By J.L. Pendall
Do you want to live forever? No? Alright, well you still might get something out of this article anyway, ya poor bastard.
When we get right down to it—to the Buddhas’n’Bits, if you will—immortality is our biological imperative. Whew, that’s right, I went to college, yo. And yes, I do accept donations for these $5 words (on account of the student loan debt).
Each living being has a drive to go on living (except me, this place sucks). We keep at it against all odds and for no other clear purpose than to pop out miniature versions of ourselves. And yet, when it’s all said and done, the Earth is still going to fall into the sun, and then all the stars are gonna go out. The only things left in the universe are gonna be missing socks and the mala beads I lost on the Southwest Chief while heading to California. Oh, and Keith Richards.
That’s right, kids. Everything ends, everyone dies, and there’s no clear point to any of it. So, apparently I’m contradicting the whole point of this article. Keep reading to avoid plunging into the nihilistic void!
Many moons ago, back before I was ever taking care of my grandma, TTB interviewed Kate Manser for a podcast, and her project was called, “You Might Die Tomorrow.” She had this life affirming vision of our inevitable deaths. No one knows how much time they’ve got left.
So, speak your heart, live your truth, take risks and enjoy the time you’ve got. Carpe diem and all that.
That sounds logical, right? It’s true, we could die at any time, so it makes sense to not be cowardly little do-nothings who bob our ways through dour, routinized lives like depressed robots. Break the mold! Break the cycle! Breakdance!
I used to feel like she did. That was when I was still living with my parents out in the country. Now, I’m a city rat, supporting himself by stocking shelves and rubbing coconut oil on my hairy Hobbit feet for my OnlyFans.
Statistically speaking, most of us probably aren’t going to die tomorrow (Jinx!).
For most of us, our actions are gonna go on having consequences that we’ll live to see. Living like today is the last day can motivate us to do the things we want to do, but not the things we should do.
For instance, if I might die tomorrow, then why recycle, exercise or fall in love? Why learn anything new, maintain relationships or try to grow as a person?
It’s healthy to be mindful of death, but to make it the focus of one’s life? Baruch Spinoza said, “Free people think of death least of all things, and their wisdom is a contemplation of life, not of death.”
By that logic, I’ve never really been free. I’ve been pondering the universality and inevitability of death almost everyday since I found out about it. I thought it helped me, and it has at times, but it really limited my ability to enjoy life and make changes for the better.
So, since I’m a dialectician, let’s look at the opposite view: you might live forever.
If you were immortal, then you’d see the effects of every cause. With an, “Eh, we all die,” outlook, hitting the gym doesn’t seem all that important. If we think we’re going to live forever, then that means we’re gonna feel like shit forever until we make some changes. Death isn’t going to come along and save us from ourselves, from the things we think and feel.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not feel like crap for the rest of time. When we’re working with eternity, then long-term goals are suddenly extraordinarily significant, and we can only reach those by meeting short-term goals.
If everyone lived like they were going to be on this planet forever, we’d be a much more responsible society.
That plastic bottle we tossed into the ocean is now something that we’ll have to deal with at some point in our lives. The relationships we have could last for thousands of years; so compromise, patience and generosity are extremely important.
That said, no one is immortal. We’ve all lost loved ones and we have every reason to believe that the eternal nothing is gonna come for us as well. Or do we (cue suspenseful music)?
Alright, do you trust me? Because things are about to get weird. The safe word is “aardvark.”
Life is subjective; we’re subjective beings. We might be sharing this common cosmos of matter and energy, but we’re experiencing it all through ourselves. The sights, sounds and sensations; these thoughts, feelings and desires; even these words and names don’t exist without you.
If death is the absence of subjectivity, then no living being has ever experienced death, not even people who’ve been clinically declared dead and came back. Nothing isn’t something. It’s impossible to experience nothingness without turning it into somethingness. The dead don’t know they’re dead. Death is only a thing for the living.
Since we’ll never experience or have knowledge of our own deaths, that means we never die to ourselves. So, as far as life as-lived is concerned, you are immortal. You can naysay all ya want, the logic is there.
With that in mind, Spinoza’s proposition checks out. Death isn’t something that living beings do, so there’s no point in giving it much thought. It makes more sense—and it’s vastly more rewarding—to look at life in the long-term, using whatever emotional or rational means we need to.
This seems to run in the opposite direction of Buddhism, which throws impermanence around like it’s a hacky-sack in a stoner circle circa 2005. Ah, but the Suttas describe nirvana as the Deathless, the unborn and undying.
The second I looked at my life in terms of eternity, of me living forever with this body, it was suddenly a lot easier for me to see that I was on the “wrong” path, that I could live truer to my values than I was.
Humans, our lives are so short. It’s easy to be a selfish asshole when you think you’ve only got seven or eight decades of living to do (even easier if it’s just a day). Humanity, on the other hand, that’s a long-lived organism that we’re part of. I’ll close this all up with another quote from my buddy Spinoza:
“The highest good of those who pursue virtue is common to all, and all can equally enjoy it… every person guided by reason aims at procuring for others, too, the good that one seeks for oneself.”
This is easier to do when we think in terms of eternity.
The dead don't know they're dead. Death is only a thing for the living. ~ JL Pendall Click To Tweet
Editor: Dana Gornall
Did you like this post? You might also like:
- A Buddhist Stuck in the Wheel: Can We Be Buddhists without Leaving Home? - July 19, 2021
- Perspective and Morality: Sometimes It’s all Relative - July 13, 2021
- Death of A Question Mark: Living Without Understanding - June 29, 2021