Most of us, for many reasons, prefer life to death. This can set up a conflict with death and dying. Because we don’t want to die, as we grow older and death approaches, resistance and fear of death, called “thanatophobia,” increases. Clearly, such a fundamental and existential fear can and does interfere with quality of life. To minimize it is important, but most people simply pursue a strategy of not thinking about the elephant in the living room. They busy themselves with the events of their everyday life in a form of self-rescuing within the Drama Triangle by focusing on diversions. They focus on thinking happy thoughts, often in a futile attempt to run away from their own shadow. The general idea is, a variation of the normal approach of a three-year old: “If I cover my eyes and ears to the problem, it won’t exist.” It is a testament to the power of scripting and developmental fixation that many people still employ such strategies at the age of seventy-five.
The other common strategy is to become morbidly preoccupied with aging, the thought of death, and what lies beyond. “Will I survive? If so, what will it be like? How can I know for sure?” The truth is, you can’t, and the more you obsess about these things the more you simply feed your uncertainty and misery or, on the other hand, take refuge in some feel-good mythology about life after death, and busy yourself with surrounding yourself with those who share your myth. The theory here is, “If enough people believe like I do, it must be true.” However, both history and common sense show this is incorrect. Millions of Egyptians over several thousand years believed in the physical survival of the body in the after life. They were totally convinced of it. They spent enormous sums of money to validate this belief. It wasn’t true. Similarly, many people today read about the accounts of near death experiencers to convince themselves that there is life after death. Instead of listening to their fears of death, they are looking for evidence that death isn’t real.
Integral Deep Listening says there is a better way. Why not approach your fear of death and dying as a wake-up call, listen to it, and see what you can learn from it? The assumption is that your fear has a function; it can be used to help you grow. You can either recognize that function and receive its benefits or stay stuck.
In the following interview Sabra chooses to listen to her fear of death. The result is less fear, more understanding, and an improved ability to enjoy her life.
Sabra’s fear of death took an “oily black-grey charcoal color that was not consistent, like dirty oil.” That color turned into jungle vines. When the jungle vines were asked to describe themselves and what they were doing, they said, “At the moment we are wandering around, looking for other people. Sabra is nowhere around. We have a dual character. We can be used as a means of transportation but also to change and liberate things; our other quality is restriction, binding, stagnation, holding something, someone in place.”
“We represent Sabra’s potential for duality. She likes change. We can take her from one place to another. On a scale of zero to ten, we score a ten because we are a perfect part of nature, a nine in compassion because we may hold someone down for safety reasons when they might like to fly. I’m just a stupid jungle vine; I really don’t have that mind! We score ourselves a ten in wisdom because we have been around since the rain forest started. We are pretty wise! We are an eight in acceptance because we are going to survive! But if the ecosystem is going to be destroyed, not so much. We score ourselves a ten in inner peace because we are ancient! We are just hanging here, enjoying ourselves! We hang out but we are connected to these trees which are grounded and reach out into the sky! We score ourselves a ten in witnessing because we have been here a long, long time.”
“If Sabra scored like we do she would be accepting that one day this life will be over. She wouldn’t be afraid of transformation or what comes afterward…She has a lot of fun whatever she does. Maybe I would not think so much about what comes next. Not worrying; acceptance that she will die. Being OK about letting a full, enjoyable life go!”
Jungle Vines, what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Sabra’s life?
“How to get to one place to another without frustration! She shouldn’t be me because I’m not a jet or a bullet train; she can’t buy her way out of death!”
When Sabra was asked what she heard herself say she said, “The vines were talking about restriction and and liberation, transformation, change, moving from one place to another. They are not an airbus! If this experience were a wake-up call from my inner compass, it would be saying to me that I am a jungle vine!”
Like Sabra, you get to choose whether to view both your life and death as a source of restriction or a means of natural movement, transition, and transformation, in connection with life. You get to choose whether to be scared of death or anything else; for how much, for how long.
It is a meditative discipline to learn to identify your fear when it comes up, recognize it as a fear of death and ask yourself, “Do I want to feel restricted by this fear, as if restricted by a vine, or do I want to do something else?” That raises the possibility that you could use the moment for transformation instead of avoidance or feeling bad. You can use the “vines” or imagined restrictions in your life circumstances, to transition you into a space that is deathless. The vines are an effective metaphor for doing so, at least for Sabra, because they are connected to trees that are rooted in both the earth and sky. But when you do your own interview you will discover your own experiential metaphors that resonate as truth for you in their description of your lilfe predicament. The more you do Integral Deep Listening interviews the more you are likely to come to identify with emerging potentials that are not afraid of death.
Here is the transcript of Sabra’s original interview:
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
How do I prepare for death? – Getting rid of the fear of death…
Which issue brings up the strongest feelings for you?
Fear of death
What feelings does this issue bring up for you?
If those feelings had a color (or colors), what would it be?
An oily black-grey charcoal color. Not consistent, like dirty oil.
Imagine that color filling the space in front of you so that it has depth, height, width, and aliveness.
Now watch that color swirl, congeal, and condense into a shape. Don’t make it take a shape, just watch it and say the first thing that you see or that comes to your mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?
Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!
Jungle Vines, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
At the moment we are wandering around, looking for other people. Sabra is nowhere around.
Jungle Vines, what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
That I have a dual character. I can be used as a means of transportation but also changing and liberating things; the other quality is restriction, binding, stagnation, holding something, someone in place.
Jungle Vines, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
Jungle Vines, what aspect of Sabra do you represent or most closely personify?
I represent her potential for duality. She likes change. We can take her from one place to another.
Jungle Vines, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
I am fine as I am.
Jungle Vines, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?
Confidence, 0-10. Why? 10 I am a perfect part of nature.
Compassion, 0-10. Why? 9 I may hold someone down for safety reasons when they might like to fly. I’m just a stupid jungle vine; I really don’t have that mind!
Wisdom, 0-10. Why? I have been around since the rain forest started. We are pretty wise!
Acceptance, 0-10. Why? 8 I am going to survive! But if the ecosystem is going to be destroyed, not so much.
Inner Peace, 0-10. Why? 10 We are ancient! We are just hanging here, enjoying ourselves! We hang out but we are connected to these trees which are grounded and reach out into the sky!
Witnessing, 0-10. Why? 10 We have been here a long, long time.
Jungle Vines, if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different? If so, how?
(Jungle Vines, how would Sabra’s life be different if she naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?
She would be accepting that one day this life will be over. She wouldn’t be afraid of transformation or what comes afterward…
Jungle Vines, if you could live Sabra’s life for her, how would you live it differently?
She has a lot of fun whatever she does. Maybe I would not think so much about what comes next. Not worrying; acceptance that she will die. Being OK about letting a full, enjoyable life go!
Jungle Vines, if you could live Sabra’s waking life for him/her today, would you handle Sabra’s three life issues differently? If so, how?
If I knew what comes next…
Jungle Vines, what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Sabra’s life?
How to get to one place to another without frustration!
Jungle Vines, in what life situations would it be most beneficial for Sabra to imagine that he/she is you, become you, and act as you would?
No. I’m not a jet or a bullet train.
Jungle Vines, why do you think that you are in Sabra’s life?
She can’t buy her way out of death!
Thank you, Jungle Vines, Now here are a couple of questions for Sabra:
What have you heard yourself say?
They were talking about restriction and and liberation, transformation, change, moving from one place to another. It is not an airbus!
If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?
I am a jungle vine!
You get to choose whether to be scared of death or anything else: how much, how long.