In this opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an "awakening experience"—a dream, or loss the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home , illness, trauma, or aging. Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.

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This being tells you that you are going to have to live your life again — exactly as you have already lived it. You will make the same choices, suffer the same pains, say the same words.

Everything will be identical. This will not only happen once, but again and again and again on into eternity. Do you wail and gnash your teeth? Or do you think that would be just fine? Psychiatrist Irvin D. And he adds: The idea of living your identical life again and again for all eternity can be jarring, a sort of petite existential shock therapy. It often serves as a sobering thought experiment, leading you to consider seriously how you are really living.

This scenario is like shock therapy, he writes, because it makes a person look at what his or her life is like at the moment. Is it relatively happy? Relatively fulfilling? Or dry and frustrating? After leading a long life as an emotionally gnarled skinflint, Scrooge endures three dreams during the night of Christmas Eve, and wakes up vowing to turn over a new leaf.

Those dreams were, Yalom writes, a form of existential shock therapy or, as I shall refer to it in this book, an awakening experience. The Ghost of the Future The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come visits Scrooge and delivers a powerful dose of shock therapy by offering him a preview of the future. Scrooge observes his neglected corpse, sees strangers pawning his belongings even his bed sheets and nightdress , and overhears members of his community discuss his death and dismiss it lightly.

He can change it — and, Dickens writes, he does. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world…. And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. He writes that, often, psychological problems can arise at the time a person is approaching or passing a life milestone — going to a school reunion, for instance, or sitting down to do estate planning, or turning 50 or some other major age signpost.

What these milestones have in common is that they are reminders that we are moving along the road of life, and the end of that journey is death. As a therapist, Yalom works with clients to recognize the reality of death, but not to wallow in fear. But, in facing that memory and facing his own eventual demise, the client made far-reaching changes in himself: he stopped drinking cold turkey without reliance on a recovery program , vastly improved his relationship with his wife, quit his job and entered the business of training seeing-eye dogs — a profession that offered meaning by providing something useful to the world.

It itches all the time; it is always with us, scratching at some inner door, whirring softly, barely audibly, just under the membrane of consciousness.

Hidden and disguised, leaking out in a variety of symptoms, it is the wellspring of many of our worries, stresses, and conflicts. Not only that, but, earlier this year, he published a second book about death Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy in which he tells the stories of ten clients facing death-related issue.

And again tells about his own fears around death. On June 13, he turned Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour. Indeed, life in that rocking cradle, notes Yalom, is terribly painful for each of us.

He sees all such beliefs as misguided and self-deceiving. Nonetheless, even those who believe in heaven or reincarnation or something else after death have to acknowledge that such faith is faith. In other words, it is not something that can be proven. This is our only time through. There will be no do-over. And, despite his disbelief in an afterlife, Yalom does suggest that there are ways in which we continue to live on — for good or for ill.

Patrick T.


Book review: “Staring at the Sun — Overcoming the Terror of Death” by Irvin D. Yalom



Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death


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