Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Death is nothing to us

It was about a year ago I was directly reminded about the fragility of the human body. I was hit on the drivers side of my car by an SUV and my car was totaled. I don't remember being hit until after the impact. Unfortunately I did not have my seat belt on and I cracked my head against the front window. For a couple seconds there was nothing. No time. No space. Nothing. When I came to I did not know what happened but I was able to stumble out of the car and I caught a glimpse of the damage to the car. Not long after I saw the damage the blood starting coming down I was feeling weak and started to lose my strength to stand up. I walked over to the side of the road and laid down. The blood kept coming down. I was not able to open my eyes but a woman stopped and got out of her car and put her sweater around my head to slow down the bleeding.
It was a long night of blood, vomit, stitches, and drugs. Had to wear a neck brace for some time but eventually I recovered just fine. What struck me the most is how consciousness can disappear with a bit of force. How easily it can be extinguished. What a fragile thing consciousness is and when it goes it does not go anywhere from my experience. There is nowhere to go.
I know other people have claimed experiences of visions of light and seeing family members when they brush up against death but for me it was nothing. It was beyond dreams. Not even darkness could penetrate this nothing. For me when my head was thrown against the window hard enough to crack the glass there was nothing. There was no time and no space.
Human consciousness resides in an entanglement of nerves and flesh on a meat stick. If you pay attention nature will remind you of this fact from a stomach virus to blunt force trauma. If you are not killed by forces outside your body you can be sure you will be killed by forces inside your body. If the force from a car or a bullet does not end your consciousness the cells within or the complex web that holds you together will fall apart eventually.
It has been said that when one reads Montaigne’s essays the divide of 400 years of time just disappears. Montaigne is the accessible and human philosopher. No pretense or obfuscation. After my experience I was reading Sarah Bakewell’s book on Montaigne and the description of his loss of consciousness and injury due to falling off his horse particularly resonated with me. Montaigne described it as a loss of consciousness and that the primitive body took over and there was no self when the force impacted his body.
As Sarah Bakewell stated, “He realized, you do not encounter death at all, for you are gone before it gets there. Your existence is attached by a thread; it rests only on the tip of your lips. “
Montaigne wrote,“the fact is that I was not there at all.” He further went on to say “If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately."
Montaigne wrote, “It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep.”
Montaigne was knocked off his horse and experienced an Epicurean understanding, the Apostle Paul was knocked off his horse and experienced a Christian vision. After having my head slammed against the car windshield my experience was much closer to Montaigne's. Slipping away into the silent land seemed like a natural thing to do. Death was not a foreign supernatural substance or being but a natural event in this play we call life.
Despite the signs pointing to personal annihilation and extinction being the the most likely outcome many humans still refuse to read the signs and instead turn their heads toward the superstitious noises coming from other primates.
Epicurus - "Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not."
Michel de Montaigne - Nature compels us to it. "Go out of this world," says she, "as you entered into it; the same pass you made from death to life, without passion or fear, the same, after the same manner, repeat from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe, 'tis a part of the life of the world.
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die." Yudhishtara answers Dharma, from "The Mahabharata"
CICERO says "that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die."

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