Death is one of those topics which often makes people uneasy. We are accustomed to discussing death in small doses, such as the time when we lose a loved one; even then, the crude reality that they are gone, only manages to get us to reflect on the old memories, for we fear looking at death straight up. It is natural to feel fear; after all, death is the unknown, and since young we have been conditioned to fear that which we don’t understand or can’t “see”. But wouldn’t it be better to try to look at death from a more healing perspective? after all, we are all going to meet it one day, so why not prepare our psyche and spirit; that way our final moments in this plane can be of peace instead of anxiety.
As I was going through some old books, essay collections and more from an old friend who no longer shares this plane of life, I came across a beautiful way of looking at death; a philosophical way, which I found not only can help soothe the anxiety we experience regarding death, the unknown, and it also helps explain why free-spirited people live intensely and with purpose. Tomorrow is not a guarantee, so as my old dear friend would say: it is better to do something and look foolish, than to live wondering what would have happened if one had the courage to do or say the things we fear.
What I am about to share, was Matthew’s synopsis of Plato’s view on death. Without further ado, let’s dive beneath the philosophy of death..
Matthew used to say life is but dream within a dream and that if we were to leave aside the psychoanalytic interpretation of dreams, all we would have left, would be personal experience. And what does that experience tell us? that everyone, absolutely everyone, shares something extremely disturbing in relation to dreams, for when we are dreaming everything seems real; no matter how extravagant the scenario is or impossible, the characters that populate it while we are in dream land, live that reality with absolute normality, without feeling at any time that something is wrong … until we wake up.
Usually, it is only when we wake up that we find ourselves astonished as to why at no point in the dream, did we realize we were clearly experiencing an absurd, ridiculous, if not outright impossible situation.
Why didn’t we realize we were dreaming? … that seems to be the key question. Personally, I tend to have lucid dreams; that is dreams in which the dreamer realizes he is dreaming, but let’s make it clear that this is something that happens very rarely. The truth is the majority of the time, most of us live most of our dreams in a totally “realistic” way, experiencing emotions of all kinds, such as pleasure, fear or sadness with the same intensity as we do in this reality.
My friend used to say that perhaps it is out of habit; perhaps, we like to think that there is only one reality in which we are awake, and from which we disconnect for a few hours when going to sleep; dreams being to us a kind of alternative plane, a fantasy which can only exist while we are asleep. He would then wonder: if that is how we see the plane of dreams, couldn’t we see this reality the same way? — a dream within a dream….
Just as when we wake up, we leave behind the reality of the dream; noticing how strange, pleasurable or terrifying it was… won’t we feel the same about this reality when we die?…
And if so, as Plato posed the question, wouldn’t death be an awakening?…
Perhaps when we die, we will discover even this reality; in which we are awake; was full of absurd questions without real logic — a mad zoo — which we took too seriously precisely because we were immersed in it, missing the fact that we got ONE opportunity to play with life, to let this express itself in beautiful unique ways. Perhaps only when we die, we will realize we took life too seriously, following dogma like naive children over living with purpose and from the heart. Perhaps as Matthew used to say, only then, we would realize that all that mattered was the motivation of the heart, and this is why great minds like Nietzsche, Emil Cioran, Charles Bukowski, Carl Jung and others, tried to teach us not to fear reaching beyond good and evil.
This theory makes sense, in the same way that when dreaming we cannot realize we are dreaming; as such, when we are immersed in real life, we cannot notice that something strange is happening… we cannot distinguish the fact that we are “dreaming” even though, this particular dream, we call reality.
The similarity between what we feel in dreams and our objective reality goes even further; sometimes we can realize we are dreaming; it’s not frequent but it happens. The same thing takes place in life: in certain circumstances being fully awake and in possession of our cognitive faculties, we feel as if something is horribly wrong with the world around us. We cannot pinpoint exactly what it is, but it exists. We can sense it, it is there…. something is wrong, frightfully wrong — but the sensation is like lightning, a flash passing through us for an instant, and then disappearing; or maybe we are just too afraid to go down the rabbit hole, so we disengage from further analysis.
We’ve all have experienced this sense of unreality, absurdity in real life, as if something wasn’t quite right. These brief episodes sometimes even lead to Deja vu — could this be analogous to the feelings of someone who dreams and suddenly understands that he is dreaming?
Is it possible that the dreaming self knows in some way that it is dreaming during that fleeting but captivating moment, and nevertheless decides to continue within the dream? After all, this has happened to us; we awake momentarily and then fallback sleep in the hopes of returning to a particular dream.
We cannot accuse our dreaming self of being cowardly for wanting to remain within the dream. Likewise, wouldn’t many of us do anything, within reason, to continue living?
Perhaps when we die, we also realize this reality which we judge as objective, was as unreal as that of our dreams.
Faced with this, some concerns arise:
What happens to the part of us that dreams when we wake up?
Will that self-disappear completely?
Is it swept into a state of non-existence, or is it reabsorbed back by the consciousness that dreamed it?
Upon death, will we inevitably disappear? Will we be thrown into oblivion? Or will we also be reabsorbed by a higher level of consciousness?
After all, perhaps our death is simply the awakening of that other consciousness that has been dreaming of us. Perhaps that awareness feels the same thing we feel when we wake up: that the dream it just experienced, was extremely rare and unreal.
We have all dreamt of flying. The feeling for most is very pleasant; when we wake up, we are amazed at the intensity of the feeling, but of course, we know that it was just a dream … that it was not real after all.
Perhaps, after we die, that other consciousness thinks the same about our reality. It was intense, no doubt, but how unreal to have a physical body, to walk, to go from one place to another with foolish concerns.
If life is a passing illusion, a very convincing simulation, then death could simply be an awakening. And just as the dreamed self has no idea that it has been dreamt; much less that its own reality is at very least illusory; neither can we realize that we are being dreamt.
We are afraid of dying, but have we ever considered that the dream self (the person we are while dreaming) is afraid as well? — to be clear, we really don’t know the mechanics of how a dream starts or ends. Here we could make a parallel comparison to our inability to remember our birth; perhaps when we die, we might not even remember our death…. all we may know is that suddenly we are “awake” from a very bizarre dream.
It might be likely that when dying, a much more conscious self will feel exactly the same as we feel when we wake up from a dream. Depending on how pleasant or horrible it was, we will devote a few moments of reflection, and not much more.
There is even another possibility, which may be considered morbid or more macabre than the first…that is, that just as many times we cannot even remember our dreams, perhaps the consciousness that dreams us will not reserve any privilege place for what was “our life” in its memory. For if life is a dream and death an awakening of that consciousness that has dreamt us, nothing assures us that we will be remembered, not even as a bad dream.
Here the philosophy of Plato which my friend Matthew pointed out comes into play: Lives that dare reach beyond good and evil, lives which went against the flow of the herd, people who dared to feel intensely, perhaps will persevere in the memory of the dreamer as fatuous marvelous, inspirational or even erotic dreams. Dramatic lives, traversed by losses and tragedies where the person who lived those experiences gave up and succumbed to the circumstances, might be inscribed in a wide catalog of what the consciousness would label as nightmares. But even worst yet, the gray, excessively “normal” and well adapted lives; which within this dream of reality are the unbridled ambition of the majority; probably will not deserve to remain in the memory of the consciousness– for they had one chance to leave their mark, and all they did was succumb to the false ego which demands a mask of perfection and so called “worthiness”, which the main consciousness does not validate, much less condone. Why would it? — it already knows is divine, it has never needed to see itself or its expressions as anything less than worthy and full of potential. Perhaps in the awakening of death, those who sacrifice anything for dogma — those who easily give away their power so they can be absolved of self-responsibility– will perhaps realize that being well adapted to an already ill society, was never a good response…. for the great consciousness will only see that as a greater nightmare; something it will just want to forget. This is why, if life is a dream and death an awakening…LIVE…look in and listen to your heart, so the day when this dream is over you may die without regrets.
People fear failure and mistakes, yet those are the greatest of teachers and neither will bring forth regret…at best you lived, at worst, you gathered lessons. Regrets only come from a life not well lived. It is said that when Freud died, he died with many regrets, for what started as his passion for life, was recanted in order to please the masses, and not to be shun.
On the other hand, Carl Jung lived. He was not perfect nor well-adjusted by any stretch of the imagination — those of you who are intimate with his life, I am sure would more than agree– Carl Jung pushed the boundaries, tested, experimented, dared; even though his personal life did not fit the norm, it was due to his daring, due to having the courage to follow his heart and his passions that he left us so much to learn about ourselves and about the world. Contrary to Freud’s death, when Carl Jung died, it is said he did so with a smile. While Freud died with fear, Jung died with wonder; allegedly saying “I understand, it is beautiful” — whatever he was experiencing, was the opposite of fear, it was elation…the result of a life well lived and worth remembering.
Reality just a dream….and death an awakening — Perhaps that is so; after all, all we know for sure is that we know very little. Maybe in that lies the magick; daring to discover…daring to experience…. daring to live.