In a recent post, I examined the legitimacy of the financial “industry” and its operating principles and described some issues I faced in planning for the future with so-called financial “experts.” One thing the financial consultants never brought up with me – and which should be an integral part of any realistic retirement plan is… Death.
While it’s obvious that no financial professional would ever want to make a client uncomfortable by bringing up his inevitable and potentially imminent demise, from the client’s perspective it’s a pretty significant thing to consider.
(Some advisers are open about writing a will or trust but it’s usually an upsell strategy and also a way to scare the client into action.)
As a single guy I have told women who wondered if I could be “generous” that I had to think in the following way: If I knew I had ten years left (or less) I could be “quite generous,” for twenty years I would need to be a bit more careful but I could still splurge on occasion, and if I was going to live for 30 years or longer, I had to be frugal.
Not surprisingly, along with relationships, this issue of what is “enough” money takes its toll psychologically. (No pun intended).
So it was that I found a suggestion by Eckhart Tolle and other spiritual teachers, that one “die before you die,” so paradoxically helpful.
By factoring both the inevitability of my own death, as well as the uncertainty as to when it would occur, into my “financial plan” I could relieve much of the pressure.
For one thing instead of stressing about making it 30 years and providing for it I figured that I could consider maximizing my enjoyment in the present moment and let things unfold.
If I was “lucky” I’d die before I outlived my money.
If I was less fortunate I’d live longer and maybe get a job.
But it was by making my own death central to my financial plan, and realizing that no plan was going to be guaranteed, much less perfect, that I was able to feel a great deal better.
It was yet another example of facing and accepting “not knowing” as a stark fact.
And interestingly, by facing death as a certainty instead of as a tragedy or something to put off or obsessively try to avoid (and accepting the not knowing of when or how), the anxiety about both death and my finances subsided.
I believe this is the premise behind quite a few new acceptance movements and particularly in a feature length documentary that has been produced by an old friend, which also features noted teachers like Deepak Chopra.
Death Makes Life Possible “follows cultural anthropologist and scientist Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., as she explores the mysteries of life and death from a variety of perspectives and world traditions. Sparked by her own near death experience as a teenager, Schlitz has been delving into the nature of consciousness and death for the past three decades.
The film looks at how popular culture deals with the ever-present fear many have about our own mortality. Interviews with mental health experts, cultural leaders, and scientists explore the meaning of death and how we can learn to live without fear. The interviews and evidence presented are interwoven with personal stories of people facing their own death as well as those who report encounters beyond death.”
I really welcome this honest and direct approach to an issue that, when ignored or denied, can lead to so much unnecessary suffering.
My own first really honest approach to death occurred when I was in the throes of anxiety and read “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” which discussed matter-of-factly the ways to talk to the dying, and actually provided guidance in accepting the process for oneself.
At the same time I realized that having been so closely present when both my parents died had probably numbed me in many ways and made me resist the inevitable – which now arose as anxiety.
It was eye opening to see that the obsessive struggle to make death invisible is a Western phenomenon. Something I had always taken for granted – that death was “bad” – was actually not the way millions of other people on the planet lived their lives.
At around the same time, after working on the Eckhart Tolle material, I was on the phone with an old friend and at one point I said to him, “you know you’re going to die.”
He was appalled. “Why would you say such a thing?” he shouted at me. And it made me realize again how deeply conditioned we are to persuade ourselves that we’re invincible, and that death will happen to everyone else but that we ourselves are somehow immune.
(And also our conditioned belief that our thoughts about it will make it happen – if we keep the demon locked away in the dark it will all be okay).
Another favorite opening to this issue is Ram Dass’ book, “Still Here” (which helped me with my own anxiety) – and he is now featured in an upcoming film with a wonderful title – “Dying to Know” by Robert Redford about his friendship with Timothy Leary.
(“Dying to Know” will have its Sedona premier at the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, AZ on Friday, May 29. Contact info: 928-421-1108)
It is interesting to ponder to what extent our technology and particularly the mass media are functioning in such a way as to distract us continually from this obvious fact: our days are numbered, and “all things must pass” – even us. And yet, confronting it directly and honestly can be paradoxically liberating.
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