I like Irvin Yalom. He seems like a good guy. I know every therapist I’ve ever spoken to adores him. After doing therapy for a while now, I can see the benefit of his common sense approach, based on empathy and being genuine.
I’ve been reading Yalom’s ‘Creatures of a Day’. I don’t like it as much as some of his other books. It gets repetitive, basically around the theme of death anxiety. Apparently we are all supposed to have it. That essential fear of dying that I suppose is instinctive, to keep us alive.
There are a lot of ‘live every day like your last’ messages in this book. Lots of stories of people who are dying and making the best of it. Or people who have a sudden realisation of their own mortality after losing a friend or loved one.
Here’s the thing that bothered me. I can honestly say that I don’t have death anxiety. It’s not because I’m only 29. I think quite deeply about life and my place in the world. I’m just not scared of it all being over. I used to be, but I’m not now.
There was a time when I was massively risk averse. I was scared of so many things because I didn’t want to risk my life, break a leg, etc. A few months ago a friend asked if I’d do an abseil with her from the top of a local cathedral. I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Even as I leaned over the edge, admiring the view and the huge vertical descent, I wasn’t scared. I didn’t care if it all went wrong.
Obviously this isn’t the healthiest perception of death. That said, it allows me to enjoy experiences like this a whole lot more. I was just excited, buzzing from the adrenaline my body produced and exhilarated by the prospect of danger.
What Yalom focuses on is the fear that nothing comes next. That belief that we’ve got to make the most of life, because when we die, it’s lights out. I’m not sure what I believe about death. I don’t think there’s a heaven or hell, but sometimes I wonder if our energy lives on somewhere. Even if death is the absolute end, I’m not frightened of that. After all, I’m not going to know anything about it am I?
Photo credit: Reza, Creative Commons