Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walking new roads

It’s difficult to ignore certain ideas.

Last Saturday morning we were visiting our neighbours in the locality, to invite the kids for our son’s birthday party that evening. Just then she remembered that there was a recent death in one of the houses. We were in a fix whether to invite them or not, whether it would be appropriate to interrupt their mourning, so just to be sure, we spoke to one of the neighbours.

‘You’re right, but it’s okay, you can invite the kids for the party. It’s an old lady who passed away, and while I’m sure they must be feeling sad for the loss, she was almost 98, so you know....’

I guess this wouldn't have been the scene if someone younger had died, say someone in their 50s or 40s. What's the threshold age after which death becomes acceptable and non-mourning—even expected? You cross that age and, without anyone mentioning it, there’s an unwritten assumption that it’s okay for you to die. What’s that threshold age? 70? 80?

A long time ago, I was visiting some distant relatives with my Dad. There was an old lady in their house, very old and she was kept in an outhouse. Apparently, she was the one who’d looked after dad when he was a kid, so I was half expecting a sentimental scene since he was meeting her after a long time. Nothing like that happened. Dad spoke to her, standing at a distance, probably feeling embarassed and awkward with his emotions. Of course she was in tears. But what struck me was the utter neglect of that household towards this woman. It looked as if their contempt was for the fact that she wasn’t dead yet, inspite of being old enough to leave. She was absolutely unwanted!

Such things may not happen in every family but why do we carry these assumptions? Young—you’re not supposed to die and if you die, it’s terrible. Old—you can live but if you stay long enough, it begins to get difficult. I have some relatives who have crossed this threshold and are still hanging on. I’m sure their deaths will come as a relief to those around although nobody will dare speak it out.

Why is this so?

One could argue that it's because of health, where the elder person has become fragile and beyond treatment, so people around him would wish that he'd depart peacefully. But imagine a younger person who's in ill-health and beyond medical care. I don't think their departure would be welcomed with the same detachment as that of an older person. Whenever we hear that someone has passed away and if he's around 40-60, the immediate reaction is 'so young?', but if he's more than 75, it's a muted silence. If he's less than 30 or worse, even less, the expression turns to horror. I've wondered why. Why should we feel this variance in emotions --since we know very well that death is a reality for young and old alike?

Is it inbuilt in us, an evolutionary mechanism similar to what's found in Nature where the Old naturally gives place to the New, the fresh? Or is it handed down to us by society? A society where youth and strength is revered and the old are carefully pushed aside--for economic and utilitarian purposes? Are we born with this world-view or does our environment fit us with this paradigm?

So many paradigms go unquestioned in our daily lives. Recently I came across this arguement against the 5 day work-week? Who made this rule that we should work for 5 days and then relax on weekends? Why do we accept it so blindly? Why not work on weekends and then relax for 5 days? Really! How many of us even begin to think in this direction?

Then there's this dominant idea, that what you see, hear, touch and sense is only real. Nothing else. Anything other than these must be your 'imagination' or 'hallucination' and hence should fall outside the boundary of 'reality'. That which is validated by the scientific community(?) is only to be accepted but if something that you believe goes against the grain, then you're a freak! I observe this when we speak about 2012! 'What's the proof?' is the question. 'What do the scientists say about this?' Speak about meditations, about shift in consciousness, about expanding awareness. Speak about entering a New Age of peace and prosperity, about the collapse of old systems and the birth of new ones. Or about experiencing things directly, subjectively with the help of spiritual practices and hence 'knowing' reality--- and you'll invite wonderful smiles.

At the other end, if enough people get to speak about it, such things might soon come to be accepted--not because anyone has directly experienced it, but because so many are speaking about it, hence it must be true, somehow!

If there's a choice between accepting a direct subjective truth or going with a popular belief--something that's validated by those around us, how many of us would choose our inner voice? How many of us would risk unpopularity and trust our gut feeling?

Coming back to the initial idea, in the first place, why is death feared and despised? Is it because we don't know what exists beyond that? Is it because our identity is so totally glued to our physical selves that we shudder to even think about the deterioration and demise of this finite self? Who gave us this paradigm that we are just this physical self, and death is the end--the black hole?

As someone said, 'the spiritual isn't hidden, it's ignored.' Maybe true, but again there's this question. Why do we ignore it? Is it an inbuilt paradigm or something that's handed down to us?

When the existing paradigms are getting screwed up, are we willing to consider new ones? Or do we wait for the majority vote to even begin 'un-ignoring' what was ignored all along?

What does it take to shake us out of our rut? To make us sit up and take notice? To pay attention to our gut?

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  1. It is indeed "best thoughts" poured out here. Most of the time i feel we wait for the majority vote to even begin.

  2. Excellent thoughts and questions, my friend! I believe that death is a transition. I don't know to what, but I am sure that something is beyond the threshold we call "death."