How to Survive the End of the World.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.  

— Anatole France

Sometimes I have epic nightmares about the end of the world.

There are three or four mental movies that are replayed in my dreams every couple of months: a tsunami, a zombie/alien attack, a world pandemic or a second ice age. In them, I’m always with someone whose face I can’t remember. We’re running away, hiding, whispering behind closed doors, looking everyone in the eyes, making quick life-or-death decisions and trying to be among the survivors.

When the dream starts collapsing and the labyrinth closes up on us, a quiet desperation builds up in my lungs like smoke without a fire, and a crescendo of every kind of feeling that’s ever passed through me turns into skin and bone. My chest is an auditorium with a full orchestra but the conductor is not me. The air seems to be made of bricks, and just when it becomes impossible to breathe, I wake up.

I’m surprised then to see that the world is still here, untouched, and no one is trying to kill me. Yet something is taken away with each dream and replaced with a gray unknown; and for a few breathless seconds, between my sleeping and waking, I’m suspended over the void like a puppet. I have no control, during this brief time, over the strings that are pulling me. All I can do is stare right into the black hole of my not being, and shake, like any inexperienced ghost.

I guess everyone’s a bit afraid of disappearing. Even as you spell “impermanence,” your heart is still beating and you can’t really tell what it’s like when it stops. But they promised you at birth that it will, it’s written all over your face — and it’s funny how everything we know about death is somehow still alive.

Oh we’re a funny species. Trapped between the past and the future, afraid of dying and even more terrified of living — our body in the Now and our mind in the Never or Always or Any Place but Here. Walking paradoxes of hope and decay, love and fear, passion and indifference. Who shall save us from this body of death?

Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief, if only my heart were stone.

— Cormac McCarthy

The issue with death, as we ironically “know it,” is that it’s not an actual state of being or a noun, but a metamorphosis, a verb. It’s just like love: a drastic change in our human configuration. We call it “death” because we can’t understand it. We fuel it with fear and illustrate it with ghosts, vampires, zombies and otherworldly creatures we made up, in an attempt to keep on breathing life into it.

Jack Kerouac said it best,

Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all.

It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect.

We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing.

It’s a dream already ended. There’s nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. 

— Selected Letters 1957-1969, The Portable Jack Kerouac

Death is Change. Change is Life. Life is You.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite.

— William Blake

It’s a cycle, a yin yang, the ouroboros, a day and a lifetime, a golden eternity of which you and I are a part. As such, we mustn’t be afraid of dying, of stars and planets or our entire constellation changing.

If anything, we should be scared of not dying, of remaining stagnant, obsolete, trapped inside our perception, stuck in our own skull, without the courage or the power to stand up and admit to ourselves that one of our suns may be setting, but it’s okay because the darkness can also be a song.

{Stephen King}

— Stephen King, The Stand

Two magical things happen when you understand and accept that death is change and change is life and life is you, and that you have died so many times, that you are constantly dying and that you will certainly keep on dying. It’s one thing to say it with your mouth, and another to let it simmer in your heart.

1. You begin to experience an intense desire, a deep hunger for life.

Overall, every color turns brighter, every bite tastes like your last meal, every step you take is a gift, ever breath — a second chance, every person — a god, every ground — a holy ground. The oversimplified, cheesy-fied “live every day like your last” becomes literal. Because it truly IS your last. It hasn’t happened before and it won’t happen again. Neither have or will you.

The profound realization that life is short, love is vast and time is now, reconnects you to your childish wonder and restores your biological animal joy. It highlights what truly matters and helps you let go of the non-essentials. It puts the ball back in your court as the author and main character of your book, rather than a tired extra trapped in someone else’s story.

As you align with your essence, you turn from survival to abundance, from victim to creator, because your start living from your true, eternal and unlimited nature, far greater than your self. As a result, a whole world of possibilities and synchronicities otherwise hidden from your view, begins to open up before your eyes. This is how a strong awareness of death as change brings you back to the present tense and fuels your creativity.

To look life in the face, to always look life in the face, and to know it for what it is, at last, to love it for what it is, and then to put it away. — Virginia Woolf

2. You begin to notice that death has always been a part of you and everything you’ve ever known.

It’s the offbeat of life. It’s a pause, a comma, a period. It’s the the space between your heartbeats, the night in your day, the wrinkles around your eyes, your body changing, the first time you were lied to, your children growing, your parents passing, your latest break-up, an accident, an illness, a sore throat, the smallest greatest loss — or just a quiet, deep and often painful realization that you are not the same as you were 24 hours, weeks or months ago. That the previous You didn’t make it. But that the current You survived.

In one of the most magical passages in literature, Hermann Hesse just gets you:

You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all…

It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

Wandering: Notes and Sketches

The worst enemy of life is not death, it’s stagnation.

Death moves. Even biologically speaking, an organism that we, the living, acknowledge as “beyond life” is still somewhat alive. Something IS still happening. Its cells are decomposing and its energy is recycled into a new configuration. Nature is always working. Only not in the ways we expect her.

So we must become friends with the transitory Sadness, a natural side effect of Change. And then let it evaporate for future rainy days.

Sadness is the inevitable taste of something breaking. It’s not the absence of Joy but the realization that everything is temporary. And while it is true that unhealthy attachment is the enemy of change, it’s also true that we cannot practice any type of love for any form of life, or have any profound human experience without some form of attachment.

Is Gravity attached to the Earth? Maybe. But it is also the glue that keeps us together. So if you’ve now falling through space, don’t brush away the sadness. It means you’re still alive.

Rainer Maria Rilke just emailed me this:

It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing.

That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, — is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.

We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens.

The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. {…}

And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. {…}

The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.

Letters to a Young Poet

Life and death, the notes and the silence, are like the keys of a big old piano. You need them both — the black and white, darkness and light, sad joy — to play your song.

It doesn’t really matter how frozen (or how sweaty) your fingers are, or out of tune your melody, how slow or fast your rhythm, how deep or shallow your breath, how painful or bright your chapter in this universal book we’re co-creating. As long as you keep playing, the music will go on.

Your world as you know it is constantly ending. You can’t resist, only exist. You won’t stay alive unless you learn how to die. There’s no escape other than through your own veins. You can’t run away, only along.

And every You at any given moment, will be the child that survived.

They say it’s the last song,
They don’t know us, you see,
It’s only the last song
If we let it be.

— Lars Von Trier, Dancer in the Dark

 

 

{END OF THE WORLD STARTS HERE}

 



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Comments

  1. “That the previous YOU didn’t make it. But that the current YOU survived.” Brilliant insight. Thank you for once again for blowing my mind.

  2. awwww i love this, and you! those dreams are crazy, right? but so amazing too… brilliant as usual 🙂

  3. Maria Font says:

    Andrea–i always feel as if you are happily crawling through all of my brain synapses–through either thought selection, song selection, quote selection, (it’s wild!). Hek, your entire family of authors have sat down with me for tea throughout this advenurous life of mine. I feel I have found a long lost twin in you–and I always say that about those I meet along Jack’s famous Road that are just fcking real and true and want their cup to be filled with life’s marrow all day long. Thank you, for being sO fcking you. For sharing this epic wisdom and prying our eyes open with your words. You can never know…. and all i can say is that you have truly imbued yourself in my favorite word: gratitude. Thank you for you. This article was just burning with so many things that have been hanging off of my thoughts of late. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the syncronicities. They keep my life real-er.

    • Andrea Balt says:

      Thank you so much for this lovely note, Maria! Made my evening. Wicked synchronicities, eh? We are definitely in each other’s head in some way. Like our dear Jack put it, “It’s all one vast awakened thing.” Welcome to the Golden Eternity! Fasten your seatbelts. You’ll be your own captain. 🙂

      Major e-hug attached. xoxo

  4. I think it’s mad that while we’re so afraid to die, we also long for it whenever we ask the world for a little peace. I suppose it’s an impermanent kind of death we wish to have but our minds can not truly ever be quietened unless for good.

    “Even as you spell impermanence, your heart is still beating”.. and just-perceptibly quicker most likely.

    It’s a liberation accepting death and one that I’m always remembering or forgetting.

    Thanks for the awesome post.

    • Andrea Balt says:

      I whole-heartedly agree. It’s liberating. And yet it’s hard to escape the paradox. Maybe we’re not used to this liberation and as such, afraid of it. Thank you for reading!

  5. Stop it with this amazing head fuck already. Why do these ink dribbles continue to do that? I love this piece. More. And Still. Re-read it a trillion zillion times since Lift Off and it keeps getting richer. Is that even possible? (Ok, I lied, maybe only a million re-reads…) Love Your whole ffffrraacking creatively maladjusted world Ms Balt. #MaxGratitude #InternMeRebelles. Tx

    • Andrea Balt says:

      Tony, you’re the funniest hashtagger on the Internet. 🙂 Glad it played with your mind. I recycled the intro into a new End of the World, more current than the previous ones. It’s a cycle, I suppose, this phoenix rising.

  6. “infinitely outward, ultimately inward – the space between atoms is distance among the stars / death is like being born, you never remember it” my first poem from 1998

    great post, so good

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