There was a time when I thought that death acceptance was the opposite of death denial. I also thought that there were two signs of death denial: fear of death and dying, and strong attachments to life and living. My thinking was that if I didn’t have fear and anxiety about death, and I could sever my strong attachments in life, I would live peacefully with the full acceptance of death.
These Times are Challenging Beyond Compare, But This Exercise Helps You Find Meaning
Multiple times each day I read, see, hear and feel the unprecedented time of uncertainty we’re all moving through.
Personally, in our communities and around our planet, people are living with health crises, ecological devastation, political and economic turmoil and systemic racism and injustice. We don’t know the eventual impact of all of these crises, how it will end, or what our lives and our world will look like in the near or distant future.
It’s not uncommon for us to feel anxious as we move through this level of uncertainty. In our commitment to using our mortality as an opportunity to live and love fully now, Michelle and I developed an exercise to promote growth and control anxiety, and help us to live in the present as we take on these challenging times.
The first two steps are inspired by the writing of Centre for Action and Contemplation faculty member Brian McLaren. The idea is that there can be great power in the dual act of acknowledging our anxieties, hurts, and disappointments and naming the plea or request for what we need to help us be with the pain we’re experiencing.
The First Step is to Name the Pain
Consider our current reality, and write down 1 to 3 of the first pains you think of in any of the following categories:
- Anxieties / fears (what might happen)
- Hurts / wounds (what has happened)
- Disappointments (what has not happened)
I’ll be honest with you. Back in March when the world began to shift beyond recognition, my primary pains were my disappointment around the travel plans, workshops and other events that were cancelled, and my fear that income would dry up.
Fast forward to yesterday and my fears and anxieties overflowed. I felt broken and fearful, and journaled pages and pages of pain points in an effort to overcome them.
The Second Step is to Name your Plea
Once you’ve acknowledged the pain, explore different pleas or needs and see if you can pinpoint a specific one. It can be a call to yourself or a higher power, or just whatever feels right to you.
Examples of pleas could include:
I tested out a few possibilities, and to my surprise I landed on faith. When I said ‘faith’ aloud, my body trembled in a way that confirmed that faith was what I had been denying myself. By naming it I could begin to find meaning in my reality and begin to make faith a part of life.
The Third Step is to Find Meaning
These questions are meant to help you contemplate, explore and discover meaning in your experience of pain.
- What am I learning about myself with respect to the pain I’m feeling?
- How has this time of crisis impacted my relationship with the reality of my mortality?
- How has the reality of my mortality influenced how I move through this time of crisis?
I did this exercise partly with Michelle and partly solo. I learned that there’s no way around this pain. I can only move through it. Once I named my pain and my plea, I sobbed. When I cried out for help and acknowledged my vulnerability, I felt heard.
This cathartic release led me to connect with my conviction that this time of upheaval can pave the way for unprecedented levels of justice, peace and ecological and human health.
Focus on Love and Gratitude
With headlines constantly filled with death, I’m reminded that life is precious and precarious. The finite nature of life helps me to live in the moment and to be present. In turn, it supports me to control anxiety and experience growth while I work towards creating a new reality based on love and gratitude.
Want to continue to find meaning in your daily life? Check out our free tools for inspiration on how to control anxiety and curb negative thoughts.
What about you?
What have you discovered about yourself through naming your pain and plea?
What has the reality of your mortality revealed to you in these times? Want to continue to find meaning in your daily life? Check out our free tools for inspiration on how to control anxiety and curb negative thoughts.