Mortality: Be Prepared

I, sebastian hayes, being of sound mind do hereby on this day August 16 2006 commence this blog not knowing what I shall put on it nor who will read it.

K.W. came over mid-morning to go through with me parts of my book on Rimbaud (translation of A Season in Hell with Notes and extended Commentary).

Got onto talking of death, or rather preparing for it. I mentioned that often during the Middle Ages people who lived long enough (and perhaps could afford it) would retire from active life to a monastery to ‘prepare themselves for the next world’, as apparently some people still do in India (husband and wife may go to neighbouring ashrams). There is apparently a medieval book called The Art of Dying. It is, I believe, about hedging your bets so you manage to get into Paradise or at least Purgatory. “But for the modern society,” I said, “there’s just a brick wall. No one wants to talk about it”.

The idea of preparing yourself is not at all stupid or morbid necessarily and indeed I am starting to do this now, even though as far as I know I am in good health mental and physical. Feel strong urge to ‘leave everything in order’ as much as possible and this means getting my ideas in order, sifting through twenty or thirty years of odd writings. Also, putting right some of the bad things I did in my youth inasmuch as it is possible, like sending this cheque (for £500) to the man in the bookshop in Paris who lent me money when I was down and out there years and years ago. Maybe he’s forgotten who I am, and I don’t think he needs the money particularly but that’s not the point. This is not done in any spirit of acquiring merit, but sort of in a spirit of cleaning up, housekeeping, putting things in order.

It is not a question of fearing what happens next, punishment &c. but simply beginning to look at death, or what is after death, the Great Unknown (which yet in some sense we know). Sex has something regressive in it – I speak as a male heterosexual – it is concerned with where we came from (the womb), not where we are going although ultimately the two are the same, I suppose. Camille Paglia rightly pointed out that there is something “infantile about contemporary male sexuality”. Whatever is on the other side there will not be any sex because no physical body.

I’ve done a few interesting things but, basically, I reckon I’ve spent my life thinking about the meaning of life and in the end I’ve not come to any great conclusions….”

But five minutes later I contradicted myself and said,

S.H. “Actually, I do feel I’ve reached some conclusions.”

K.W. “Like what?”

S.H. “Oh what the whole thing is. Mixture of theism and pantheism. There is no creator God, no personal deity in the usual sense. But there is not simply ‘Nature’ – Nature is a thing of the past. There is just one entity which has always existed and always will and everything physical, and intellectual as well for that matter, is just passing patterns on this backdrop.”

K.W. “Like ripples?”

S.H. “Froth, more precisely. Because froth doesn’t last long and disappears without a trace. Surprisingly, there was an article on quantum gravity in the New Scientist last week which read exactly like a mystic tract. The cover title was “You are made of Spacetime, Our Ultimate Origins Revealed”. [Yes, it really said this, 12 August 2006]. Inside, the title of the article was “Out of the Void”. It was basically arguing that what we call matter, elementary particles, are not ‘things’ but ‘braids’ or tangles of empty space. These tangles will disappear one day. Where do they go to? Nowhere. Back to the origin. But you’re not particularly into this sort of stuff.”

K.W. “No, but maybe you should keep on with this. Write about it.”

S.H. “Yes, I think you’re right. That’s what I’m most concerned about. Of course, the difference between these people writing about quantum loop gravity and my position is that they don’t believe — or don’t say so if they do — that one can have knowledge of this underlying substratum, call it God, the Tao, Brahman, Ain Soph, the Void, K. But the testimony of the mystics across the world, and they say very much the same thing, is that you can have knowledge of K inasmuch as this is possible for physical beings. It is a truth of experience, almost but not quite a physical experience. Actually, about two months or so ago I got a very strong sense of this, but it’s very fragile, elusive…. It’s gone already, although maybe it’s coming back a little bit. I do actually start the day with a sort of hymn or invocation I’ve had to write myself [“Hymn to Aoulllnnia”].”

K.W. “Carry on.”

S.H. “Only thing is we must be quite clear about what this theory/experience does not do. It does not, and cannot, justify the details of any organised religion though it is maybe the substratum of all religions and why people still go back to religion in this scientific age. More particuarly, it doesn’t have any morality attached to it, doesn’t tell you what to do. In the past I may have thought that an advantage but I don’t now, we need some sort of rules of behaviour. Of course, this is the criticism that was levelled at Taoism : that it relied entirely on spontaneity, didn’t give rules of what to do in life. Yes, I do want to get this stuff across, but how?”

K.W. “You should maybe mix in the ideas with autobiographical passages, that would make better reading.”

There is the general point though that as you get older you find everyone around you is dying — and you don’t expect this. Almost you’re indignant!

K.W. had on another occasion mentioned a record from the sixties with the line,  “I want to die before I’m 30”.  And he went on, “We sat there saying, Yea, great, man, great. Who the hell would want to be that old?” And most of the singers who sang such songs  and the blokes who listened to them, saying, “Great!” are still around.

On this note I sign off S.H.


Blogger Myra said…
i have been very much aware of my own mortality from a very young age. Convent educated from the age of 4 it was very much impressed upon us that we must try and live in a “state of grace” in case we should suddenly die and be condemmed to eons in Purgatory or even worse an eternity in Hell. Consequently I lived my life in a state of vicarious anxiety enjoying the sinful bits but also experiencing the terror of the possibility being deprived of life whilst luxuriating in my state of sin.
From the age of 7 I grew to recognise the face of The Angel Of Death I grew to know his soft footfall by the time I was twentysix I faced up to and became comfortable with the fragility of my own Mortality. I am no longer fearful of Azrael’s soft footfall because it is an inevitability that I cannot escape from – and would not wish to do so. In my job I tread in his foot steps on a daily basis. We none of know when the moment will come that we will look into his eyes but being prepared – either by orhaving organised our earthly affairs or girding our spiritual self is certainly something that we should all do.
 Blogger Mary Murphy said…
Hello to my friend RM. Since turning 50, I have had some of the same thoughts about my mortality — that I should get organized, clean up my home office and not leave a mess behind for my loved ones to have to deal with. Some times I panic about doing everything I want to in the dwindling time left to me.
I just attended a funeral today, so it seems ironic to read this blog today. I alternate between panic and a peaceful calm belief that death is very natural and we should embrace it as some kind of forward momentum. I love your idea about some kind of substratum or continuum. I find that energizing and hopeful.
Look forward to reading more.
Blogger Josefine said…
When young, people tend think of sex a lot; and when getting older it is natural for them to think a lot about death. Preparing for dying is a healthy thing to do, to think about it, discuss it with close family and friends. Where would you want to die? How would you like to ideally die? How do you want to be cared for when you are dying? What kind of funeral would you want for yourself? All these questions are good material for discussion and sharing. Apart from the obvious practical benefit, to know what your loved one wishes are in the event of their death and to making your own wishes known, it is a great way to bring into focus that our time here is terminal and we need to make the most of it whilst we are still here.
If you are interested in learning more about this, about how to prepare for dying, how to organise an environmentally friendly funeral with or without a funeral director, find out what the choices are, get inspired by other people’s stories and look through a huge directory of useful contacts and advice, etc. I recommend you read the latest edition of the Natural Death Handbook, available directly, with update sheets, from the Natural Death Centre 02073598391. Or you can call the NDC helpline for free advice over the phone 0871 288 2098. You can also look up the NDC website for upcoming workshops and events: or email me:

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