Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Mortality and ME part 2

Let's say we fear the dissolution of ME-awareness as much as or even more than we fear death. One sign that this is true is the fear and loathing with which many of us view Altzheimer's - we know that self-awareness depends on memory, and that if my memory erodes away, I am no longer me. And that is what the poor souls will often say who have to look after a relative with the condition - "by the time he went, he wasn't my dad at all." Completely accurate statement.

If this is so, then perhaps an occasional escape from ME-awareness helps us to deal with our mortality? Maybe being awake but standing aside from the usual flow of connected thoughts, entering a different mental state, will help us face the idea that my identity will one day cease - as far as I - this organism - is concerned, at least. A partial version of my identity may continue in the lives of others, in their memories and their personalities, but "Me" will reach the buffers. So maybe this won't seem such a terrible thing if I can live a little, from time to time, in a state of not-me-ness.

Why bother? Says the happy hedonist.

Several reasons.

1. The Dalai Lama reportedly said somewhere somewhen, that Westerners don't think of death until they are dying, and it's a bit late then. "Maybe I'll keel over unexpectedly and suddenly, so I will hardly have any dying to do, in any conscious way," says the happy hedonist. Fair point. But if this happens when you are in later life, you will be unusual if the thought of your own eventual death does not occur to you a little more often than it used to before you keel over. Which brings me to:

2. The young, it is said, think they are immortal. Or just don't think about It and Them inside the same brackets. The old increasingly realise they are not. In George Eliot's wonderful novel "Middlemarch" Mr Casaubon is diagnosed with a terminal heart condition (or whatever they called it back then.)Eliot describes him struggling with the move from "all men must die" to "I must die, and soon." I'm going to drone on about the fear of death in another post,but my point for now is that most of us have to deal with that recognition sooner or later, whether "soon" is the result of a medical diagnosis, or simply a matter of mental arithmetic - "I've had what's probably 3/4 of my life now, and the rest of it slides merrily past, so..." Escape from ME-ness may be able to help with this.

3. The "usual train of thoughts" thing is worth pausing on a moment. It often consists of looking back on what did, didn't or might have happened. This can give rise to powerful feelings, embarrassment yet again over something that happend twenty years ago or last week. The train also includes looking forward - "must get to the shops today, what'll I do about the leaking tap," you know the stuff. (Least, I hope you do, or as Bill Hicks used to say, "Is it just me?")The train may include fantasy, wish fulfilment, etc. We won't dwell on this area because it could give rise to retrospective blushes next week - but you surely know what I mean... Now, fair play, the train of thoughts can be pleasurable, it's not all negative. It can be productive. Bach must have had a train of a particularly miraculous kind of thought when he put together the B minor Mass, ditto the band on "Kind of Blue." But the idea that stilling the train of thought, putting the mind in a different state for a while, can lead to something very valuable, is well worth looking at. So I will, soon. (This post is long enough now.)Thanks for reading this far.


  1. Gloria,

    Of course you will know this by Pinter;

    Where was the body found?
    Who found the dead body?
    Was the dead body dead when found?
    How was the dead body found?

    Who was the dead body?

    Who was the father or daughter or brother
    Or uncle or sister or mother or son
    Of the dead and abandoned body?

    Was the body dead when abandoned?
    Was the body abandoned?
    By whom had it been abandoned?

    Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

    What made you declare the dead body dead?
    Did you declare the dead body dead?
    How well did you know the dead body?
    How did you know the body was dead?

    Did you wash the dead body
    Did you close both its eyes
    Did you bury the body
    Did you leave it abandoned
    Did you kiss the dead body.

  2. No, Ark., I didn't know this. Wow. Thanks. By implication, the ultimate humanist poem?

  3. Interesting thoughts here, GM. Psychotropic drugs can help greatly here, I believe. Never tried them; too damn scared. But exposure to complete darkness and utter silence could have a salutary effect... Or a bit of Camus therapy?

  4. I'm late coming to the party (as usual), but great post, Gloria. Very thought provoking. Thank you.