Stephen Cave talks to Susie Nielson about ways of coping with the reality one’s inevitable demise, something with which I cannot deal. Cave’s prescription? In order to be okay with letting go of yourself, you have to be okay with letting go of your Self:
Care more about other things, and less about yourself, and your own death will seem less important. There are ways to combine a meaningful life without being afraid of it ending. . . .
The idea of identifying with other people is important. But that’s a huge challenge; we live in a society where the prime source of individual value is the individual. Society says, your life should be about you, as a project. But of course, if that’s the case, then death is the end of that project. What I’m saying is, don’t make you the center of all your projects. Care about other people, other causes, whether that’s the world or other causes, because then your death will be less important.
I’m not sure I could ever make this work. I do care about other people, things, and causes. Very much so. I do feel a sense of meaning and connectedness by contributing my ideas and creative products to the world, into the culture. But none of that makes me any less terrified of my own death.
Perhaps this is because I have myself (or my Self) too invested in these causes and creations. As much as they might appear altruistic or idealistic, they just as much serve as the supports and scaffolding of my precariously constructed ego. Even when it’s not about me, it’s still about me.
Maybe I will change as my children grow. But their existence only makes me want to cling to this life even harder.