The Daily Stoic for December 20th, “Fear The Fear Of Death”.
“Do you then ponder how the supreme of human evils, the surest mark of the base and cowardly, is not death, but the fear of death? I urge you to discipline yourself against such fear, direct all your thinking, exercises, and reading this way—and you will know the only path to human freedom.”—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.26.38–39
Am I afraid of death? Hell, of course I am! Without a doubt, one of our most powerful instincts is self-preservation.
I honestly think we are nothing but animals. Very sophisticated, educated and civilized animals, but animals nonetheless.
Fear The Fear Of Death
As such, there are two great forces that drives us all. One of them is our reproductive instinct. It’s the one that makes us buy the big car, the expensive iPhone or the luxury suit, in the hopes of impressing the opposite -or same- sex. It’s the one that makes us drink, dance, jump a cliff and do brave or stupid things. In a way, it’s a “positive” force, as it pushes us to act.
Then there’s the self-preservation instinct. This is a different beast. It’s the one that makes us jump on the scary part of the terror film. The one that triggers the fight or flight response. It’s the one that makes us stop, turn and run, save some money or prevent us from doing brave or stupid things. Using the same terminology as in the previous case, it’s a “negative” force.
When you are young, you are invincible. Death is nothing to worry about. Today’s stoic affirms elder people are not afraid of death, but I am pretty sure there’s a middle point in which you become fully aware that you are not spring chicken anymore. Perhaps you go through a serious illness, or a close friend or family member days… and suddenly you become fully aware of your own mortality.
I’m at that precise point lately. But today’s stoic reminds us an important lesson: It’s true that death means the end of everything. But that also means the end of suffering, of pain, of doubt and of fear. When I cease to exist, everything else around me will also disappear from my point of view, so why being scared?
Well, that’s at least what my rational mind says. The animal inside of me keeps on trying to scream, turn and run, away from death.
So I still need some time to come to terms with today’s Daily Stoic, “Fear The Fear Of Death”. Perhaps in the future the animal in me will be ok with what my rational mind affirms: that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but the fear of death.