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Sooner or later we will all face death, can our feelings about the meaning of life help us?

Sooner or later we will all face death, can our feelings about the meaning of life help us?



My friend Jason once joked with me: "Even if our medical level has been improving, the mortality rate of humans is always constant-once per person."

Jason and I studied medicine together in the 1980s. Like everyone else in the class, we spend six years remembering everything that can make the human body go bad. We are working tirelessly on a textbook called "Basics of Pathology", which describes in detail every condition that can make a person's body deteriorate. Medical students can attribute every abnormal phenomenon in themselves to a certain disease, and it is not surprising that they are all rickets.

Jason's observations always remind me this: death (and disease) is an inevitable part of life. But sometimes it seems that our Western civilization has attempted to deny this. We pay for expensive medicines and surgery only to prolong the declining life of the last few years. From a larger picture, this seems to be a waste of our precious health resources.

Don't get me wrong, if I have cancer, heart disease or other life-threatening diseases, I will also use all medical resources I can get in vain. I value my life. Like most people, I see life as more important than anything else. But at the same time, I am like most of them. Unless the disaster strikes, I will not care too much about the value of my life.

Ross is another old friend of mine. When I was studying medicine, he was studying philosophy. At that time he wrote a short essay that had a profound impact on me, entitled "Death is a Teacher". This article tells me about life. If I want to enjoy it, the first thing I need to understand is that death is inevitable.

Bronnie Ware is from Australia. She talked to dozens of dying patients when she was a palliative nurse. Most of them only had the last few months of life. She recorded the last thing they regret. In Ware's recently published "TOP5 of the Last Regret", she described these regrets:

1. I hope that in the past I did not always follow the opinions of others, but lived according to my own ideas.
2. I hope I didn't work so hard in the past.
3. I hope I have the courage to express my feelings.
4. I hope I can keep in touch with my old friends.
5. I hope I used to make myself happier.

The awareness of death and the meaning of life are the primary concerns of German philosopher Heidegger. His research has inspired a group of existentialists including Sartre. Heidegger lamented that too many people waste their lives in group actions and forget their own truth. But in fact, Heidegger himself was not spared. For professional advancement, he joined the Nazi Party in 1933.

But regardless of Heidegger's shortcomings as a person, his thoughts had a profound influence on a large number of philosophers, artists, theologians, and many thinkers in later generations. Heidegger believes that Aristotle's claim to existence—the history of Western thought that has lasted for more than 2,000 years and influenced the development of scientific thinking—has fundamental flaws. Aristotle regards all beings, including human beings, as things that can be classified and analyzed, and their understanding of them is our understanding of the world. But as Heidegger argued in Existence and Time, before we start classifying things that exist, should n’t we ask this question first: who is it, or what is asking?

Heidegger pointed out that we, the questioner, are completely different from other beings—such as stones, oceans, trees, and birds—the objects of these questions. He created a special word for this kind of existence that can ask questions, can observe and pay attention to, Dasein. Simply translated as "being there". He coined the word "Dasein" because he thought that we had become immune to the words "individual" and "human" and lost our curiosity about our own consciousness.

Heidegger ’s philosophy still attracts a large number of people. They have seen the power of modern science to explain their personal experience: if a person realizes that his precious, mysterious, beautiful life will come to an end, he will How can one become a moral person who cares about others? According to Heidegger's thoughts, the realization that we are going to die has created us. Unlike stones and trees, it makes us long for a life worth going, and gives our lives meaning, purpose and value.

Western medicine based on Aristotle's thoughts regards the human body as a mere physical thing, so we can understand it by breaking it down and reducing it to various components. But Heidegger's ontology is the opposite. It puts human experience in the first place, and shapes the understanding of the world accordingly.

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma. As a doctor, I know how deadly this cancer is, but fortunately, the surgery seems to be successful, and I fully recovered (hopefully). At the same time, I am also lucky on the other hand. I have the knowledge that I have never had before, that is, I will die-even if it is not melanoma, it will be done by other things. Since then I have become a lot happier. For me, this acceptance of reality, the understanding of death, and the medical science that cures me are equally important because it reminds me to go every day. I don't want to experience that kind of remorse, Ware has heard countless times "I want to live as I want".

Most Eastern philosophical traditions recognize the importance of death consciousness for a good life. "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" is an important text of Tibetan culture. Paradoxically, the Tibetan people spend a lot of time living with death.

The great Eastern philosopher Siddhartha, who is known to the Buddha, realized that the end of life should be kept within the horizon. He regards desire as a source of suffering, and warns us not to be too greedy for pleasure, but to love others, commit to the peace of mind, and live in the present.


The last thing the Buddha warned the believers is: all things will eventually decline, and they need to work hard to find their own way of salvation! As a doctor, I always realize the fragility of human body, and death lurks around us. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, I always realized how empty it would be if a person did not have any sense of the meaning of life. A cognition of our own death, recognizing the limited and limited life we   value, seems contradictory, but it prompts us to seek — if necessary, to create — the meaning we so eagerly desire.

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