MACBETH: Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, Raze out the written troubles of the brain, And with some sweet oblivious antidote Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff Which weighs upon the heart?
DOCTOR: Therein the patient Must minister to himself.
There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.
Yes, Virginia, there is a cure for the disease of negative thinking--dozens of cures, in fact. Any one of the techniques, suggestions, or ideas in this section may do it for you. Any one may be the key that opens whole new worlds of aliveness, enthusiasm, and health.
Yours may be a combination lock that requires five keys, or ten, or twenty, or you may need everything in this book--and a hundred more techniques you discover on your own--to open the doors to your inner kingdom of joy, self-confidence, and happiness. Whatever it takes is whatever it takes.
Whatever it takes, the results will be worth it.
I'm going to begin by talking about death (eeek!) and the fear of death (eeek! eeek!). After that, luncheon is served. I'm laying out a smorgasbord of positivity.
Mostly, these suggestions will seem familiar because they're good old-fashioned common sense. I tend to be pragmatic--if something works, I use it; if not, I try something else. What I pass along to you was learned through my own process of trial and error. It is from a firm--and substantial--foundation of mistakes that I offer these suggestions.
There's no particular order to this gathering of ideas. No "Do this first, then this, then this." You are the architect of your cure. Naturally, like all good architects, you'll be consulting with other professionals--but the Master Plan is in your hands.
Choosing the pathway to your cure is easy--just follow your heart.
Please don't just read this book; use it. Do some things. Try them. Find out if a technique works for you--if it produces uplifting results. If so, do it some more. If not, throw it away. Try something else. This book contains a lot of things to try.
And now, The Cure.
Common sense is not so common.
The music that can deepest reach, And cure all ill, is cordial speech.
This is a crash course in death. Why death? Shouldn't we be focusing on positive stuff? Yes, but first we have to explore the motivation behind doing all the positive stuff.
One who longs for death is miserable, but more miserable is he who fears it.
JULIUS WILHELM ZINCGREF
If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive!.
If you're going to think more positively because you fear death, then whatever you do--no matter how positive--will be an affirmation of that fear.
As long as fear is looming large, you will probably continue with the process of improvement. As soon as fear no longer threatens, you may revert to old habits. When, for example, the medical cure for your illness is discovered, there's no need to fear dying of it; therefore, you may feel you can return to your former habits of negative thinking. That will, of course, recreate the intention to die, and another method of death is likely to appear.
If you use the techniques given in this book because you want to live a fuller, happier, more joyful, and productive life, then you have a foundation that will hold firm. If you undertake these methods as a frantic attempt to outmaneuver the Grim Reaper, the whole venture is, to paraphrase Henry Higgins, "doomed before you even take the vow."
Not that you must be perfectly calm in the face of your own mortality before any of these suggestions will work. Not at all. Fear can be a good motivator to start something. But fear must gradually be replaced with the desire for a positive result if long-term progress is to be made.
It also feels better--running from something you fear is far less enjoyable than running toward something you desire.
Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you're free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically to promote a cause you believe in.
Running from fear only strengthens fear--you are demonstrating that fear has power over you. Fear must be faced and gone through. The procedure of "getting over" fear is succinctly stated in the title of the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. (A book I haven't read, so I can't recommend it, but it does have a great title.) Only then do we learn the truth of fear--that fear is merely an illusion, not a real thing.
Before I continue with my short course on death, let's stroll over to the next classroom and overhear a few pointers on fear.
The late F. W. H. Myers used to tell how he asked a man at a dinner table what he thought would happen to him when he died. The man tried to ignore the question, but, on being pressed, replied: "Oh well, I suppose I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't talk about such unpleasant subjects.".
There are some things it's good to have a healthy fear of--drinking poisons, leaping off tall buildings, sex with gorillas--situations in which our physical body is in imminent danger of annihilation, dismemberment, mutilation, or extinction.
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
All other fears--the ones we face most often every day--are illusions. They should be given no more credence or authority over our actions than television commercials, election-year promises, or people who try to sell us flowers in airports.
Most people approach a fearful situation as though fear were some sort of wall. Let's say the situation is walking up to someone we do not know and saying, "Hello."
As we think about approaching the stranger, the wall begins to form. As we imagine what the person may say in response, the wall grows denser. (The other person's response is almost always imagined in the negative: "Would you leave me alone!" Seldom do we imagine the other person looking up at us and singing "Some Enchanted Evening.") If we begin to move in the general direction of the person, the wall becomes almost solid. It seems an impenetrable barrier. We turn away, humming a chorus of "If I Loved You."
But the wall of fear is not real.
Fear as a barrier is an illusion. We have, however, been trained to treat this illusion as though it were real. This belief served us well in our childhood years. Our parents taught us to be afraid of everything new. This was--at that time--good advice. We were too young to know the difference between the legitimately dangerous and the merely exciting.
When we grew old enough to know the difference, however, no one ever taught us to take risks, explore new territories, and treat fear as energy for doing and learning new things. Fear as a reason not to do should be tucked away with all those other cozy childhood myths--Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. (The Tooth Fairy was particularly hard to let go of.)
I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens. It is impossible to experience one's death objectively and still carry a tune.
Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
If fear is not a wall, what is it? It's a feeling, that's all. It will not (cannot) keep you from physically moving toward something unless you let it. It may act up and it may kick and scream. It may make your stomach feel like the butterfly cage at the zoo. But it cannot stop you. You stop you.
The fear of meeting people, for example, is a particularly silly fear. Given that it's in a place where they're not going to slug you (Hell's Angels bars are not recommended), the worst that can happen is that someone will reject you. You are left with rejection. If you don't try, however, you have rejected yourself, and are left with exactly the same thing as if you had tried and failed--nothing.
If you do try, however, you may get what you want.
Even if you get rejected, you'll learn more from the experience than if you had never tried. You may learn, for example, that certain ways of approaching certain people in certain situations work better than others. We can learn as much (sometimes more) by what doesn't work as by what does. If we don't explore all the ways that really do and don't work, we are left with only the untested techniques from our imagination and what seems to work in the movies.
As Dr. Melba Colgrove once said: "Anything that's worth having is worth asking for. Some say yes and some say no."
To overcome a fear, here's all you have to do: realize the fear is there, and do the action you fear anyway. Move--physically--in the direction of what you want. Expect the fear to get worse. It will. After you do several times the thing you fear, the fear will be less. Eventually, it goes away.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
People living deeply have no fear of death.
Fear is something to be moved through, not something to be turned from. In fact, if you feel carefully, you'll discover that the only difference between fear (a supposedly negative emotion) and excitement (a reputedly positive emotion) is what we choose to call it. The sensation is exactly the same. We just add a little "Oh, no!" to fear and a little "Oh, boy!" to excitement, that's all.
Fear, then, can be seen for what it truly is--the energy to do your best in a new situation.
So, with that in mind, let's return to death.
("Oh, no!" "Oh, boy!")
For certain is death for the born And certain is birth for the dead; Therefore over the inevitable Thou shouldst not grieve.
BHAGAVAD GITA 2:27
Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them.
If you think about it, the fear of death is one of the most useless fears we have. Dying is one of the few things that all of us will, sooner or later, do.
If we're going to be afraid of death, we might as well be afraid of breathing or gravity or I Love Lucy reruns or any of the other inevitabilities of life.
Unless we fully accept the inevitability of death, it's hard to enjoy this interval called life. ("This strange interlude," as Eugene O'Neill called it.) In other words, unless we get over our fear of death, we'll never really appreciate life. Unless it's okay to die, we'll never really live.
Someone I know was captured during a war and sentenced to death. He was put in a cell with a window facing the execution ground. Day after day, hour after hour, he watched his comrades marched before a wall and shot. He had no idea when his turn would come. It went on for six weeks. The war ended and he was released. Although he's one of the busiest people I know, he's also one of the calmest. He knows that, no matter what, the worst thing that can happen to him is that he'll die, and he's already faced that fear and come to terms with it.
Take a good look at your fear of death. Let yourself experience the fear. Find out what the fear's all about. Explore the many beliefs humans have about what happens after death. Are these really so terrible? There are, in fact, only three primary beliefs in our culture about what happens to us after death. Let's explore each of them.
DEATH IS IT, THE END, FINITO. As soon as the blood stops flowing to the brain, we have no more experience. Our time here on Earth--which is wholly biological and nothing else--is over.
Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?.
If this is what happens after death, we have nothing to worry about. Everything we experience is bioelectrical-chemical reactions, and when it stops, it stops. Our fear of death makes no more sense than the glow in a light bulb worrying about when the power is switched off. When the light is out, the light is out. Period. The end. Nothing.
IT'S HEAVEN OR HELL (OR MAYBE PURGATORY) FOREVER. When we die, we are judged by God and placed in one of three places: heaven (good), hell (bad), or (in at least one popular belief) purgatory (certainly not as good as heaven, but not as bed as hell).
If this is your belief, then you might consider life-threatening illness as a loving message from God: "Prepare yourself for Paradise." You may prepare yourself so well, in fact, and become so close to God, that God might ask, "Do me a favor?" and you'll say, "Sure. What?" and God may say, "Stick around another eighty years and continue to share the joy of Spirit with everyone."
WE KEEP COMING BACK UNTIL WE LEARN WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW. The Soul (who we really are) never dies; only the physical body dies. If the Soul has not learned all it needed to learn in one body, it picks up another (at birth) and continues with its education. This is generally known as "reincarnation" and is the most popular belief about life and death worldwide--although not so popular in the United States.If this is the way things are, we have nothing to worry about. Death is like going from one room to another in a house, or taking off a suit and putting on a bathrobe (silk, with Alfred E. Newman's and my personal motto, "What? Me Worry?" embroidered on the pocket). Death is then a rest stop, a changing room, a summer vacation between semesters.
Either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is to gain; for eternity is then only a single night.
Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.
Some say death is such a wonderful experience that the news must be kept from us or we'd all be killing ourselves just to get there. Of course, if we could fully perceive the joys of The Other Side, then we'd also know why we're here in the first place, so we wouldn't kill ourselves after all.
Take the time to conquer your fear of death. You can still live to be a hundred, and the years between now and then will be happier, healthier, and more exciting. And when it comes time to die, well, bon voyage.
Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.
Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.
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