The Scary Unknown

Human beings come well-equipped with a fear response. It exists for good reason, but somehow we’ve let it run away with us. Not just individually, but collectively. And most of us live from collective fear without even recognizing that’s what we’re doing.

Cultural stories… 

The meta-narratives, the big stories of a culture, are pervasive and powerful. I first became aware of this while teaching college students about consumer issues. In Western culture, there is an ingrained story that more is better, bigger is best, and it’s our duty to spend profusely in order to keep the economy going. Underlying this story is fear—fear of not having enough, not doing enough, not being good enough.

The unknown is also fear-inducing, and therefore becomes the basis of other meta-narratives. Dying falls in the category of a scary unknown, and collective anxiety about death lurks around people of all ages in Western culture. It doesn’t help that most of our impressions about dying come from movies and tv dramas, which by their nature emphasize drama in their presentation.

Our collective death phobia has caused us to sanitize the experience, keep our distance as much as possible, and attempt to postpone the inevitable by every means available.

Irrational and unconstructive desires and decisions are a consequence of acting from fear.  We aim for quantity of life rather than quality. Doctors often have to deal with adult children pleading that a dying parent be given further chemo, attached to life support tubes and pumps, or be resussicitated—even when the dying parent is clearly ready to go and trying to disembody.

Curiosity instead of fear…

Some things are truly unknowable, but much of what we fear is simply not yet known to us.

One way to deal with fear is to learn the truth of the matter, to explore and learn in a neutral way. This might be through direct experience (thought not so much when it comes to dying!) Sometimes we learn from others who have studied the matter or experienced it themselves.

In the case of death as a scary unknown, we have two good sources of insight. One is doctors and nurses who work with dying people in the medical specialty known as palliative care. The second is individuals who have gone nearly all the  way though the dying process but not taken the final step. Near-death experiences (NDEs) have now been well studied. Below you’ll find a link to an excellent documentary.

And right here I’m including a not-to-be-missed TED talk by Kathryn Mannix, a highly acclaimed palliative care doctor who has cared for thousands of dying people during her long career.

Facing the not-yet-known…

When you face a not-yet-known event, it helps a lot to know what to expect as you move through it. When you’re mentally and emotionally prepared, you don’t over-react. And when you remain calm and composed, the experience goes more smoothly from an energy perspective.

Many have found that watching this video made the prospect of death less scary. I hope you did too.

Information is helpful but…

Understanding how things really work goes a long way to allaying your fears, but there’s another aspect  to deal with—the effect of the meta-narrative on your psyche.

Because cultural  stories are so pervasive and compelling, we frequently take them on as our own without realizing it.

This is important to know—the power of the meta-narrative— so you can discern which fears are yours and which you have taken on from the collective consciousness. Once you’ve discerned what is not yours, you can send it back.

Return to sender…

You are in charge of what you keep in  your energy field. What follows is a simple way to discover unwanted thoughts or beliefs and remove them from your field.

  1. Pay attention to things that come up in daily life. If you notice, for example, that you’re preoccupied with a particular thought, or obsessively worrying about something, or avoiding thinking about something…you are on the track to discovering a belief you might want to explore.
  2. Sit or lie comfortably in a quiet space, eyes closed, and take a few slow breaths. Have a sense of settling deep into the core of your being.
  3. Consider the thought in question from the perspective of where it came from. It’s as simple as asking Is this mine?
  4. Listen for an answer. People have many different ways of communicating in their inner world. For me, I feel it in my bones; I just know if the answer is yes or no. Some people see clear images. I have never seen an image yet but I get impressions. I can’t really describe them but they give me information. Some people hear things. You may have another way. Or you may not have had any of this sort of communication yet. The good news is, it’s an exploration and we all become more skillful with time and practice.
  5. Return to sender. Once you have discovered a thought that you adopted from an external source, you are entitled to return it if you no longer want it. It’s as simple as declaring: Return to sender. Some people prefer to say: Return to sender with love.
  6. Thereafter, remember it is no longer part of your operating system. Humans are easily habituated, so it may take a bit of conscious effort to prevent reacting in old ways, even if the belief is no longer there. The good news is, you can do it if you want to.

Bibliography

Rethinking Death: Exploring What Happens When We Die 

In Rethinking Death, scientists, physicians, and survivors of cardiac arrest explore the liminal space between life, death and beyond, breaking down these stunning scientific breakthroughs to tell the remarkable, scientific story of what happens after we die.

New York University Grossman School of Medicine

4 thoughts on “The Scary Unknown

  1. This was very helpful and timely, as is usually the case with your teachings. I definitely found some comfort in the TED talk. I have been around two people that were close to dying and it was exactly what Kathryn Mannix described. Not very scary, and yet my belief system has been powerful enough to override my own experience.
    Just yesterday I made a decision about something and am quite aware of a reluctance to share it with anyone. Simply because I am afraid to hear their opinions as it may cause me to doubt whether or not I made “the right decision”. So, I will try your exercise forthwith and subsequently for similar occurrences, as I know they will come up.
    Thank you Laurana ❤️

    • I greatly appreictae hearing about your thoughtful application of these principles, Susan. Ytou are quite right that things will continue to come up… they are our chance to practise and grow 🙂

  2. Such simplicity in the step by step process explaining death. I am going to write the script of what Kathryn said.
    Death is a social event. Indeed!!
    Thank you Laurana
    The Return to Sender action is a gem. I will start using it.

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