Life and Death As States, Living and Dying As Processes - A Foundational Understanding
I do not fear death, and with good reason. Death, or being dead, is a state of being much as being alive is a state of being. There is no pain in death – I personally hold the position that death is a state of non-existence, with no consciousness carrying onward after brain death. However, should your philosophical take on the afterlife differ from my own that does not mean it is incompatible with the concept of life and death as states of being. Indeed, my aim in this article is to illustrate the concept of living and dying as processes and being alive or dead as states. This provides a foundational understanding of life and death and opens the floor for discussions of the meaning of life.
Processes vs States
I view living and dying as processes. You can be either living or dying, and either process can span the whole course of your life. It is also possible to switch back and forth between these processes, variously living and dying at different points in your life. When I refer to living and dying I am not necessarily referencing the physical condition of someone’s body. To live or to die is to live your life in either a positive or negative condition – to live in a positive condition means to be regularly experiencing a sense of fulfillment, to be content with your station in life and to feel secure in the knowledge that the way in which you are living your life is “right” for you. To live in a negative condition is the opposite – to feel as though the way you are living is “wrong”, to not be content and to struggle with finding meaning and purpose.
What is Living?
Living is the process of spending your time doing what you enjoy, doing what you were meant to do, or otherwise enjoying your existence and giving it a fulfilling purpose. To live is to exist in a state of contentment and at least relative joy. This process of living can take on many forms, differing greatly from individual to individual but the core concept remains the same – fulfillment and contentment with your path in life is living. To live is to fulfill yourself, to do right by the subtle voice in your head that protests when you attempt to force yourself into roles that you do not fit or to take actions that are not right for your being. Note that by “right action” I do not mean morally or ethically “right”. I accept the existence of individuals for whom the “right” thing to do for themselves often involves the abridgment of others rights or freedom. In this instance all that right or wrong refers to are actions that are either in harmony with or run counter to the essence of your being.
What is Dying?
In this conceptualization dying is nothing more than the opposite of living. To be dying means to be living your life in a way that provides no sense of fulfillment or purpose, to regularly perform actions that run counter to your being, to be constantly faced with a sense of emptiness and a general lack of joy. Those who live their lives with depression induced by externalities, who struggle to find purpose, and who feel as though their life has not even a veneer of meaning can be said to be dying. They exist in a negative condition, their being deprived of what it desires most.
What is Life?
Life, or being alive, is a state. To be alive one does not have to be “living”, as the term is used here. Here being alive can mean several things –
That the individual’s body is biologically functional and their brain is capable of sustaining a cognitive personality.
That the mind or spirit of an individual has not been irreparably crushed – their mind or spirit retains enough of its essential form that any damage done can be largely mended. In other words, the individual retains a unique and functional personality.
Breaking up the state of life in this way we can see how one may die in mind or spirit but live on biologically. Such individuals would, in common terms, typically be referred to as “broken”, “dead inside”, etc. The spirit and mind may die long before the body.
For the mind to be alive means that a unique and cognitive personality is being sustained. It is capable of exercising some degree of will, of learning, thinking, and carrying out actions.
For the spirit to be alive means that the animating force of the mind – that thing which rouses you to action and fuels drive and passion – is functioning and active.
What is Death?
Death is simply another state. The permutations of death are largely analogous to those of life – the mind, spirit, and body can all variously die, meaning they cease to function appropriately.
Death brings with it a vast emptiness, a void covering the totality of existence. With the death of the body or whatever vessel that sustains the mind and spirit comes the eternal sleep – an everlasting void in which there is no pain, pleasure, or any sensation at all. Indeed, death can be read here as the cessation of cognition.
Going further, death in mind means the personality has been largely destroyed and irreparably so. Death of the mind will often be tied to severe brain damage, as the human brain is the ultimate vessel of the mind and damage to the brain does not necessarily bring death to the body. However, death of the mind may also be induced by factors such as existing too long in the process of dying – the mind was allowed to wither and be stunted in its intellectual growth by personal inhibitions or externalities.
So too may the spirit suffer from this type of death. The spirit – the animating force that drives the mind to turn its gears and make some use of itself – can suffer the same fate as the mind if burdened by the negative state of dying for too long. Death of the spirit is likely more common than death of the mind (when separate from death of the body), and may be easily identified. Those individuals who cannot be roused into action or be made, by any method, to display outward passion and vigor may be said to have had their spirit crushed. Such individuals can still be perfectly cognitive – their brain supports the processes for complex thought and indeed the individual can likely carry them all out – but they lack the spirit to do so.
Those who have been struck by death of the spirit but not by death of the body or mind are not necessarily immobile heaps of humanity, unable to do so much as sustain themselves. Rather, these individuals have had the “fire” go out within them. While they may maintain employment and all other factors necessary to enable simple existence and bodily life they will never again find themselves enraptured by love, animated into action by courage or righteous zeal, dutifully following their passions, and so on.
Death of the mind on the other hand means the destruction of the individual personality. Those whose minds have crossed the threshold into death no longer display any meaningful degree of willful cognition – that is, if they remain at least minimally ambulatory and capable of the minimal degree of self-sustainment, it is only because the body is driven by the more primal functions of the brain. As mentioned earlier death of the mind is likely most commonly tied to death of the body or corporeal vessel, but it may be induced through excessive and continuous trauma as well.
Finally, death of the body is just that – cessation of biological function. Death of the body may well bring with it the death of the mind and spirit, but it remains a separate facet of death regardless.
Hopefully this writing will serve to create a foundational understating of life and death in those who have yet to solidly grasp the subject, as well as expand the concept of what living and dying truly mean. Limiting the definitions of living and dying to biological functions serves only to undermine efforts to improve people’s quality of life – if your body is living, then so are you – would say the cruel dictator, the indifferent employer, and so forth.