Death, the philosopher, the guru and the doctor

Death, a sub­ject or an enti­ty, one can­not say. In many lan­guages, includ­ing French, death has a gen­der, where­as it is an “it” in Eng­lish. Which one makes more sense ? I leave that to others.

With­out ask­ing for my due, chance brought me to watch two short films : A 97-Year-Old Philoso­pher Faces His Own Death and Ram Dass, Going Home. Lat­er in the week, I came across What real­ly mat­ters at the end of life and, final­ly, an inter­view with Ram Dass, the year he died.

In the first video, that of the philoso­pher, we are plunged into the real­i­ty of a man who has thought, writ­ten and pub­lished about death and who, at the end of his life, declares to us, with a tired ges­ture of the hand, that this is quite a lot of rub­bish. The man has loved his life ; he is sad to aban­don it. He cries at the mem­o­ry of his com­pan­ion, who died five or six years ear­li­er. He remem­bers, regrets her presence.

Nev­er­the­less, behind this bit­ter­ness, he con­tin­ues to live what is left of his breath. His gaze inevitably turns towards the trees, the beau­ty of the sky, the soft­ness of the gar­den and its pro­tect­ed wind.

In the sec­ond video, which you can only watch if you sub­scribe to Net­flix, we meet the famous Ram Dass, a fiery spir­i­tu­al guide who has intro­duced the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of India to the West­ern world. Ram Dass is still, in this video, in pos­ses­sion of his means. One could say that his peace is con­ta­gious, imbued with a cer­tain­ty that one could envy. There is the same obser­va­tion when we observe nature and par­tic­i­pate in it. In front of a beau­ti­ful land­scape, and Ram Dass lived in Maui, Hawaii, the human being sub­mits, dress­es in humil­i­ty. The inter­view that can be seen on YouTube shows us a Ram Dass dimin­ished, search­ing for words, no longer able to fight the after-effects of a stroke suf­fered in 1997. But his cer­tain­ty remains, him smil­ing with his beau­ti­ful teeth and his blue gaze point­ing at the cam­era to invite you to the Light.

The con­trast is strik­ing between the philoso­pher and the guru, one liv­ing with­in the walls of his exis­tence, the oth­er trav­el­ing or jug­gling the mul­ti­ple dimen­sions of consciousness.

Cer­tain­ly, noth­ing can be decid­ed here. All bets are off, as they say. My best friend calls him­self a “nihilist” in the sense that he believes in noth­ing but his present life. Death is, for him, a dis­in­te­gra­tion of what is with­out want­i­ng to find an expla­na­tion, to refor­mu­late to bet­ter accept. He is a man full of life, very green for his age (it is intim­i­dat­ing). This life is enough for him.

For my part, I would tend to be like this hand­some man, a doc­tor, severe­ly hand­i­capped by an acci­dent and who now cares for peo­ple at the end of their lives, as he explains in this TED con­fer­ence. One, I find him super hand­some (how shal­low I can be). Two, it brings me back to when I lived with Claude, then a coun­sel­ing stu­dent who had decid­ed to accom­pa­ny peo­ple with can­cer. His rea­sons were prob­a­bly shaman­is­tic but nev­er mind. I was deeply touched by these peo­ple who came to him to get some help or at least some pre­cious time to talk about their life before it flies away in mem­o­ries. It also brings back the mem­o­ry of this man who declared that he want­ed to kill him­self from the height of his exis­ten­tial cer­tain­ty. I had writ­ten a short sto­ry about him that was pub­lished in La Vie dure. I had a hard time con­vinc­ing him not to do it, feel­ing pow­er­less, insuf­fi­cient in my own cer­tain­ty or log­ic. He must still be alive, I think. He had thanked me because I had made him promise that if he had any doubts about doing it, that it would be enough not to do it. I was prob­a­bly very naive, and many will cry out in hor­ror at my behav­ior. I was cer­tain­ly not equipped to deal with that sit­u­a­tion. I’m still prob­a­bly not. But at least I can now give out an emer­gency num­ber… There is some­thing good about modernity.

Recent­ly, one of my col­leagues died sud­den­ly of nat­ur­al caus­es. He was 42 years old ; I had only known him for two months, and, if I cal­cu­late cor­rect­ly, I may have been the last co-work­er he spoke to. The death of oth­ers will always come as a shock, even if they have no ties to you. Oth­er sit­u­a­tions around me remind me of death these days. Some­times my own fatigue is heard as if it were the mes­sen­ger of the Grim Reaper. Also, there is this virus that, like a trag­ic clown, makes us cry with laugh­ter or laugh with misery.

It is so, and I can only sur­ren­der. This is not the first time I have writ­ten about it in these mod­est prom­e­nades. And our love­ly doc­tor invites us to do so as well. I don’t always man­age to do it ; it’s part of my nature and my journey.

In his insis­tent benev­o­lence, Ram Dass reminds us of his mantra : I am lov­ing aware­ness, I am lov­ing aware­ness, I am lov­ing aware­ness. This is like the philoso­pher, the doc­tor, and the sage. In anoth­er video, Find­ing Joe, we are encour­aged to find the hero­ic jour­ney that is each of us. Dis­cov­er your bliss.

Cas­tane­da, and many oth­ers, many oth­ers, urged us to make death our friend, to imag­ine it like a bird on our shoul­der. This is not mor­bid. It is nec­es­sary to live, not in fear of death, but because death exists, because it indi­cates to us, with­out being able to know the pre­cise moment, that there is an end to our expe­ri­ence. Whether we believe that there is con­ti­nu­ity or not, in a uni­verse of undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed con­scious­ness, is not the pur­pose of life. The philoso­pher is right to sweep away his cer­tain­ties, the wise man is right to dance with them, the doc­tor is right to pro­vide us with his heart and some pills to make us happy.

The quest is to be what is in us and make sure that the uni­verse is not wound­ed by it. That is prob­a­bly the only cer­tain­ty I can offer here.

I am lov­ing aware­ness.