In her book, Performance and Purpose in Dying and Death, C K Hogan aims to address the dying process and the nature of death itself and hopes to provide a shift in perception which might alleviate some of the fear, resistance, and denial surrounding it. In this extract she talks about the fear of death.
The fear of death is an egoic construct, the annihilation of which terrifies us throughout life. Any threat to it is always a source of anxiety and often of embarrassment. Death can be embarrassing both physically and psychologically because we are so accustomed to clinging to the illusion of permanence, control and even invincibility. Even though we may mouth words such as ‘inevitability’ and ‘when my time comes’, deep down it is as if it simply doesn’t apply to us. Just as I suggested in The Alchemy of Performance Anxiety, to improve and transform our experience of artistic performance it is necessary to examine our day-to-day life performance which comprises thoughts, reactions, perceptions and interactions. In so doing, we can become aware of habitual behaviours that might be detrimental to any type of performance. This can be an ongoing exercise in observational awareness which then becomes a benign and beneficial habit.
With an understanding and acceptance of the nature of consciousness, the fear of death ought to fade and disappear. Even without that awareness, the fear of death is, rationally, absurd regardless of one’s beliefs. Consider the amount of discomfort, physical self-criticism, dietary imposition and deprivation that so many people undergo through life, at war with their bodies and wishing that they occupied a different form. It should be a relief to be free from so much conflict which has taken up headspace and emotional energy over the years, even if it has only been a preoccupation with how to clothe it; we often use clothes as screens, distractions, and projections in our daily performances. It must be that we think and believe that our bodies (clothed or otherwise) are who we are, maintaining and reinforcing our sense of separateness. Bodies can be viewed as a cross between houses and cars; they need to be cared for in order to fulfil their function, a part of which is to shelter consciousness and enable it to travel when required. However, even the most rational among us are still capable of fearing the process of dying and death, because fear is fundamentally irrational to begin with.
Flippant though that might sound, the fact is that we possess bodies that function like animals, yet our minds, capable of great feats of creation, have created an illusion of supremacy, and this duality is a source of conflict. ‘Falling in love’ ticks both boxes; our physicality is validated and made acceptable by a seemingly higher realm of existence, something pure and true. This mutual fascination has as much to do with our own relief as it does with the adoration of another. The guilt of being an animal is further alleviated when we reproduce – a double paradox perhaps. The cyclic nature of birth and death is perpetuated by sex, and alongside ‘le petit mort’ lies ‘le grand mort’ which is frequently denied by engaging in more of the activity. The issue of gender has now become much more fluid and, while it is increasingly accepted that one can feel housed in the wrong body and seek radical surgery to rectify it, there is a quest beyond gender realignment which is to transcend gender itself.
Performance and Purpose in Dying and Death is available now.