Rerun: The Joy of Death

(As I’m taking a break, I thought that I might rerun some of the old stuff that gets buried as a blog gets old in the tooth. Here’s one from last January. Sorry if anyone finds this offensive – LCC)

Mind being creeped out a bit?

God knows I can’t fathom why people would want to read my drivel, but people do visit.

If you come for the low carb tips, or the recipes, you might not want to read this – come back another day.

For the rest of you, I chose this provocative title because being a provocateur is one of my specialties, I enjoy it, and am very good at it. My means of provoking other people is to make them think in ways other than they are accustomed to. I have been blessed or cursed (depending on how you look at it) with a unique (to put it kindly) perspective on the world and one of my notions is that death – our own real and personal knowledge that within a very short number of years we will all be dust – is a very good thing.

I don’t mean to depress you or frighten you – and I certainly don’t advocate murder or suicide – I believe that we should do everything we can to lengthen our lives to the fullest extent, and also have an obligation to help our fellow human beings as well. Nor do I intend to be morbid – I have no particular fascination with the act itself, or look at death as some sort of relief from the burden of life – I personally don’t see my life as a burden the vast majority of the time. I do have my moments – as all of us do – but I think of life as a wonderful unfolding – even when it doesn’t feel particularly wonderful in a given moment.

So why even talk about death? The question itself contains the answer – our modern world has provided all of us with the ability to buy in to the illusion that death does not exist. The generations that came before us were surrounded by it, but our modern world has had the effect of, well, not lessening it – as life is still a medical a condition with a 100% mortality rate, but it has done a good job of hiding it in hospitals – and how many of us meat-eaters have seen the slaughter of the food you put in your mouth? Modernity has been able to segregate it from the every day. It’s come to make us uncomfortable when we do see it, to try and pretend it doesn’t exist. We don’t talk about it. When we are forced to do so because of the death of a loved one or someone we knew well, we feel awkward and struggle with the task – and do our best to go back to our lives and try to forget the event the best we can.

I think it’s important to think about death – your own, as well as the death of the people that you know and love. What possible benefit could come from this? I see a lot. It’s well-known that people who have survived near-death experiences, or who have actually died and were brought back to life through medical intervention often stop fearing death and experience a great liberation. A quote from researchers investigating Near-Death experiences stated:

“NDE (near-death experiences) subjects often report long-term after-effects, and changes in worldview, such as increased interest in spirituality, greater appreciation for life, increased interest in the meaning of life, increased empathic understanding, decrease in fear of death, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, a feeling of being more intuitive or psychic (Mauro, 1992; van Lommel, 2001). “

Luckily, I believe it’s possible to achieve the same state of mind without dying on some operating table first.

Let’s imagine that you knew and accepted, without fear, that on this day, and every day to come, it could indeed be you last day. For real. What good would that do?

We’ll, you’d probably take a lot of things less seriously. Traffic tickets, flat tires, hassles at work, a lawn with weeds, a broken air conditioner, and a whole host of events great and small would appear to be quite insignificant in the face of your possible death that day. You still have to pay the ticket, fix the flat, deal with the hassles, weed the lawn and get a new air conditioner, but it just wouldn’t seem all that earth-shattering – it would just be one of those things that come along in everyone’s life that have to be dealt with. Maybe you’d get flustered less and laugh more.

When you live your entire life in the shadow of death, you might realize that life is too serious to take seriously.

Another thing it would do is if you thought of every person you deal with on a daily basis in the context that this might be their last day on earth, might you possibly treat them better? Would it be easier to forgive their flaws, let go of grudges you might hold over events in the past? Wouldn’t that be a benefit to both of you?

Also, maybe you’d care less about what other people think and more about what you think? If you knew you were to die today, and are normally the sort of person that concerns themselves with what others might say about you, might you throw caution to the wind and actually live your life to your own internal compass? Some people live their lives as slaves to what they believe others might think. The fact of this is that it doesn’t matter what other people think. In the face of death you’d realize this. As Elanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a very controversial figure in her time, said: “Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business.”

Would it also be more difficult to let time slip by – would you watch more carefully and guard more jealously the time you have and not fritter it away on trifles and escapist pursuits? Would this lead to a deeper and more real sense of setting your goals as to what you would like your life to achieve? While you could die today, you might have decades to go – what do you want to do with this time – watch more TV?

It’s also well known that people with medical conditions where they need to change their behaviors or risk death if they don’t do so fail to make the necessary changes 9 out of 10 times. One of the reasons is the fear of death is so strong that they go into denial. Perhaps if these people could face death instead of fear it, might they be better equipped to make the changes that could save their life?

It frequently escapes people that this life isn’t some rehearsal for the real life you will someday be given – this is your one and only time at bat.

In my own life I have a way of reminding myself of this. Three years ago I did a calculation that if I lived to be in my mid 80s, that I had only so many weeks to live. I searched on the internet and found a company that sold little skull beads – perfect for the job they were to perform – and bought roughly as many as I had calculated I had weeks to live. I put them in the jar, marked a line where they filled the jar to, and wrote on the lid the date that the last bead would be gone – Sunday, July 2nd, 2045.

Every week I throw one away – or leave it in a place that I have been that week – or given it to someone who I felt comfortable enough to mention this to, because I know that this is not for everyone. I’ve left them at JFK Airport, the restaurant I had my Father’s Day lunch at last year, at the restaurant where my wife and I had our tenth anniversary dinner. In May of 2007, I had the opportunity to throw one in the Atlantic ocean AND one in the Pacific ocean. There might still be one in the room where my wife gave birth to our second daughter. Sometimes I just throw it in the garbage. Wherever it goes, I have done this without fail for three years now. You can see on the jar that the line I marked when I started this is measurably higher than the level of beads – that, my friends, is the measure of three years of my life gone.

Right before I throw it away I reflect briefly on the week – some are good and some are not so good – but none escape me without reflection. I think that in my life I’ve had years that have gone by unnoticed – I don’t allow that to happen anymore. And it doesn’t matter if I leave this earth with beads remaining or not, because the point is not to live to be 85 – the point is to live every day. The universe is 20 billion years old. The time we are given is truly insignificant – 40 years one way or the other is nothing in this context. What I have is today – right now, with all the good and bad that is currently present in it – and that’s it.

And I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do my utmost to make the best of it.

So – those of you still with me might be asking what this has to do with low carb dieting. One blogger made a good point: since 95% of people can’t maintain their weight loss, you need to get into the head of the 5% of people that can. Look at the stats at the National Weight Control Registry – what you find is that there are a number of diets that work – low cal diets work for some, low fat works for others. I found only low carb works for me – and I tried both low cal and low fat and lost significant weight on low calorie twice, but put it all back in a year. Low carbers are in the minority in the registry, but that could be for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the diet.

I’m going on year 5 of low carb living and while I’ve done a little backsliding as of late, I’m still 60 lbs less than when I started. So far, I’ve beat the odds.

I’m in that 5%.

So is it the diet that makes us lose weight, or the mindset? for me, I think it’s a combo of both. I’ve proved to myself that exercise is not necessary – which is supposed to be impossible, but I think that my mindset has been a critical part of making Atkins work for me. If you are fat and want to lose weight, it might not just be a matter of changing your eating habits, but changing your thinking habits as well – I blather on about this in much more detail here.

I’m not saying you have to change your way of thinking to mine. God knows I can be trying at times, but you might need to consider some sort of personal thought-rejiggering that works for you in order to succeed at long-term weight-loss.

So this nutcase has a jar of skull beads – this nutcase also lost 60 lbs and kept it off for years.

Maybe the nutcase has a point.

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