Reflections on Collective Confrontations on Death

The Fear of Death

There’s no easy way to talk about the reality of death. Most of us live in denial of death starting from a young age and the dominant cultural paradigms reinforce this tendency. We may attempt to escape from the undeniable reality of death by engaging in countless forms of entertainment and distraction or chasing that ever-elusive future that never comes. Our culture also encourages strong identification with one’s persona or the mask we present to the world, while neglecting the most hidden, sacred parts of the psyche. We may confuse the mask with the deeper self. However, the individual may come face-to-face with a deeper self through confrontations with the shadow, unknown aspects of the self through accidents, illness, vivid dreams, a close brush with death, or the loss of a loved one. 

In day-to-day life, the natural cycles of life and death may even seem foreign to us. We may unconsciously shun, judge, condemn, or look away from any sign of illness, weakness, or death. However, there are tremendous lessons to be gained from these confrontations with the other or the unknown. Professor of Native American Studies Dr. Leo Killsback comments on how Indigenous cultures have found meaning and grown through facing adversity and oppression, “Like individuals, human societies can reach a physical maturity, as well as a spiritual one through enduring violence, despair, and depression, including the pain and misery caused by the wrath of Mother Nature.”1 To live in denial of our precarious relationship to life and death is to strip our days of meaning. To turn towards and face the totality of life with all its suffering, hardship, and impermanence is to set out on the path of individuation and self-knowledge. Many have argued that nearly all fears in life can be traced back to this one, primal, existential fear of death. Leaning into this existential fear can ultimately lead to living with less fear, a wider perspective, more intense passion for life, and a greater ability to embrace the unknown. 

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