There is a taboo subject surrounding the death of certain people we know. It is the feeling of relief.
When acquaintances and relatives pass away who have in some way blighted our lives, either knowingly through abuse, or unconsciously through placing their own expectations upon us, can free us to explore many new possibilities. Feeling relief at the death of a parent whose disapproval or mockery we feared is an extremely common phenomenon, but to express it seems callous, and our feelings are often mixed, so we keep them to ourselves.
Sabine, a woman in her early sixties from Austria says, “My father was a tyrant. He terrorized my mother who died of a heart attack in her fifties, and beat my brothers. I was his golden girl, but he ruined my youth by spoiling our family life. We were constantly walking on eggshells. I moved to another country as soon as I was able, but his disapproval of the fact I had a child out of wedlock cast a shadow over my joy at being a mother. When he died I felt finally free.”
How can we advocate living past 100, even to 150 as Sonia Arrison suggests will soon be possible in her book 100+, when this might mean never being free of our parents, or of that ‘friend’ whom we find so difficult when she phones up, or of the boss who made us feel so small and whom we still occasionally see in town?
The question becomes even more pertinent when we examine the case of brutal dictators. However, this is not such a clear-cut problem, as Sonia Arrison argues: “In fact the longer a dictator lives the more likely it is he will create enemies and increase his vulnerability to being ousted and brought to justice.”
Indeed, this is what happened with the Nazis and what would have happened to General Pinochet. The recent Jimmy Saville case in the UK is also a good example. The victims of this pedophile never got justice since he died before his actions came to the attention of the press and the police. He could not even be stripped of his knighthood since individuals cease to hold the honour after death.
But what of the little dictators in the private sphere that blight the lives of people no one ever hears about? Those who may not commit actual crimes but whose bullying tactics for example, or emotional abuse keep their victims from happiness? We are talking of parents who continue a habit acquired in a child’s early years of using them as a scapegoat for the family’s problems – a trait common in narcissistic parents. We are talking about fathers who compete professionally with their sons, or sisters who adopt a sneering attitude to their younger siblings. We are talking also about neighbours-from-hell, CEOs with psychopathic traits and religious leaders with an iron grip on their followers. Death therefore brings freedom in dysfunctional families, and a new beginning in many social situations, so how can we square this with the drive to increase lifespan?
Life extension research more often than not focuses on genes and organ replacement, but it is our conviction that there is a spiritual dimension to living longer that is as important and probably more so. Stress avoidance and a positive attitude are part of this, but we would go further, and suggest belief that our health and vitality lies in our hands is an important factor in longevity. It depends on a mindful journey lasting a lifetime consisting in exorcising inner demons – negative emotions, trauma, life-weakening tendencies such as self-doubt, unworthiness, anxiety etc but also traits that harm others such as rage, violence, jealousy and bullying. Overcoming the mental trauma caused by these states of mind and unlearning these unhelpful thought patterns is the way to avoid the stress that causes DNA damage. A longer life offers more possibility for reconciliation and mutual understanding, but this is clearly never going to happen with some people. It is our belief the conquest of the lower self is the key to long life, and those individuals who have failed to master their minds and emotions (but who have nonetheless facilitated our spiritual growth) are unlikely to be on that path, and are therefore not candidates for unusually lengthy lives.
Bullies are necessary. They make us appreciate their opposite, they throw love, tolerance and empathy into a brighter focus; they help us develop wisdom and fortitude. However, they are unlikely to be in our lives forever.