I once read an interview with Dr. Maya Angelou. In the article, she said that the moment she totally came to terms with the fact that she was going to die she had an immediate shift of consciousness. She recognized that life was precious, and she began to dedicate herself to giving and living more fully. Perhaps if more of us could come to this kind of understanding, there would be less fear in our culture around dying, and more gratitude for purposeful living.
It is interesting how American society is obsessed with trying to avoid death. This culture is addicted to the idea of staying young. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on beauty products, facelifts, and painful plastic surgeries in an attempt to remain looking perfect forever. It is important to acknowledge that underlying this obsession may be our fear of death. Many of us fear the death of our physical body. And many also fear the loss of something with which we have become identified. It might be our looks, our youthfulness, our material possessions, our partner, our job, or even our spiritual community and the spiritual practices in which we engage. We may even fear losing our perspectives or mental structures of knowing. Many of us are strongly identified with our belief systems. But even the content of our mind is form. It’s thought-form. And it changes over time. It is not the truth of who we really are—the unchangeable, eternal self—that we can only come to know in the stillness.
I had an intense period of death and rebirth a few years before I became a spiritual teacher. When I first became aware that becoming a spiritual teacher was my path, I felt a deep resistance. I did not want to acknowledge it. I did everything I could to push this inner knowing back down. I tried desperately to steer my life in a different direction. I started one business after another in an attempt to avoid what I knew I needed to do. Each new business collapsed within a short period of time. I resisted and judged what was happening to me, making myself “wrong” for not succeeding. And, because I was unwilling to let go of my deeply entrenched ego, I harmed others by my recklessness and unconscious behavior. It was an extremely painful period of my life. Only when I let go of how I thought my life “should” look was I able to accept the new life that wanted to be born through me. I had to allow my self-concepts to die. Only after that was I able to allow the new beginning, which had made itself known to me.
There is no avoiding the fact that a death of some sort needs to happen before lasting transformation can take place. Old ways of being need to be released in order to make way for the new. Throughout our lives, we pass through these natural cycles of ego-death and rebirth. As we let go of the old, we are reborn into a new way of being in the world. We have a new way of experiencing ourselves and a new way of seeing the world. We can move through these cycles either willingly or we can meet them with resistance. The choice is ours. And of course, the more we resist these organic movements of our lives, the more we suffer.