Each of us knows the fear of death.  Our lives are like blades of grass, wrote the Psalmist; whose other side is salvation/whose meaning none of us will ever know, wrote the poet Mary Oliver.  Life is fragile and fleeting, while death is final and enduring.  But what if the fear of death conceals a more profound fear?  One that seems paradoxical, even absurd. 

Many of us have a sense that we live our lives playing it safe.  This perception can gnaw at the edge of our awareness.  Or keep us wide awake at 4AM.  An enormous wave of regret and disappointment about the opportunities we rejected or denied, all the roads not taken, washes over us like a tsunami.  In these moments, we experience pronounced grief for all our unlived selves and lives.  The fear of death expresses worry that we will never allow what is trapped inside us to see the light of day.  That we will bury so much of ourselves alive, even as we yearn to set it free.

The fear of death is a fear about how we live our lives.  And there is every reason to be afraid.  Consider how we remain caught up in petty dramas that distract us from any meaningful consideration of what our lives could be? We deflect attention away from what brings us to life, what allows us to feel truly alive and present, right here, right now.   

The poet David Whyte wrote that anything or anyone that does not bring us to life is too small for us.  Yes, but we do this to ourselves.  We construct lives that are too small and leave us feeling stale.  Then we wonder why we cruise on automatic pilot.  We whittle our lives down to manageable bite size pieces, turning down the dimmer switch on our life energy, as if it were forbidden to feel too much vitality.  It is stunning to realize that the fear of death conceals its opposite, a fear of being truly alive. 

What brings you to life?  Where do you feel most alive in the living of your life?  How much permission do you grant yourself to enhance these experiences?  Conversely, what essential parts of yourself remain submerged beneath the surface of your life?  What will it take to allow more of your unique vitality to see the light of day?


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Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience providing psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children. Read more here.