Dissipation of the fear of death

October 8, 2012

I was having another reaction to a Richard Rohr daily meditation, so I thought I’d express it here.

I think I got over my fear of death, and I think it came about as the result of becoming able to spend time in the spiritual realm during this life; which in turn came through some kind of deep need expressed from the heart during a difficult time in my life.  So for me, “There are no atheists in foxholes, and if the atheist emerges from the foxhole, they are no longer afraid of death.”

Maybe that’s what the meditation is saying, or consistent with what it is saying, I’m not sure.

But for me, an element in the process was a very personal experience, threats to my own sense of being able to manage my own situation on my own, not something I could have picked up from just working with others in dire straits.

Here’s where I think the concept of reincarnation may make a difference.  I suspect that people whose connection to the spirit realm and whose fear of death is dissipated by less personal crises have already had those more personal crises during previous lifetimes.  The exposure to others in similar situations may then trigger the responses, I’m thinking.  Because at some point in a person’s experience, I think they need to express that cry for help from the deepest part of their heart, soul, gut in order to make the connection.

But maybe not, maybe some people can establish a spiritual connection through an experience that would not precipitate it for others.  It’s hard to know what other people have experienced or how things arise (what the causation actually is, as opposed to what it may seem to be, even from the actor’s point of view), whether we are even using the same vocabulary to mean the same things.  That’s part of why generalizations can be difficult, it seems to me.

My concern is that coaching people that the spiritual connection they get from diving into others’ misery will produce enough of a “death” that they no longer fear death may be misleading if the spiritual connection they do forge doesn’t pierce deeply enough.  I don’t want to reduce it to “No pain, no gain,” but I do think at some point we each need to cry out from the heart as deeply as is possible.  To me, that’s what the Jewish foundational prayer, the Sh’ma, is all about, especially the anguished interval sung on the first “Adonai.”

And if people actually haven’t made that deep entry into the spiritual realm, I worry that what they do with their experiences in the trenches may overwhelm them or may be used to feed their egos or may result in some other less-than-helpful outcome — I am pretty sure two-dimensional experiences can be mistaken for something with more depth, the way a really effective trompe l’oeil can look like what it is trying to suggest.

But I’m no pastor or teacher, so maybe I just haven’t seen enough of how other people’s spiritual lives develop, maybe I’m just generalizing from too small a sample.

My motivation in putting this out there though is that I’m pretty sure some people end up being overwhelmed and with shattered souls when they get in over their heads in new situations that they enter into thinking they can handle but their faith connection turns out to be less comprehensive than they thought.  I’m heavily into preventing spiritual emergencies, the way some people are into preventative medicine in the physical world.

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