The Best Way to Handle Your Decline Is to Confront It Head On – The Atlantic

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The good news is that its possible to work on extinguishing the terror of this virtual death by borrowing from techniques used to vanquish the fear of physical death.

The fear of literal nonexistence through death is addressed by many philosophical and religious traditions. Many Buddhist monasteries in Southeast Asia, for example, display photos of corpses in various states of decomposition. This body, too, Buddhist monks learn in the Satipatthana Sutta to say about themselves as they look at the photos, such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.

Some monks engage in a meditation called maranasati (mindfulness of death), which consists of imagining nine states of ones own dead body:

At first, this seems strange and morbid. The objective, however, is to make death vivid in the mind of the meditator, and, through repetition, familiar. Psychologists call this process desensitization, in which repeated exposure to something repellent or frightening makes it seem ordinary, prosaic, and less scary.

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Western research has tested the idea of death desensitization. In 2017, a team of researchers recruited volunteers to imagine that they were terminally ill or on death row, and then to write about the feelings they imagined they would have. The researchers then compared these thoughts with writings by those who were actually terminally ill or facing execution. The results, published in Psychological Science under the title Dying Is Unexpectedly Positive, were astounding: People imagining their deaths were three times as negative as those actually facing it. Death, it seems, is scarier when it is theoretical than when it is real.

Contemplating death can also inspire courage. There is an ancient Japanese story about a band of lawless samurai warriors notorious for terrorizing the local people. Every place they went, they brought destruction. One day they come to a Zen Buddhist monastery, intent on violence and plunder. The monks ran away in fear for their lives--all except the abbot, a man who had completely mastered the fear of his own death. He sat quietly in the lotus position as the warriors burst in. Approaching the abbot with his sword drawn, the samurai leader said, Dont you see that I am the sort of man who could run you through without batting an eye? Calmly, the master answered, Dont you see that I am a man who could be run through without batting an eye?

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The Best Way to Handle Your Decline Is to Confront It Head On - The Atlantic

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