Leave death nothing....
by Tina11 on October 21, 2008Yalom’s new book about overcoming the terror of death was a surprise to me. Although I have thought about death, I am not afraid of death itself. Even at this age – approaching 50 - my thoughts are mainly consumed with making plans about the future, and definitely not death.
Nevertheless, I read this book with great interest. I was surprised to discover that Yalom refers to the knowledge and tranquillity he found in ancient wisdom, particularly that of ancient Greek philosophers and that of Epicurus especially. I am interested in how the Greek philosophers approached life and its meaning. I have studied – not extensively – Epicurus ideas, but I never, until now, connected them with my perception about life and death. Reading Yalom’s book made me realise how much the philosopher’s powerful ideas as well as other writers’ work – mainly Kazantzakis and Tolstoy – have influenced my thinking on how to face death and how to live.
Despite the extensive references, Yalom should perhaps have explored in more detail Epicurus’ ideas. When I finished chapter four, I had the feeling that something important is missing, something may be untold. Moreover, Epicurus powerful message was somehow lost his importance between the many examples from films, literature and clinical case histories.
I particularly liked Yalom’s way of thinking about paranormal and religious beliefs. As a person that I never believed in any God I hold with Yalom’s line of secular humanism. But, this may be a problem to some readers whose religious and spirituals beliefs are different, and may be add more anxiety and probably confusion to those who are unprepared or spiritually, not strong enough, to accept the idea of emptiness and nothingness after death. That is one more reason of why the philosophers ideas should be presented with a more precise and clear way that would intrigue the reader to go and explore further the philosophers’ writings.
I found very satisfying Yalom’s approach to Freud’s lack of interest or failure to explore death fears. I had always my reservations on Freud’s belief that the origins of neurosis rested on the assumption of conflict between various unconscious, primitive and instinctual forces. Death or the fear of death for Freud could play no role in the genesis of neurosis because we have no personal experience of death and it is impossible to contemplate our nonbeing.
Although it is impossible to contemplate our nonbeing we experience death from a very early age as we don’t fail to have glimpses of mortality everywhere in nature and our surroundings. The interpretation of Epicurus ideas and Yalom’s clinical cases show that humans unconsciously express with a distinguished way their concerns about death. According to Yalom, excessive religiosity, the consuming accumulation of wealth and consumerism, the blind gasping for power and fame are all signs of human’s continuous and wasted fight to mortality.
It was a rather uncomfortable surprise to discover that modern psychiatrists and therapists need also help to deal with the fear of death and in some cases are unable to deal with everyday issues and situations. I am not an expert on psychotherapy and I have never being in counselling or on a therapist’s coach. I am very reluctant to believe that our dreams have some secret meaning or that they reflect our fears. Maybe that is because I rarely remember any of my dreams or maybe because my logic indicates that if you want to find a meaning or a message, you can find anywhere, anyway. I don’t forget that therapists are also humans with their own fears and problems to overcome, but these signs of impotence made me wonder about their effectiveness to make other people feel better. I can’t stop thinking that maybe a long lasting treatment or counselling is just another form of dependence that hampers humans’ free spirit.
Nevertheless, I liked the book and I believe that it can offer a lot of help to many people to face their fears and the anxiety of death. Most importantly, it reminds us that “life is a passing parade”. We will die well when we fulfil our potential, and live a life with meaning, when we “Leave death nothing but a burned out castle.”
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