Existentialism: Death and Isolation

Surfing around on a rainy Sunday afternoon with cocktail in hand and a scary movie playing in the background, I ran across this little jewel. It begs to be shared.

The author tells us:

This is the third of a five-part series examining fundamentalism from an existentialist perspective. In what follows we begin to review the existentialist motifs that Irvin Yalom discusses in his Existential Psychotherapy.

Death – Yalom writes:

“It is one of life’s most self-evident truths that everything fades, that we fear the fading, and that we must live, nonetheless, in the face of the fading, in the face of fear.”

From this blog post I’ve extracted a couple of paragraphs to get you started (very slightly edited):

But if the existentialists are right … death is not a problem; it is the very key to truly living life. Awareness of our finitude, Yalom argues, is absolutely critical to our full appreciation of and immersion in life. An awareness of death actually saves us. How? Because knowing that we will one day die injects an intensity, and poignancy, a sweetness, and even an urgency into life that cannot be had any other way. It makes us realize that we must live now, that life cannot be indefinitely postponed. It makes us realize that life must be appreciated now, tasted in its fullness and drunk deeply of now, because it may not last. Awareness of death makes plain what is truly important in life, and what is not. It “trivializes the trivial.” And it can embolden us by teaching us that we can face our worst fears and emerge strengthened.

Thus, by letting go of the fantasy that death can somehow be beaten, cheated, or deferred, then those fantasies can no longer siphon off our energies, and we can appreciate the here-and-now that we do have. In relinquishing an idealized future, we can immerse ourselves in a real present. Awareness of the reality of death saves us because it teaches us to appreciate life.

This particular post was a great read but I notice now in 2011 that the site no longer exists. However, Mr. Yalom has a web site where there is information on himself and the books he has written. That site is right here.

On the other hand, should you want to read a penetrating study of how the religious see death, as forewarned in this sentence:

How different faiths — different modes of living — address the fear of death creates a unique vantage point from which to understand how profoundly Christianity, Judaism, and Islam differ from one another.

you would go here.

[Update: As of September, 2011 Archive.org has an archived copy of the site originally referred to right here.]

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