Sitting in the Fire:
Whose Death Is It, Anyway?
by Cat Saunders
What is to give light must endure burning.
I don't know whether I give light, but I definitely endure burning. As a writer, it's part of the game to take hits from people. I don't mind objections to my ideas, but personal attacks are another matter. It seems that my writing about death is particularly re-stimulating for people, so the tendency to "kill the messenger" runs high when the message is death.
I'll probably never develop a thicker hide to deal with people's attacks on my character. I'm a cat, not an elephant.
To gain the protective benefits of a thicker skin, I'd have to sacrifice the exquisite sensitivity of my thin skin. That doesn't interest me. Instead, I go straight into whatever pain arises within me, and I sit in its fire until the flames transform me.
This style may seem melodramatic to some people, but for me, it's about survival. I wrestle with every shadow-form not because I'm a glutton for punishment, but because I'm a glutton for growth. Every nugget of pain holds a jewel within it, if I have the guts to look inside.
So look inside I do whenever someone gets my goat. Since my Achilles' heel is to feel pain when I'm not seen, and since many readers don't see me accurately, you can imagine that I get plenty of opportunities to sit in the fire.
Never has this been truer than now, since I began writing about my predestined death.
Fortunately, I practiced telling people about my death timing privately before I came out publicly. Over three years' time, with about fifty different people, I shared the news that I'm likely to die in the year 2009, at the age of 55 (send SASE to The New Times for my January 1998 essay about this).
Of those fifty people, everyone's response was unique. While I cherish the support of those who responded with respect, those who reacted with fear, criticism, or disdain also helped me grow.
The following sections address people's common objections to my work with predestined death. Although people's comments always reveal more about them than about me, the comments nonetheless provide valuable grist for the mill. If my death work helps people sit in the fire of the big questions, then my sacrifice of privacy will be worthwhile.
You're giving your power away!
For those of you who missed the January essay, here's a brief synopsis. In May of 1995, with my permission, a former monk and Vedic master of death prediction performed extremely complicated calculations to discover my predestined life span.
It's important to understand two things about this. First, Rishi (not his real name) is one of very few people in the world who has extensively studied the Vedic science of death prediction, which is based on Hindu texts that are thousands of years old. Second, something extraordinary happened when Rishi gave me the information.
When I first heard my age at death, my body exploded in agreement. I felt like I was shot through with 20,000 volts of electricity. It was as if Rishi was reminding me of something my body already knew.
When I share this story, some people say I'm "giving my power away," but if I'm giving my power away, I'm giving it to myself. Although I have deep respect for Rishi and his discipline, it's my body I'm trusting, not someone else's calculations. After all, Rishi is a human being, and he could have made a mistake.
The point is, if it wasn't for my body's validation of the 55-year life span, Rishi's prediction wouldn't mean a damn thing to me. I've said this repeatedly, but some people just don't get it.
You shouldn't talk about your death. It upsets people!
Before I decided to come out publicly, I used to wait until people were ready before I told them about my death prediction. However, death work excited me more than anything, so it felt strange to "protect" people from information that was so transformative for me. I felt like I was holding a dazzling light, and people shied away for fear of being blinded.
Eventually, I realized that it's not my job to worry about who can or can't handle my death prediction. It's not that I'm callous about people's fear. It's just that I got to the point where respect became caretaking, and caretaking is an energy suck.
If I coddle people by hiding my work with death, then I'm treating them as if they are wimps who can't handle strong feelings. That's caretaking. If instead I share my truth, trusting others to find theirs, it means I believe they are powerful and capable. That's respect.
You're just trying to get attention by talking openly about your death!
Believe me, I can think of better ways to get attention than this. Exposing my sacred death work to the brutality of a judgment-spewing public is not my idea of a good time. Even when people are respectful, it's not easy to let people see me naked, so to speak.
I don't write about my death so you can focus on me. In fact, I wish you wouldn't. I write about my death because I have to, to be true to myself. Beyond that, I write about my death so you will think about your death. If you think otherwise, you've missed the point!
If you really think you won't die until 2009, why don't you pig out on junk food or step in front of a Mack truck and see what happens?
Personally, I take care of myself because I love myself, because I want to be compassionate with my body, and because I want to enhance the quality of my life. Prolonging longevity is not my motivation for self-care. Self-care is my motivation for self-care. In regard to the truck, it's possible for me to impose my will on my destiny by committing suicide before 2009. However, I want to use my will to follow my destiny, not control it. Besides, if I step in front of a truck, I might live, but be totally mangled. That's a high price to pay for a game of truth or dare.
It doesn't matter when you'll die. You should act as if you could die anytime!
I've been following this "act as if" rule since I was 12, when my best friend died suddenly. If that rule had been enough to get me where I wanted to go, it would have done so by now, but it wasn't enough. Besides, it's only a trick to keep me awake and aware. This is valuable, but real death is not about tricks. If I imagine I could die anytime, yet I'm busy making plans and restocking groceries, who am I fooling? Certainly not death. Frankly, I think it's rather arrogant for people (who don't know their death timing) to insist that foreknowledge of death doesn't matter. This is like a virgin saying that sex is no big deal. It's easy to say something doesn't matter if you've never tried it.
You're crazy if you want to die at 55!
I want to die when it's time for me to die. As it happens, my time is likely to arrive at age 55. Although many people get plugged in when I talk about my predestined death, I doubt they'd get nearly as upset if I said I was due to die at 120.
Most people in this culture assume that long life is desirable, and so-called short life is tragic. Apart from the fact that such a view is incredibly judgmental, it is also very limited.
For one thing, it ignores the soul. For all I know, I could be a very old soul, so 55 years on top of countless lifetimes means I'm absolutely ancient, bordering on decrepit. Who can say?
Even if reincarnation is hogwash, and my soul is a figment of my imagination, I still get sick of people telling me I must be crazy, depressed, or fatalistic to accept a life span of 55 years. Where do they get off telling me how I should feel about my life? Whose death is it anyway?
Destiny is a bunch of bunk. You're creating your own death!
It astonishes me when people tell me that I will create my own death at 55 merely by believing in the prediction.
News flash! There are bigger forces in the universe than my own mind!
People who say things like that would never impose their religious or political prejudices on me, but they seem to think nothing of imposing their philosophy of free will.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sure there are people who could obsess themselves to death at the mere suggestion of a probable life span. It happens all the time in the medical world. But even in these cases, could you prove that someone's point of departure wasn't also his or her predestined time of death?
At any rate, I assure you that people who believe I'll obsess myself to death are people who don't truly know me. In addition, it's obvious that such people don't respect any perspective other than their own "create your own reality" bias.
Let me give you a blatant example. A while back, I shared my death essay with a former mentor. His response included this statement: "I suspect you will be accurate not that I accept the metaphysical underpinning of being able to predict the future, but rather that I respect very much your ability to manifest your vision of your fate."
Can you see how cleverly he slipped my predestined death into his own belief system? He even used the word "respect," though I felt more slimed than respected.
His response shows that "create your own reality" buffs need not be threatened by the idea of predestined death. If I die at 55, they can say I created my death at that time. If I don't die at 55, they can say, "See? Destiny really is a bunch of crap!"
To be fair, my own belief in destiny can withstand scrutiny of the same kinds of mental masturbation. If I die at 55, it will prove my point. If I don't die at 55, there must have been a cosmic wild card at play.
Either way, no one will know but God, and God's not talking. Humans continue to bicker about destiny and free will. Meanwhile, death laughs at us all.
This is the fifth in a 13-part series of essays and interviews about death, written by Cat Saunders exclusively for The New Times.
The illustration is from Deborah Koff-Chapin's SoulCards, available at bookstores or by calling (800) 989-6334.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D. is the author of Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook (due out soon).