Dare to Live

Arnaud Desjardins


One day, as I was answering a question on the subject of death, the following words came to me: "You are not afraid of death, you are afraid of life." Thinking over that response, I realized how true it was. Our fear of death is all the greater when we have not dared to live. In fact, if you stop fearing life, you can no longer fear death because you will have discovered within yourself what life really is. (Not your own life, but the unique and universal life that nourishes us.) And it becomes obvious that such life is independent of birth and death.

Westerners commonly consider life to be the opposite of death, but Orientals consider birth to be the opposite of death. For them, life expresses itself through a movement of perpetual change: an uninterrupted play of death and birth. Many spiritual paths share this conviction. My own "guru," Swami Prajnanpad, gave simple examples to illustrate this: the birth of the child is the death of the baby; the birth of the adolescent is the death of the child.

Daring to live means daring to die at each moment. But it also means daring to be born daring to pass through important stages in life where the person you used to be dies, in order to make room for someone with a new view of the world (assuming that there are various levels before the ultimate level of Awakening). It is a case of being more and more aware that each moment you are born and you die, you die and you are reborn.

To put it simply, daring to live also means no longer having the slightest fear of what we feel. I am sure that many of you agree with me, especially those who have begun to discover what lies within their own unconscious. You are afraid of what you bear inside because you cannot fully count on yourself; you know from experience that you tend to get yourself into situations which you end up bitterly regretting. But you are also afraid of what you carry inside because each of you, as a child, has experienced situations where the way you expressed yourself was brutally contradicted. Your joy of living, high spirits or fervor led to catastrophe when you found yourself being severely reprimanded for something you had been so happily doing.

Perhaps through therapy you had the chance to re-experience how bewildered you were to see your parents overcome with anger, when you had been having so much fun cutting up the best curtains in the house with a big pair of scissors. I once used the shoes of everyone in my family for boats in the bathtub. My parents didn't have much money at the time and there weren't very many shoes in the closet, but there were enough for me to float. Although that sounds quite harmless, it was an incident I re-experienced with tragic intensity between my mother's despair, my father's severity, and my own shattered happiness. I couldn't understand why something that had been such fun had upset my mother so much. She was convinced that all the shoes in the house were completely ruined.

It often turns out that something which was a small incident in the eyes of the parents was actually a terrible event in the eyes of the child we once were. A fear of what we are capable of very quickly takes hold of us. From then on, unless our parents are particularly careful, we ourselves start to smother our own life force. We start repressing our vital impulses. Then, as both psychology and self-observation show us, our discovery of the sexual world often takes place in an atmosphere of uneasiness, misunderstanding, and a certain guilt that accompanies childish masturbation. The urges which arise in us during adolescence, which cannot always be satisfied as we would wish, leave us troubled and lost. We no longer completely accept the very powerful life force or libido within us. Hence, in a world of increasingly free moral standards, where there are enormous possibilities for self-expression and many opportunities to travel, the majority of you no longer dare to live fully. And once you no longer completely assume the life force within you, you begin to fear death. But the fear of death is an illusion; do not be bothered by the fear of dying. What is really important is to free yourself from the fear to live.

There are two faces to this fear of living: one is the fear of what is inside us; the other is the fear of concrete situations and of the consequences they can bring about. Very quickly, our fear of living turns into a fear of suffering. We feel that it is better to live less, so as to suffer less. Look inside yourself; see what is there; ask yourself if this is how you feel. Private interviews and group meetings with those who come here to our center have shown me how true this is. You are afraid to live because to live means to take the risk of suffering. This fear is rooted in past experience, which showed you that the more you lived, the more unhappy you became. Not only because your enthusiasm may have led you to put shoes into the bathtub but because when you fell in love at the age of eighteen, you ended up suffering so much. Consequently, a certain decision tends to surge up inside sometimes unconsciously, sometimes quite consciously I don't want to suffer like that any more." Now that is a very fine decision to make but it leads to another one which is totally false, "so I will never love again" or "so I will never put myself into dangerous situations again." The fact is you must realize that if you commit yourself to the path of knowledge, if you want to gradually pierce the secret of suffering, it is essential to take the risk of living and of suffering.

Your childhood vitality and perhaps even your exuberance often brought about rebuke. You heard statements like, "You shouldn't do that!" or "How dare you do that!" And so this vitality or exuberance became associated with value judgments. Spiritual teachings also seem to greatly condemn the richness of life; they recommend asceticism, austerity, renouncing the world, going into monasteries or hermits' caves and to top it all off, "death to oneself" or "the death of the ego." I personally was quite surprised to see an austere man like Swami Prajnanpad insist so strongly on the importance of daring to live, laying oneself open and rolling with the punches. It did not seem to go along with my understanding of Hindu spirituality. Yet there is a real risk here, one that I barely escaped on numerous occasions. It consists in trying to camouflage one's fear of living behind noble but untrue words. And so you fight against a feeling of suffocation in relation to your desire to lead a vast and full life, one rich in experience. We run the risk of deluding ourselves by turning our spiritual ideals into an excuse for our fear to live.

Arnand Desjardins, formerly a well known film-maker, is an eminent French spiritual teacher, widely respected in his own country as the author of numerous books on spiritual life.