The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 28: March 2024

Dear Friends,

One essential challenge we all face as human beings is understanding what is meant by a good and meaningful existence. This meaning is further challenged by the fact that life ends in death. The two are seen as cancelling each other out and therefore most of us are openly or in subtle ways haunted by the fear of death. Fear is one of the factors that disturbs the order of consciousness, endarkening our existence. A life lived in fear is not a good or wholesome life. So understanding the relationship between life and death is key to freeing ourselves from this fundamental fear and its attendant sorrow.

We know everything that comes into being passes away, so in that sense death is part of life. And yet our general approach is to keep them far apart. Death is the enemy and if they were to meet, we fear that death might win, as it surely will, in the end. There seems to be an inherent difficulty in understanding death. Thought, that depends and thrives on the continuity of the known, does not grasp it except negatively. So how should we proceed to comprehend death so that we are no longer afraid of it? K proposes that the very inquiry into what life is brings us naturally to an understanding of the vital importance of dying in the art of living. It may be that we fear death because we have misunderstood the nature of living, of ourselves.

K’s basic statement is that life is relationship, that to exist is to be related and without relationship existence has no meaning. So the meaning of life is in relationship. Relationship is the art of living. Art, as K used to point out, means putting everything in its right place, i.e. in order. The art of living thus implies a quality of creative order in relationship. Order implies the absence of division and conflict, which are the essence of disorder. But, as we very well know, our life, which is our relationship with nature, things, people and ideas, is steeped in disorder and riddled with conflict, with its consequent hurt and sorrow.

K places the source of this general state of fragmentation and suffering not in the outer world but in our consciousness. The outer world simply reflects our inner state: our relationships are conflictive because we are inwardly divided. We relate with each other, for example, via the self-image, with its separative conclusions and identifications, envy, competition and greed. Our relationships become a process of isolation, each pursuing his own security, status and success. This general condition of isolation, with each one enclosed in the bubble of self-concern, in the capsule of the past, is the factor that prevents the meeting of hearts and minds. Being aware of the resulting alienation, we seek to break away from it through identification with a person, a nation, an ideology or a belief in order to rescue the feeling of unity. This is a trick to cheat loneliness but loneliness cannot be so easily cheated, for such identifications are only extensions of the same bubble of self-concern.

The self-centred structure of consciousness involves the positing of a centre and a periphery, an observer separate from the observed. There is a space between the observer and his envelope and between different envelopes. The question is whether we must always act and relate from the past, which is what makes life the slave of time. K considers that this divisive psychological space is the creation of thought. He notes that thought always cuts up what it observes into fragments in space and time, both inwardly and outwardly, and it is this space-time that divides. This creates the feeling of isolation, that each of us is an island separate from other islands. Then thought tries to bridge the gap and keeps playing the game of dividing and hoping for unity. K proposes that the end of this insularity is the perception that there is no division between the observer and the observed. Then we are open to and in relationship with each other and with the whole of life.

Relationship, messy as it is, has a beautiful side because it is a mirror in which we can see for ourselves what we actually are, which is the beginning of transformation. Such seeing, however, is prevented when we observe through the screen of our images, prejudices, traditions, beliefs, hopes and fears. It is these images, prejudices and separate self-interests that divide us, create conflict and break down relationship. All these things are conditioned aspects of past experience, which makes life the slave of time. K maintains that when we observe our conditioning passionately and without time, there is an insight in which it is dissolved. So the art of living, which is freedom from conflict, implies a quality of total attention in which the remembrance of things past does not intervene. Our memories divide us and bring about contention and disorder, which deny love. So dying to the past, which is freedom from the image-making process, from the ‘me’, is essential if we are to transform ourselves, if we are to live and love with a quality of beauty and innocence in our lives.
The art of living implies no fear because a frightened mind is not free to observe, which fragments and endarkens our existence. Fear arises from the projection of the painful memories of yesterday into the future, which is the movement of thought and time. Time and thought, psychologically, are the same thing. So time-thought is the root of fear, one of our greatest fears being the fear of death. We know death is inevitable, that sooner or later we all must die, but we are unable to stay with this simple fact. Thought seems incapable of comprehending it because it does not know what death means. What it knows is attachment to things, property, people and ideas and death is the ending of these attachments. These attachments, however, are themselves the cause of fear, anxiety, violence and untold suffering. But even though these things make our life miserable, we are afraid to let them go because doing so would be the end of our psychological identity, of the me and the mine, which is our ultimate fear and sorrow.

In K’s approach, the understanding of life is the understanding of death, for the two go together. Time is what separates them. But time, as conditioning, attachment, self, is the factor of fragmentation, violence and sorrow which destroy the art of living. So dying to the past, to the known, to the self, which is the essence of psychological time, is the art that restores the wholeness of life. The art of living (ars vivendi) and the art of dying (ars moriendi) thus go together. Psychological death means the ending of all continuity. It means dying every day to all experience, to all attachment, so we are living and dying constantly. Such a mind, being free from experience and the centre of the me, can never be hurt, which is the meaning of innocence. In that timeless state there is no fear or sorrow but the awakening of a quality of beauty, compassion and intelligence. The simultaneity of life and death is the timeless flame of creation in which there is no time interval between beginning and end. Then we are incarnating every day anew. This is the way to live.

What this whole inquiry is pointing to is that living is its own purpose and meaning when freed from the factors of fragmentation. As K pointed out from the beginning, life is action in relationship and when relationship is riddled with conflict life has no meaning. The question about the meaning of life is therefore not meaningless since it concerns the senselessness of a life of contradiction, conflict and sorrow. But this meaning must be discovered not by seeking a purpose away from life but by understanding the actual life we have. So to find life’s purpose we must go through the door of self-knowledge, because the source of conflict is in our own consciousness. Life is action in our relationship with people, property, beliefs and ideas. In understanding it we begin to free ourselves from the time-bound factors of division and conflict and we discover that action is its own reward. This timeless state dissolves the isolating centre of the self and brings about a quality of love that is action in relationship, which makes life truly meaningful. K says that such love is its own eternity.

We are carried along in the vast river of life, with all our possessions, experiences, memories and illusions. Death says we must leave it all behind and that unless we do, it will be always watching and waiting. The river is the movement of time, the stream of consciousness as thought and becoming. Time is not only the past as attachment, hope and fulfilment but the centre of the ‘me’. We are not afraid of the organism dying but of the ‘me’ coming to an end. The body dies from various causes, but death is also the ending, psychologically, of oneself. Death is not something to be postponed or avoided but to live with every day, for living and dying are one. This living with death means the ending of the narrow bubble of space-time created by the self and the consequent sense of immensity. This dying to the dead past is the flowering of life in the light of the timeless.

So dying while living means the ending of attachment, with its satisfaction, dependence, fear and sorrow. It means the ending of psychological time, which is the continuum of the past that thought has put together and whose essence is the self. The ending of attachment, the death of thought, self and time is for K the birth of love. This love is dangerous because it means the destruction of everything man has put together psychologically, in which destruction there is the flame of creation. Thus love, death and creation are inseparable. It must come uninvited, when we are not looking for it, when we are free from problems and out of our psychological insularity. It is the unknown and to discover it the known must consume itself completely, without ashes. The burning of the known is the ending of time, the ending of time is the death of the self, the death of the self is the birth of the immortal. This, according to K, is the way of the phoenix, the self-renewing and creative way to live and die.

From this perspective, death, the ending, has a deep significance in life and is nothing to be afraid of, for it is the factor of transformation and wholeness. Dying while living implies that there is no separation between beginning and end, which is the ending of time and the source of creation. This is the factor that transforms all our relationships and, consequently, revolutionises society. It is in this state of complete inner freedom and order that we can discover the deep meaning of life, death and immortality.

Take care, amigos, and let’s experiment with not separating the end and the beginning,


Photos by J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. Sunset, Het Bovenwater, Lelystad; 2. The other bank of the channel, Lelystad.
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