Only the idea of death makes a warrior sufficiently detached so that he is capable of abandoning himself to anything. He knows his death is stalking him and won’t give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything. –Carlos Castaneda
One of the strongest of human instincts is self-preservation: maybe the strongest. We will do most anything to save our lives. On one hand, this is a healthy impulse for it keeps us from playing Russian roulette with .45 caliber handguns, drinking poison or telling our boss what we really think of him. On the other hand, this instinct can go from preserving our life to defending our ego.
The ego prefers remaining in its intellectual-psychological comfort zone to facing the challenges of new choices, new learning and new perspectives. Somehow I want to be different—without being different! I want to get from here to there while remaining here. And, above all else, I certainly do not want to stand out and appear strangely different from my peers. But really now, do corpses care what they look like?
Lao Tzu wrote, “Those who know how to live can walk abroad without fear of rhinoceros or tiger. They can enter battle without being wounded. The rhinoceros can find no place to thrust its horn, the tiger no place to use its claws, and weapons no place to pierce.” Why is this? Because they are “beyond death.” (Tao Te Ching 50)
And how do we get “beyond death”?
We see ourselves as already dead: dead to other people’s standards of evaluation, dead to societal approbation, dead to making other people happy at the expense of our own ultimate happiness. Think about it: What does it say about those individuals who wish for us to disregard our God-created uniqueness for the sake of their happiness?
Yes, our reputation is important. I am not suggesting otherwise. What I am suggesting is that without self-respect, of what worth is the applause of others? If I deny what I was created to become in order to please others, exactly what is it that these people are honoring in me? Certainly they are not honoring my true self.
All Hail, Monte Wilson … for he is now made in my image: thinking my thoughts through his brain, behaving as I deem best, and emoting in ways that keep me happy. Well done, sir!
The discipline of death requires that we see ourselves as dead to the old, ineffective or debilitating ways of believing and behaving. This doesn’t mean that some of what we have learned in the past will not serve us in our Quest: it does mean that such learning will need to be evaluated and inspected for beliefs, values and attitudes that would impede our journey.
The blessing of our mortality is that we are constantly faced with the challenge of choices. Do I do this with my allotted time or do I do that? The danger is in forgetting our mortality and living as if we have all the time in the world. It is best then, I think, to see our selves as always standing in the shadow of our own gravestone and asking, What Now?
This is not merely an intellectual concept to which you acquiesce. If you do not get this, if you do not chose to allow your soul to fully embrace that you are a “dead man walking,” then you will refuse to press beyond the safe and possible … to the Quest for (what others would call) The Impossible Life.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010