Are you open for a quick thought experiment? For this experiment to be successful you need to be able to deconstruct some of your cultural conditioning. The topic of this experiment is often discussed in several forums including high and popular culture, religion, peer groups and families. For the experiment to be successful it is necessary to ignore what you have heard about this topic before. Please, simply fulfill the request of the experiment without giving in to your immediate reactions clouded by your previous experiences or conditioning. Are you ready?
Now consider for one moment that you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Say you are to have approximately two to three weeks of lifetime left. How exactly would that change your life?
Now what were your first feelings reading the paragraph above? Perhaps repulsion – was this it? Is this all hanba had to write about today? I cannot be bothered to do this. Nevertheless, please, look beyond that repulsion. Dissect it. Whose lessons did the paragraph make you associate to? Whose programming have you been subjected to? The Dalai Lama, Edith Piaf, your grandmother, the Sopranos, Paulo Coelho?
My boyfriend tells me his dying grandfather regretted having watched too much television in his days. I am trying to think what it is that I would regret. This requires more thought than what is apparent at a first glance.
The first thought I have is to question whether so much needs to change after all. Who is to say that when death approaches I will undergo a deep transformation? Of course there are the practicalities, such as perhaps signing a will and saying goodbyes to friends and family, which would involve a change from what I do every day. However, regretting things and being thankful of others is an ongoing process that happens even when death is not imminent. Perhaps this ‘change before death’ is not something universal but rather, enforced on us by cultural programming. Many people in our culture believe that some kind of a holy spirit takes over the dying, making them see clearly and be more respectable than others. The imminence of death makes a person ‘rise beyond’ the normal everyday life in many people’s eyes.
Furthermore, several people have confessed sins to a priest or a nurse before death, hoping for absolution and peace.
While I am not trying to take away the sacrament of dying, I would like to question the hype around the phenomenon. Just like giving birth, death is an important part of life. Somehow, though, the metaphysics seem more challenging. I think the fear many people have of dying influences the attitude we have towards dying, making it less of a normal part of life. Our thoughts are diverted, we feel repulsion thinking about death. Quickly we make the dying possess a special ‘holy spirit’ in order for us not have to identify with the dying. ‘He is not one of us any more, he is marked by death.’ The viewer is purified from having to think of their own mortality, labeling the dying as part holy. Absolution is a part of this process, as if a person would be any more or less free from their sins on their last hours of life.
Hanba is just a regular everyday normal guy and does not give metaphysical advice. However, hanba recommends you to continue this thought experiment through the rest of the day. Take this memento mori with you and consider whether you would do anything differently if you knew you were dying next week. Try to overcome the repulsion towards thinking about your mortality, if only for a day.
What is it that Hanba believes to regret? Simple things, such as not spending enough time with family and not writing enough. As for absolution, I am going to try to fix the two issues mentioned above so I do not need to worry about it when I peg out.