To Die Before You Die

A meditation

The gamut of attitudes to reality can perhaps be said to run from Schopenhauer to Rilke.

From Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation:

On the contrary, we freely acknowledge that what remains after the complete abolition of the will is, for all who are still full of the will, assuredly nothing. But also conversely, to those in whom the will has turned and denied itself, this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies, is—nothing.

From Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo:

We cannot know his legendary head with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could a smile run through the placid hips and thighs to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.

To deny the Will, or give oneself over to it. Or cheesy as it unfairly sounds, To be or not to be.

But from the non-dual posture one can see that all apparent contradictions are unreal: to fully deny the Will leads to its ultimate affirmation.

The truth is infinite, and so, there are infinite paths to it. This is one path I believe leads to the truth.

The Meditation

  1. Lie down in bed with your eyes closed.

  2. Will that your body die. Perhaps it will go faster if you try willing that your heart stop beating. Curiously, for the Chinese, the heart is the organ of thought.

  3. Take as long as it takes for the truth to make its will explicitly known to you. For me, it took hours. Previously, the most I had ever done was 40 minutes of standard follow-the-breath meditation.

By explicit, I mean explicit. There was nothing vague or subtle about what happened to me with this method. I won’t write it out just now, because I don’t want to give the impression you must experience the same thing. However, if you wish to know, the ending of the article, under the heading The Vision will be my rendering of it. You can safely skip that if you want to try this out for yourself without poisoning the well.

I initially set out to will that my body become a glorified body. But whatever false gnosis that made Terry Davis walk backwards into a train, made this poor woman believe she needed to die, also forced itself on me, and I switched to willing my death.

And obviously, it is impossible to commit suicide with this method, suicide being invariably an error, at any rate. But paradoxically, it is true that you have to “die before you die” as Rumi puts it.

The most similar method I have come across for this is by one Li Ch’ien-ch’eng, who described the following:

Lie with the eyes shut and the hands closed, keep the breath shut up inside to 200, then expel it from inside the mouth.

Not quite the same thing, but similar. Yogis also have a similar method:

...there are cases of Indian yogis who have developed a powerful control of their physiology, and are able to massively slow down their breath, heart rate and blood pressure and other physiological functions. These feats sound remarkable, but we’re all capable of doing something similar, at least to a lesser degree. This is what the process of “biofeedback” is about - learning to consciously change our physiological activity. The idea that we can “will” ourselves to die could be seen as an extension of that.

Though unlike the yogis, I had no concrete plan. Just an intention and an intuition, which I followed until it led to a vision.


The Vision

As I said, I struggled for hours with this meditation. During this time, someone who was very concerned about me, due to things I had said earlier that night, was in bed with me trying to get me to sleep. During the meditation, they told me I had got very cold, and that they could feel some sort of electricity when they stroked my forehead. I felt neither. They also didn’t know I was attempting something.

After all those seemingly endless hours, suddenly, all the tension that had built up in the struggle against my body was released. I experienced something like an out-of-body experience, like an “I” that was not my body took off like a rocket piercing maya. Then I was Luke Skywalker in his X-wing during the Trench Run, and had just switched off my targeting computer, except everything was rendered in ASCII art.

I realized I was being propelled by a stream of letters. And I thought I needed to figure out how to fire my photon torpedoes to blow up this Death Star, analogically speaking. Then the obvious revealed itself: there is no Death Star, that’s just a scene from Star Wars. I flew up into the infinite void and opened my eyes.

Now I feel the knots of my heart have been “rent asunder”. I still have a conscience and can feel emotional mortification, but my relation to it has changed. It hurts more, and yet, I can calm down that beastie that gnaws my heart on occasion, when I can’t actually act skillfully on that gnawing. And I can say with Father Zosima:

For the fact is, man has been created for happiness, and he who is wholly happy has a perfect right to say to himself: I have performed God’s will on earth. All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs have been happy.’

Really, God just wants us to be happy. That’s it, sappy as it sounds. This world is a playground or videogame. Try for the good end, but take it easy!


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