Confronting Life and Death

Food for Thought @ May Wah Fast Food

Robert told me he used to be much more combative in his dialogues with others. He still feels comfortable tackling controversial issues in his writing, but not in person or email. I see the logic; articles written for the general public are less confrontational because there is room for plausible deniability as to who they are addressing.

As I got older, I too have noticed the toll emotional engagements have on my body. For instance, if I get too worked up, I wouldn’t be able to sleep well, and the next day, I would feel exhausted. I then have to ask myself, “Who am I doing this for?” I have to admire the presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and even Donald Trump for their ability to sustain their combative lives in their 70s.

I recently chatted with a trans friend about the current state of gender politics, and he said he is not particularly interested in publicly engaging in the debate because he feels it’s a battle for the younger people to take on.

I understand the sentiment. As we confront our mortality, we begin to feel less invested in what happens to our society because we would be leaving it soon. Our sense of self is inextricably tied to our society. We cannot define who we are without the social context. And, the more attached we are to our identities, the harder it becomes to confront death. We desperately try to hold on to what we have built in our lives (wealth, fame, respect, prestige, material possessions, etc.) by living as long as we can. The death of such a person has no sense of grace. Detachment, then, becomes a sensible coping strategy for death.

Zen Buddhism has no written scripture but has a cartoon of a man herding an ox to explain the different stages of enlightenment. Most of them end with an empty circle that signifies the state of satori, but the extended version shows the man returning to the ordinary world. That is, he disengages to attain enlightenment but then reengages with the society afterward. It’s a curious proposal.

I assume it’s like a “disinterested gaze,” where you can view a nude painting for its aesthetic beauty without getting aroused.