Our awareness of our impending death is mostly hidden in the background, but at times it can leap into the foreground of our awareness causing a lot of anxiety, dread, and dissociation.
We’re all born into this world with a death instinct. We may not be able to put it into words until we’re in the late single digits, but we sense our own mortality from early on.
We know we have an invisible timer attached to us. Though none of us can see exactly how much time we have left, what we do know is that the clocks are ticking.
Mortality is a silent participant in most life decisions one takes. Fear of death is the mothership from which a million little fears spring into action in our consciousness. It is an ever-present, unsettling sense that lurks beneath perception.
Though death is mostly in the background, at times it can leap into the foreground of our awareness.
When a car brushes close to us during our bike commute or when we witness a close friend take their last breath, it can remind us of our own soon to come non-existence. This is a fear shared by all of humanity, across the ages.
Speaking from personal experience, I can truly feel the sense of time running out. Whether it is with each passing age or by not being able to do physically what was such a breeze before, I am deeply entrenched in the awareness that my clock is ticking.
It’s not even the physical aspect of death that scares me. I am perfectly ok with non-existence or even an afterlife, I think. What scares me more is actually failing in this life. What wakes me up early in the morning, before my alarm, is the fact that I am not where I want to be in my life… yet.
I have always expressed great disgruntlement with pithy sayings like “life is a journey, not a destination” because I find it hard to flow through the journey of life without accomplishing anything or proving my worth.
In some deep way, I realize we are all worthy by mere existence, but in the human realm, it’s a big strife for me to feel good without goals and achievements.
If I am not doing something that is taking me towards where I want to be in life, then I invariably conclude that I am failing in life.
Recognizing the chokehold of this kind of thinking has made me, at least, aware of my underlying death anxiety. It is no fun to be thinking about how far I am from my idea of success when, every day, I am inching closer towards death.
My own mortality confronts me with so many questions. Questions like “How can I find a fulfilling career that can also support my livelihood before it’s too late?”, or “When am I going to settle down and start a family?” Sometimes it gets a little specific and granular and asks me “Where are the thousands of readers that are going to read my blog?”
Mortality tells me that I don’t have enough time and belittles me by saying that by now I should’ve gotten it all in line.
Not only that, my inability to relax for a whole day doing nothing is because of the fear that time is running out and I am yet to be successful in life.
The urban life, though comfortable and exciting in many ways, comes bundled with an urge to always be doing something productive or important. I feel like I have to be constantly improving myself, because if I am not improving then I am deteriorating.
I have a sense that the entropy of the universe is consuming me and everything around me and I have to keep churning out articles, or go to the gym or keep bettering myself in myriad different ways just so I can stave off this decay.
Many of us feel anxious that we haven’t figured out our place in the world yet. At this point, in our collective existence, we are freer than at any point in time. Yet, at the same time, we are so anxious about life.
We are anxious about the fact that we don’t know what we want in life. Or if we do know, we don’t know how to get there. If there wasn’t an invisible timer keeping track, then we wouldn’t be worrying so much. We would know that we have all of eternity to flounder, waste and finally stumble onto the right path.
But we don’t live forever!
So what’s the solution? I refuse to make a grandiose proposal that caters to everyone, but I can tell you the changes I am making in my life to take the edge off of living.
Recently, I realized that the idea of success in my head, though very enticing, may not play out exactly the way I want it to.
I am trying to take it to my heart that life has an intelligence that I can trust upon. I am learning that despite my best efforts, some things take some time to come to fruition. There’s no use in getting frustrated about the lack of results, especially early on.
When I get hit with the feeling that my time is slowly running out, I counter it by deliberately slowing down. I am doing this to get over the sense of ever-present urgency inside of me.
I am stopping myself from doing many tasks at the same time, parallelly, and instead finishing them up serially. Trying to give each task my full attention and not worrying about how much time they take.
I am countering the sense of scarcity of time by making it appear that I have an abundance of it. Both scarcity and abundance of time are illusions, but the latter is better since it makes for a hell of lot of more space in my life.
I am telling myself that whatever I do is a good use of time. Nothing can go wrong by simply existing, which is all we can ever do.
Even if I spend couple of hours just watching videos on YouTube, I tell myself that it’s quality time. I need my rest and rejuvenation and I don’t care if it comes in the form of a Conan O’Brien sketch or a Joe Rogan podcast. I’ll take them all.
Because walking around with a keen sense of your own invisible timer ticking is no fun. Between the mountain of slothfulness and the mountain of future-oriented anxious thinking is a big beautiful valley of deliberate, restful and relaxed existence. I intend to live there.
- Skull – https://www.flickr.com/photos/mistykari/8181567790/
- Decaying Foliage – https://www.flickr.com/photos/16210667@N02/11177680466/
I love your writing and topics. Than you
Swamy G says
Thanks for your support.
Hello! I’m Mayra, and I’m from El Salvador, your articles are so great. Right know I’m living with anxiety and my mind is so tired with all this mixed thoughts. Fearing to something bad happen to me because of the symptoms, impatient because I can recover from anxiety. But your articles gives amazing tips to learn how to accept that I have anxiety and the power of patience. And this article in particular gave me the clue of the reason of anxiety, it´s like you have this implanted thought in your mind that you must achieve great things to feel succesfull in life; you know I see my family and friends life, and envious that they have great carreers, have a family, a house, etc; but the truth is that just because I don’t have a glamorous life, doesn’t mean that I’m having a “bad life”. I do recognize that I have to change some things, but those things are more emotionally related. 5 days ago I watched a movie and there was a part that I really liked it: “You don’t have to live an adventurous life to feel happy”, meaning -in my opinion- that I have to be grateful and happy for the little things in life, and cherish the little moments of hapinness and joy. I will read your articles, and I will keep learning from them.
Swamy G says
Well said Mayra, just because we don’t all live glamorous and adventurous lives, doesn’t mean we all have to be grumpy and dissatisfied with life. Expressing gratitude for what we already have is the best anti-dote to our dissatisfaction with Life. Thank you for your appreciation.