composites extra dimensions, micro black holes and magnetic monopoles, among other things.
In regard to finding composites extra dimensions, one of the objectives of the LHC is to observe whether an atom particle, during a collision, disappears. If an atom particle should actually be able to escape the tightly enclosed environment in which the collision takes place, we would have proof positive of the existence of other dimensions. In other words, the present theory of the existence of other dimensions would cease to be a theory, having been substantiated by fact.  
It cost approximately $9.8 billions to build the LHC as an investment in our knowledge about the Universe, and to help expand our understanding of particle physics, which are invisible to the naked eye. Wouldn’t you say that, comparatively speaking, it would be worth investing a little hope in the possibility that there may be more to death than meets the eye?

A Different Approach to the Unknown

In the TV show, “Fact or Faked, Paranormal Files,” we see people with the credibility of solid professional backgrounds, who are out to debunk so-called paranormal claims of any kind.
The investigation team leader is a former FBI agent. Other investigators are a lead scientist, a professional photographer, a journalist, a tech specialist and a professional stunt expert. These people are not easily duped, however they too occasionally encounter cases that they can’t debunk, no matter how cleverly and creatively they attempt to do so.
For example, the Pride House in Texas is reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in the Nation. On this particular occasion the team Leader, the lead scientist and the tech specialist worked together in attempting to debunk the photo of a misty entity captured on the staircase.
Regardless of the many techniques they used to replicate the likeness of the picture taken in the Pride house, the debunk team was unable to do so to their full satisfaction. They then decided to spend the night in the Pride house, under a tightly controlled environment that included the use of several technical and scientific instruments, to see whether they could capture any evidence on the validity of the picture that they couldn’t debunk.
Not only did their instruments provide them with proof positive that some discarnate entity was indeed present in the house at the time, but they also underwent first-hand experience of some inexplicable events that took place right before their eyes.
In the end they had to admit that there is something that their vast amount of expertise could not explain in the Pride house.
The “Fact or Faked” investigators proved in this case, that there are people who, for whatever reason, choose to remain within the familiar realm of the earth even after they are dead. These people are called “earthbound” spirits, because they refuse to or are unable of moving forward.

Does Death Exist? New Theory Says "No"

The idea here is to keep our minds open to the many awe-inspiring mysteries that surround us, whether they are within our immediate grasp, or not.  Often, as Brian Greene stated above, it’s not so much about answering a question or solving a mystery as it is knowing what questions to ask first and foremost. 
“When we gain a deep familiarity with the questions, a real profound understanding of the questions themselves—such as, why is there space, why is there time, why is there a Universe—then at least that would be the first step towards coming to answers.” 
That means if we ask the right questions, we will find the right answers. So the real question here is not so much “Why am I afraid of death?” as rather “What is Death?” “Why am I Here?” “Why is there a Universe?” “What is the nature of Time?” “What is Space?” and so forth. By asking the right questions we will gain greater understanding on the mystery of death, and this understanding will empower us to smooth the jagged edge of fear.
If the thought of death is still frightening to us, it might help to realize that more and more scientific evidence points towards the continuation of existence after death. Some of these scientific theories challenge the commonly upheld idea that death is absolute, as explained in Dr. Robert Lanza’s article, “Does Death Exist? New Theory Says ‘No.” Robert Lanza is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. 
Moving deeper into the third millennium, we will see religion and science go hand in hand. No longer will religion hold a monopoly on belief in life after death. This doesn’t mean that the purpose of religion will end, by far. On the contrary, we will always need the guidance of religion to further our spiritual growth! However, science will be present to religion in a supporting role, as it continues to strive to understand the meaning of life, death and everything in between, by constantly looking for the right questions to ask. 
If you have faith, scientific explanations will not be necessary to support your belief in the spiritual world and in the afterlife; however it will be a source of deep satisfaction to see that the esteemed body of science is marching to the tune of eternal and fundamental truths. 
My hope is that one day belief in life after death that I share with my fellow Christians will also be supported by actual scientific facts, because fear of death is quite simply a fear of the unknown. Once the element of the unknown is taken out of the equation, there will be nothing left to feed that fear. 

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