What are the implications for believing that it is highly unlikely that we will continue to live on after death? After all, one of our strongest drives in life is the desire for self-preservation, right? Is it wrong to want hope? To want joy and bliss after we die? No, not at all. This is an innate fact of our humanity. We seek the highest comforts and joys in this life in order to survive and pass on ambition and drive for success to the next generation.
If there is anything that evolution has equipped us well for, it is to have optimism for the future! We can go on and on about the advantages in having optimism, but let’s face it, when the rubber hits the road, most humans in their right minds despise the idea of dying. I know I do. Then, to press this issue a little further, we hate the idea of those we love so dearly dying as well. It is a most searing and direct consequence that we must face. What hurts the most is the immediate permanence of death upon our lives, and our minds. How do we deal with the unthinkable?
To put it simply, we need to actually think long and hard about how we should approach death before it happens. A most ignorant thing to do is to not prepare for what will inevitably affect everyone one of us. Be it a loved one, a friend, or ourselves. The best way to counteract the unthinkable is to learn to accept it before it happens. So what are some things to keep in our arsenal of knowledge before death rears its ugly head? 1) Death is a natural stage that every living organism experiences. Death plays no favorites. From the smallest single celled organism to the most advanced animal on planet earth, (arguably humans at this juncture in time), death in a sense, is nature’s way of recycling the old matter and replacing it with new matter.
2) Death itself affects us in whatever way we choose to approach it. If we approach death unexpectedly, without having given it a thought, we are in for a rude and devastating awakening! This is the sort of approach/ lack thereof that leads people into alcoholism and irrational violence toward others and themselves. If however, we choose to approach death positively by spending time with our dying loved ones and expressing our deepest love and affection for who they are, as well as all the wonderful memories that we have had with them, this is an objectively healthy approach to accepting the permanence of death when it comes. Emotional investment, whenever possible, is beneficial both for our dying friend, as well as for ourselves. It brings a conclusion to the story of some of our most valued and treasured relationships.
3) Death alleviates suffering in the world. When we are living, breathing, capable people that can give a hand to those in need, it is without question that the same desire that drives us to avoid our own pain and suffering should be passed on to those less fortunate in this life. It is amazing how much science has helped progress our thinking about how to alleviate the suffering of ourselves as well as other animals. We can objectively see and understand the importance of helping life to flourish, it takes no Zoologist to understand that when a bird has a broken wing, we have the ability to mend it and allow that animal to naturally continue a healthy cycle of reproduction, aging, and eventually death. Apart from our own contribution to aiding the survival of our species as well as many others, we can also appreciate that when life has taken its toll on all of us, there is a natural escape root out of the suffering that would otherwise be inevitable to everyone. Whether it is disease, famine, or war, there is a limit to suffering. We can think of suffering as nature’s way of aiding that reality in order to allow us to finally cease, and once again return to the dust from which we came.
Although there may not be a lot of reasons to invest our thinking in the notion that heaven exists, perhaps there is another way that we can come to appreciate the beauty of what nature does to propagate life in our universe. Life is cyclical, much like our universe. There is a time and a season for everything. By some astounding form of chance, we have all had the privilege to both live and die in this world. Since we realize how mysterious, majestic, and dare I say, fragile this possibility is, could this not give us reason to be thankful? A reason to not waste another minute on frivolity?
Life is what we make of it. Whether we are born into poverty, or born into riches. Life and death play no favorites. We simply accept what we have been given from the previous generation and strive to live to our fullest potential within that paradigm, however it may unfold. Hopefully, along the way we have learned a few things such as: love, honor, loyalty, self-sacrifice, compassion, justice, honesty, courage, and respect. These things are sure to live on and benefit humanity even after we as a species cease to be.