The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, July 17, 2009

What are we, without fear of death?

Here's a video clip of a guy who has a training philosophy called "Walking Mountain" which is designed to connect people with their proper balance and gait.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qf8_CtxEgM

He reminds me of a guy from the 60's named Gypsy Boots, an "ageless athlete" on the hippie scene. Only met him once, but he was a real bearded hoot.

##

Language is always a step back from experience, but in some ways it is all we have. With that in mind, it is really possible that the states of mind and body referred to as "Flow" are the highest non-esoteric states available to human experience. We all experience a bit of it--while driving on the freeway, having sex, in the moments just before sleep, when enmeshed in a project that absorbs mind and emotions, reading a good book, watching an involving film, playing a sport, running, performing yoga or Tai Chi, etc.

Coach Sonnon has created an entire suite of tools for accessing this state, and my favorite among them is the "Flow State Performance Spiral" theory specifically applied to the triad of structure, breath, and movement. Once you've learned to follow the thread of breathing to enter Flow, you can begin to find it everywhere. And once you've found that, you have the doorway to accessing the very best you have to offer as a human being.

The trick is that Flow is the natural state. Not something to be acquired, but a state we merely have to "get out of the way" of. That means that disciplines like yoga are designed to show us where the obstructions lay in our body-mind. Once you begin to find them in your body, it can be easier to detect them in your thought stream. In your habit patterns. The connections are there, waiting to be found.

##

I was writing about the Hero's Journey again on my Lifewriting list. The first step of course is recognizing and accepting the challenge. I had fun with that. And there are many forms of this, of course. But I find it useful to ask: what is the largest challenge in life?

I would think that the most important challenge would be the one which, when mastered, would open the doorway to the highest level of balanced excellence. From that point of view, it may be that the greatest challenge for human beings is love. Self love, genuine love of others. Love that is stronger than the lies we tell ourselves to get through the night.

To me, a person with genuine self-love in abundance will find it spilling over to all our relationships. They care for their precious one-of-a-kind body, they express their dreams with energy and enthusiasm, they have the urge and capacity to commit to another human being. There may be exceptions, of course, but I've found that I'm wrong far less often when I assume we all want these things than listening to people's excuses about why they don't have them.

One of the most common symptoms of self-loathing is a negative view of the surrounding world. Constant criticism of others, constant bravado about one's own stellar (but usually unverifiable) accomplishments. Usually there will be a major breech in at least one (often more) of the three areas: no flow-inducing career path, no lasting relationships, or a nightmare body. Makes my antenna tingle whenever I see one of the three. Combine that with seriously negative attitudes about others, and my fur sets on fire.

Just my point of view, of course, but I think that the external world we see is just an externalization of our inner world. An over-simplification, of course, but what this would mean is that someone who puts women down has a problem with their own feminine side. One who puts men down has a problem with their male aspect (not saying what the problem is, just that I'd start looking there). And so forth. If my basic belief is that we come from love and spend our entire lives trying to re-capture that sense of peace and plenty we unconsciously enjoyed in Mommy's womb, then my entire emphasis is on the idea that anything less than peace, joy, and love is nothing more than succumbing to the obstacles we find in our lives. That philosophy suggests that we're all trying to get to a state of Self-knowledge, but most of us get caught in ego, pain, and fear along the way.

If fear of death is the single greatest motivation in life, then if one conquers that fear, what remains? Some would say nothingness. And others would say sheer bliss and adventure, the joy of learning about the world because everything we learn about the external world can connect with the mind that perceived it, deepening self-knowledge. To not fear death would seem to free one to fully embrace life, to love without fear of loss, to push ourselves to the limit just for the sheer wonderment of discovering what our minds and hearts and bodies can achieve in this short time between the beginning and the end. But that's just my opinion.

The question of the day is: what do you think we are, as a species, absent the fear of death?

26 comments:

Cody Jarrett said...

"what do you think we are, as a species, absent the fear of death?".


Shit. The more I read and listen to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, recall Carl Sagan's Nova series, and look at the ants and various insects in my little garden I tend with a growing love, warmth, and appreciation I am sure as hell not having as many grandiose notions as I used to concerning mankind's place in the cosmos as a species or too much of any damn thing else.

I'm not saying any of that in any cynical sense at all, in fact, it provides me with a certain mellow comfort and internal security zone, but us as a species? I think I'm going to take a tip from the ants and just go about the business of just BEING and living the best life possible for as long as I'm here because even the mildest basic understanding of Relativity and Quantum Physics sure as hell has proven itself as the Great Equalizer for me. I'll just settle to be a happy ant.

Steve Perry said...

I'm not sure that going back to the trees is such a good idea ...

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christian H. said...

We must have no fear fo death as the behavior that caused the AIDS is still practiced.

If only people were so nonchalant about dangerous research to improve life.


My goal in life is to shove all of America's under-achiever BS right up their favorite orifice.

I'm sick of people complaining. I walk around NYC and wonder if anyone has any self-respect.

Men dress like bums, the women say nothing. No one is concerned about their children's real well-being.

I say that because fluff is everyone's goal. People see that everyone is getting fatter and less healthy but lifestyles remain, how should I say, EMBARRASSING.

A whole race of people in NYC are ruined by their own doing - and that's NOT including the immigrants.

That's why I don't get mad that white people don't want clowns in the movies.

I don't either.

It's interesting though now you put the "negative view" thing. If people are doing negative things how are they seen in a positive light?

I remember a little kiddie song I heard in Seattle; perhaps the prepubescent capitol of the world. It goes:
Nanny nanny boo boo STICK YOUR HEAD IN DOODOO.

Is there a way to view that positively?

Marty S said...

Since I was a kid "The bear went over the mountain" song has resonated with me. Technology changes and the way we live changes, but basic human nature doesn't and that's why when we get over the mountain all we see is the other side.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

What happens if people no longer fear death sounds like it's related to your concern about achieving enlightenment without having good habits for living. Is there a sort of incomplete (mental-emotional only?) enlightenment?

Christian, the reason I asked you a while ago about why you decided to build yourself a good life is that I wondered whether it was based in someone being angry at you-- you seem to think your anger will motivate the people you see drifting, or at least that it should.

As I recall, what actually moved you was just that it seemed obvious to you to make a good life for yourself-- it wasn't anger-driven at all.

This doesn't mean I know what would work, but investigating why healthy paths just make sense sometimes might be worth it.

Anonymous said...

Without Fear of Death, we'd be unrecognizable as lifeforms, for we'd defy life's sole imperative: perpetuation. Evolutionary studies have established that or rationale for being is to propagate our genes. Dawkins and other go further and argue that humans have also become vessels and combatants for the promotion of culture. Without constant dread of The End, nothing would delay the collective descent of all that we cherish into complete and everlasting oblivion.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Christian H. said...

Christian, the reason I asked you a while ago about why you decided to build yourself a good life is that I wondered whether it was based in someone being angry at you-- you seem to think your anger will motivate the people you see drifting, or at least that it should.

As I recall, what actually moved you was just that it seemed obvious to you to make a good life for yourself-- it wasn't anger-driven at all.

This doesn't mean I know what would work, but investigating why healthy paths just make sense sometimes might be worth it.







I can say that I've about given up on trying to show people how much happier they could be if they just put more effort into intellectual pursuits.

This is especially problematic in inner-city neighborhoods - the worst of which I find myself inhabiting currently - where learning is "white."

The problem is that they aren't that good at sports, can't rap, won't learn to play an instrument, refuse even to dress as if they have self-respect.

Going back to Steve's post about complaining to H'Wood about adding more MudFlap and Skids to movies, I'd have to say those characters define these bitch boys - and NO - I don't miss them on the big screen. Sure I'd like to see stories about the black guys who do work in offices, but that's not the majority and those hatin little "homo-thugs" would hate more.

I actually decided yesterday that I resign from being black. No I don't think I'll be white. I'M AN AMERICAN with no pronoun.

I wish more people thought like that, but people want something for nothing as if America just rose out of the ground with all of the buildings and roads.

But returning to the topic, think about it. Look at how many disgustingly fat people there are and now it's said that 1 out of 3 CHILDREN ARE OVERWEIGHT and 1 out of 4 are actually obese.

How many fat actors and entertainers died in their 20s and 30s (John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, Big Pun, and many others) while people still maintain the lack of any physical exercise.

And anal sex is too scary. You can barely watch porn without seeing ripped up sphincters.

A lot of the problem also is that Americans feel that themomentum of foolishness will overwhelm everyone so they can die knowing that everyone else is as fucked up as they are physically, emotionally and spiritually.

It all boils down to people being too free.

suzanne said...

It all boils down to people being too free.

that's much too simple
an explanation
of what it all boils down to

I knw quite a few people
in NYC who aren't the way you describe New Yorkers

but then that's the danger
of generalizing, isnt it?
that uyou end up speaking unrtuths
or half-truths
or 1/16th truths. . .

I'm not afraid of being dead
it's how I get there that sometimes
wirries me
having watched my father's mind disappear
and my mother's body
I have to say the routes they took
TIA's and synovial sarcoma
are such horrendous ways to go
the deaths themselves were celebrations

I don't think losing the fear of death
would be an end to procreation
not at all
as
not fearing death
and
not dying
are two different critters

we upright mammals
with "consciousness"
do a huge amount of harm
given the top of the heap
where we self-place ourselves

kinda the kudzu vine of
the animal world

Marty S said...

Suzanne: You definitely got it right. My mother died a lump of flesh with no mind. Now I fear I'm headed the same way. Today, I went on a photo shoot with my camera club. When I got home I found that I had no pictures because I forgot to put the memory card back in the camera. This kind of thing happens more and more and is worse than death.

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jU01cnYOfZSq_Fk_ahxMRG11od_w

Drinking coffee reduces risk of Alzheimer's: study
(AFP) – Jan 15, 2009
STOCKHOLM (AFP) — Middle-aged people who drink moderate amounts of coffee significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a study by Finnish and Swedish researchers showed Thursday.

~~~~~

If you google "Intermittent Fasting Alzheimers," the first link that appears is Steve's blog:

"But the other benefits include positive effects in the areas of: testosterone release, cancer, regrowth of nerve tissue, Alzheimer's, arthritis, general mental functioning, and more. A truly incredible "secret." The question I have is: what sorts of information do you think readers will most desire in connection with Intermittent Fasting? Please post thoughts here and on the discussion group."

If you want something a little more scientific, try this:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17306982

"IF may therefore protect neurons against adverse effects of Abeta and tau pathologies on synaptic function. We conclude that CR and IF dietary regimens can ameliorate age-related deficits in cognitive function by mechanisms that may or may not be related to Abeta and tau pathologies."

~~~~~

The coffee study is brand new, and the IF study is only a couple years old -- but if mental acuity worries you, there are at least two biologically based approaches to addressing it, in addition to training-based approaches, use it or lose it stuff.

Dan Moran said...

I don't think I'm afraid of death. I'm afraid of my children being set loose in the world before they're ready to cope, but once that's past, death is just part of life, and I've had a pretty good time up to this point.

If there's one thing I really have done right in my life, it's been to have a good time, day by day. The other day my 7 year old asked me why I was always happy, and my wife burst out laughing and said it was wiring -- which is a partial answer, since I do have a generally happy set point. But a piece of it is the intentional hunt for enjoyment, day by day; I try every day to do something to make myself happy, and I'm not too proud to use pure physical rewards to get there -- a good meal. Having lunch with one of my oldest friends in a couple hours. Basketball -- it's Sunday afternoon, my sons and I go to the park and play late this afternoon. Horse riding next weekend, miniature golf with the boys, yesterday.

Looking forward to teaching my older two sons to shoot, soon.

This last week I sent a tv pilot off to a producer who could make it out of pocket if he wanted to, and finished up a 200 page novel outline of a character I've been writing about since I was a teenager.

At the company I just joined I sat in a meeting with a hundred people where they repeatedly pointed me out as a key component in the company's most important project for the next year.

None of that is driven by fear of death, I don't think. Much of it would persist into a world where there was no death, if such a scenario ever came about.

Not impossible I'm full of shit in this area. Maybe there's a deep underlying fear that I'm hiding -- but I doubt it. But it's true at the level of sudden brushes with death; that's happened often enough that I know that while it's happening I'll cope and afterward I won't be rattled. Maybe if I saw it coming I'd react differently, but I'll only get a chance to find that out once, at most.

I'm 100% convinced I'm going to die. And that's OK. I just want to give it my best shot on the way there.

Marty S said...

Dan: Thanks for the information and concern although I'm not sure it applies to my case. My mother had a form of dementia identified as other than Alzheimer's. When, I saw my neurologist he found no sign of Alzheimer's, only unusual shrink of the brain for someone my age. I do however, do as much as I can to exercise my mind as this helps with all forms of mental degeneration.

Anonymous said...

Although the Fear of Death is how life's Prime Directive of perpetuation is manifested in conscious organisms, we should strive to hold existential terror at arms length. Concurrently, we must accept the inevitability and finality of oblivion, without retreating into pleasant but bogus and cowardly fictions that deny mortal reality.

Lucretius put it best:

http://www.pitt.edu/~kis23/EPICURUS-LUCRETIUS.pdf

Life's infinitesimal finiteness amid the unfathomably grandiose cosmos is the best anecdote to depression and inaction. There's simply too much to do in ludicrously little time to wallow in despondency. Mortality ultimately vindicates the essence of Jerry Pournelle's favorite maxim: Despair is a sin.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Christian H. said...

I knw quite a few people
in NYC who aren't the way you describe New Yorkers






I call em as I see em. I may see 1 out of 100 people in NYC who don't seem to be jealous - or something - of me.

I hate to think that my membership in MENSA is written all over my face and no one really wants that because then their whining won't work.

But then, most people are only more centrist or less enthusiastic about excelling since Obama's election.

I used to joke with my carpool partner that probably a LOT of people voted for Obama just in case he won and that made a slight difference.

Trust me that you CAN NOT IMAGINE my life if you're not me. DO you think people will expect you to be a bum? Or a janitor? Or just plain uneducated? No? Then you can't see what I see.

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

Seriously, you should read up on IF. It's not just shown effective against Alzheimers, but against a ridiculously long list of neurological conditions -- Parkinsons, actual nerve damage, general loss of mental acuity ... of course we're not rats, but when you can sever the spine of a rat and under IF they get back some movement, that's something to take notice of.

Anonymous said...

"I call em as I see em. I may see 1 out of 100 people in NYC who don't seem to be jealous - or something - of me."

Given that the population of NYC is approximately 10 million, I have difficulty believing 10,000 people take notice of ANYONE in the five boroughs. Indeed, the much decried isolation and alienation of megalopolises like NYC translates into sweet privacy and freedom. A New Yorker can vanish from the worm-eaten Brooklyn Hood and take wing among the intellectual and cultural stars of Manhattan. Instead of slumming with failure, why not hang out on Broadway or in the literary salons?

As to the jealously bit, what Thucydides' haughty but insightful Athenian general said of hatred also applies to envy:

"Your hatred (or jealously) is proof of our power"

Treat a would-be rival's jealously as sunshine and beam.

Marty S said...

When I was in public school in the Bronx I generally scored at about the 99th percentile in any mental ability related test. I was a big Yankee fan so I always viewed my test scores in terms of attending a world series game. I figured at such a game there would be about 650 people smarter than me and that was a small crowd compared to the rest of the world so maybe I shouldn't think I was all that smart because I scored in the 99th percentile.

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

About 10 years back I was managing this smart young man. He was a pain in the ass, but he was bright. Finally the other coders had had about enough of him -- at least as couple of them were as bright as he was, maybe brighter -- so I sat him down and asked him, just how smart did he really think he was? One in one hundred smart? One in a thousand? One in ten thousand?

We batted it around a bit and he came up with one in a thousand as a reasonable approximation.

"Great," I told him. "There 300,000 others just like you out there in our country: you can be replaced."

There are no essential people. The world closes ranks and moves on.

Dorotero Villa said...

"I call em as I see em. I may see 1 out of 100 people in NYC who don't seem to be jealous - or something - of me".

That's it. I'm calling the Vatican tomorrow and seeing about petitioning the Pope and College of Cardinals to remove Jesus' image from the Cross and replacing it with this guy's.

Marty S said...

Dan: The whole I'm not that good view applies not just to how smart you are, but unless your a Tiger Woods to just about anything you think your good at.

On the IF thing. From reading some posts on it I don't think I'm a good candidate. I'm a type II diabetic on medication who started out as hypoglycemic before turning diabetic and I frequently have to eat something between meals to keep from going low sugar.

Anonymous said...

"I figured at such a game there would be about 650 people smarter than me and that was a small crowd compared to the rest of the world so maybe I shouldn't think I was all that smart because I scored in the 99th percentile."

However, the dispersal of that 2% of intellectual equals or superiors amid 97% with lesser cognitive ability often means that really smart people are EFFECTIVELY unrivaled in many situations. It's entirely understandable and even maybe adaptive if Far Right Wingers (a la The Bell Curve) adopt arrogant airs (arrogance seems to be a typical dominance display) if their daily routine demands dealing with "duller" sorts. Fortunately for the sake of sanity and accurate perspective, MENSA, Sci-Fi conventions, The Ivory Tower and other "smart" associations exist. Elitist such may be, but they allow the gifted to see that, no, they're NOT unrivaled and thus deflate many titanic egos.

Ethiopian_infidel

Christian H. said...

Though I hate anonymous people whop can't take a few minutes to create a user id:

Given that the population of NYC is approximately 10 million, I have difficulty believing 10,000 people take notice of ANYONE in the five boroughs. Indeed, the much decried isolation and alienation of megalopolises like NYC translates into sweet privacy and freedom. A New Yorker can vanish from the worm-eaten Brooklyn Hood and take wing among the intellectual and cultural stars of Manhattan. Instead of slumming with failure, why not hang out on Broadway or in the literary salons?



I'll tell you what. I'll take my camera and film Manhattan and Brooklyn and you tell me if you spot the intellectuals.

I don't "slum" and I don't even like most people as they have no real desire to be intellectual.

True intellectuals study everything from the AIDS to Zero-Sum gain. And they do it with no bias.

I'm sorry but NYers are more concerned about proving they're better than others by dressing bad and pretending they actually graduated a Doctoral program.

The problem is they DRESS BAD.

But back to the fear of death or lack of same, it's why our economy is toast and will NEVER recover.

We will continually get fatter and dumber. We will become more sexually deviant causing more STDs. Our children will be searching for the "glamorous life" without searching for an understanding of what that even is.

Our musicians will become more tat-filled and will be the role models that lead us to greater drug use.

Ehhh fuck it.

Christian H. said...

That's it. I'm calling the Vatican tomorrow and seeing about petitioning the Pope and College of Cardinals to remove Jesus' image from the Cross and replacing it with this guy's.




Now that's funny. Except I'm the disciple who lopped off the guy's ear and told the soldiers "take him if you want him."

Steven Barnes said...

Marty--

the primary health effect of IF seems to come from "waving" the number of calories we take in from day to day. If you looked only at the amount of food necessary to stabilize blood sugar, it might well fall under the caloric limit that produces the IF effect. By the way...IF also has a very positive effect on insulin sensitivity. While this may seem to be a paradox, I assure you it is not. If interested, you may wish to talk to your doctor about it. If you (for instance) ate enough lean protein to keep the blood sugar high, how many calories would that represent over the course of a day?

Anonymous said...

"There are no essential people. The world closes ranks and moves on."

Except the insane. Somehow they have things pegged in a way that NO other person could possibly understand.

Oh, yeah, I also "hate anonymous people whop can't take a few minutes to create a user id".

Yeah, yeah, typos happen.

But if I were someone whop wanted to convince people howp superiorp I am, I'd be morep carefull.p