These days we are all grappling with a phantom that modern society thought it had completely exorcised: death. The grim reaper had been put aside and as Blaise Pascal, while lacking in humanity in my opinion, once said, we all run towards something after putting a screen in front of us, so as not to see it. This something is obviously death.
It is evident to many that death is frightening. It represents the end of our existence. To exorcise it, most major religions have proposed various forms of immortality, suggesting that after death there remains some form of life. These are forms of denial of death. For the ever-gallant Prince of Lampedusa, she was a beautiful girl, for many others she is a hooded skeleton.
Yet death is frightening above all because we identify ourselves with the body and the body is inevitably destined for corruption and decay. In these pandemic days, the probability of the body’s end has slightly increased and to many this is terrifying. This was not the case in the past – partly because death was not hidden by the health care system and partly because we often died more quickly and were thus a little callus about it.
But here I don’t want to talk about social customs, but about the meaning of death, which depends on a fundamental question for each of us: what am I?
If we think we are a body, death really scares us, because death is the end of the body. If we think we are a soul, death should be less fearful, because the body dies but the soul continues to live. Yes, but where and how? You must admit that there is a lot of uncertainty about these questions. So you are not so calm anyway.
What does the Spread Mind say about it? It says that we are neither body nor soul. We are world. Indeed we are the world that exists as a consequence of our body. But crucially, that world is not the set of bodily cells that is responsible for our existence.
We are not our body. The body is only one of the conditions for our existence.
This has very important consequences for the relationship of life and death. We are not an entity that must endure, like an organism or a liter of milk in the fridge that we try to make last as long as possible. We are a series of relative objects that, from moment to moment, our body allows to exist in the world. Our every moment, therefore, exists at the precise pointat which its possibility of existing is consumed. We are, to understand each other, more like an event than a static object. Relative objects are not things that persist, but things that happen. Their existence is consummated in their becoming.
Does a sunset die? No, a sunset happens. Does a rainbow have an end? No, because the rainbow is given in every instant, in its completeness. It is intrinsically linked to a moment, which defines its substance. Does the performance of a piece by Mozart cease to exist? No, it exists precisely because it plays out over time. Indeed, time is a consequence of the succession of events. A word spoken, a poem recited? Does a great tennis shot die? No, because its nature is to complete itself in a certain space-time. If it were longer it would be another matter. Even the musical piece or the rainbow, if they were longer, if they lasted longer, would be another matter.
The Spread Mind does not offer us the kind of naive immortality proposed by the persistence of the body or soul, but it makes us understand that our being is eternal. The moments of our being, which define us, are all the moments of our life. Cesare sul Rubicone, the first kiss, a happy moment, a stirring fright, the decisions we made.
Fathers come to understand that one day they will pick up their child for the very last time. It’s likely that they will not know it’s the last time when it happens. This life circumstance doesn’t subtract from, but rather adds something precious to all the picking up of kids. Those important moments will always ‘eternally’ have been.
Our being is not the vegetative continuation of our cells, but the set of things that this body that we carry with us has made possible. And therefore the heart of the matter is not so much the decay and end of the body, the biological death. If anything, we do well to worry about our life instead, about what our body makes exist, which is eternal, in the sense that it is not consumed by time, but is made possible by becoming.
The problem is not that the container has a limit, the problem is what we put inside the container; in other words, we ought to focus on what takes place due to the body being in existence (and subsequently, having been in existence) in the world.
The Spread Mind is a theory of the fullness of existence. The concept of death is derived from the hypostatization of the idea of emptiness and lack. With the mind understood as spreadover events, we can never fall out of the world, because we are world. The spread mind does not deceive us by promising a simpleton’s continuation of our body like the liter of milk in the refrigerator, but allows us to focus on life. Becoming is not the threat of the persistence of a body, becoming is the condition of realization.
We are neither mortal nor immortal. We are eternal. Eternity is the meaning we bring to exist. Our goal is to fill this eternity with significant moments. We must not fear death, but the emptiness of life.
Not of when we die, but of what our life is made of. Not of the edges of existence, but of its content.
At the end of the work “The Cherry Orchard” by Chechov, the butler of the family, at the end of his life, comments
Life’s gone on as if I’d never lived.
In a lighter tone, a great Italian poet, Francesco Guccini, wrote “the seasons and the smiles/ They are money that must be spent with due property.” The point is the same: we are not a liter of milk whose purpose is to last as long as possible. We are what that liter of milk makes possible: kisses, ideas, creations, gestures, moments.
We are not immortal, we are eternal.