When I was done dying, my conscious regained So I began the struggle, a nothingness strained - Dan Deacon
This is a story of my two deaths. Growing up, I was thrice relocated: kindergarten, grade four and grade nine. Each move required that I reinvent my character. Traumatic, but not death. I was much alive!
In Elementary School, I was the class clown of the third grade. You could never coax me into being still. I would leap to make people laugh, to joke, make a silly noise or a funny impression. But when I changed schools in grade four, that changed.
I arrived at my new school the me that I had been. I was the gregarious, hilarious, obnoxious, tenacious and wild-haired boy. I started off with a bang. I adored the role of the ‘new kid’. But the reality of the pack, of the hidden cruelty of hierarchal younglings, would soon present itself.
One day a much larger boy, known for his size and passion for Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, approached me. He had a smaller, smirking, freckle-faced crony at his side.
“Tell me a joke,” he demanded.
Not one to shy away from an opportunity to conjure a smile, I performed the most impressive joke from my repertoire. The sure thing.
“…That was not funny…”
A torturous, awkward silence followed.
“Now [OTHER_BOY] - you tell me a joke.”
He tells a joke. The intimidating Brazilian guffaws. A hearty and earnest chuckle rumbles from his belly.
“Well, it looks like you are not funny. [OTHER_BOY] is really funny.”
And so it was. Death to the funny boy. But being funny is who I am! If I am not the funny boy, then which boy am I? Over time, I learned to become different boys. I became the computer boy, the gaming boy, the story-telling boy, the hockey boy, the sad, alone and depressed boy. Each time I shed my skin. My essence, re-shaped. I grew, as kids do. Traumatic, but not yet my first death.
In 2009, I was three years removed from High School. More a man than a boy, but still ever-changing in the confusion of early adulthood. As reproductive and social strategies failed, newer, bolder ones would arise to take their place. Over and over. Until one day everything changed.
Throughout a whirlwind of uninspired, unfocused and uninteresting attempts at post-secondary education, I went through a series of moves. I relocated from my family home, to a shared townhome, back into my family home, into a different townhome, into a basement suite and then into a family-friends place. Until - at long last - my own apartment with a room-mate.
My things were moved within an hour. My car was parked out front, my mattress plunked on the floor, my clothes arranged in the closet, my computer on the desk. I stepped into the shower. I started washing my hair. And then I broke into pieces.
A personality is what we show to the world. It is us, our self: me, I. The personality, the self, is our story of who we believe ourselves to be. How are our personalities created? Through experiences, through time.
The beautiful machine of gray matter within our skull computes this self-narrative with impressive consistency. At all times it creates presence, an abiding belief that you are you, a living thing, whole, attached, here, relevant — alive! It is vast and powerful, yet not immune to failure. In the shower that day, for me, the system crashed.
In an instant, there was no character. There was no self. No personality. No I. A recursive mess of madness; self-references, referencing self-references which lack definition. Stack level too deep. The primitive gears in my mind remained alert: panic, horror, flight. Something is wrong. The system is offline. I sat on the floor of the shower, water pelting my head.
Where am I? Who am I? I… I know my name. I am me. I went to this school and I was… Funny? No, I was. But I had to stop. I was… athletic? No, that was my brother. I was… smart? But what do I know? I know nothing. Who is talking? Who is thinking? What is thinking? What is talking?
I remained there for what felt like an eternity. There was no time. I had no answers to these questions. There remained only a strange sense of observation and dire screams from my animalistic senses.
As the weeks went by my mind started to return to normal. But the operating system had changed, a fundamental alteration to the underlying source code. I now understood the existence of consciousness, separate from the idea of personality, of me.
I had heard about these moments from books and meditative teachings. But the experience was pure, harrowing madness. It was psychosis. I had experienced death of the self. This was my first death.
After death comes rebirth. I moved into my own apartment. I explored music. I worked on my mental health. I kept meditating. I changed every relationship I had and became the sole owner of my life, responsible for writing and participating within my own narratives. This journey of self re-authoring culminated in an experience with Ayahuasca, a powerful Amazonian Entheogen.
I needed help creating a better self, telling a better story. I understood the impact that Entheogen like Ayahuasca can have on neurological plasticity.
Plasticity is the brains ability to change, to establish new relationships, to soften. I made progress against depression through a methodical re-working of my mental patterns: meditation and mindfulness, exercise, a healthy diet, better relationships and time.
But there was a knot. It was bleak, heavy and often afflicting. A black mass. An error, deep in the code. I felt it time for the code to be re-written.
In the Amazon, I watched the entire program unfold. I saw the methods that inform the unfathomable depth and distance of time and space. I felt eternities pass. I met the programmer. I fell apart again. The error found, the bug eradicated. Something new was written. This was my second death. And it was my second chance at rebirth.
If behind your personality lies your experiences, then what lies behind experience? An experience is a narrative that includes sense - touch, sound, taste, smell and sound - and feeling: emotion and reaction. The personality has experiences and experience has Truth.
Truth is the observer. It witnesses you - your personality, your idea, your narrative - unfold as an expression of time, from outside of time. Truth exists beyond what eyes can see and a mind - a self - can compute. Death is your imaginations best interpretation of Truth.
The self can die to madness. It can die to Entheogen. It can die to deep meditation. It can die as all will do. My third death, whenever it may come, could be the final death. From it, I may not return. But fear not, for it is only the self that is destroyed. The spirit forever remains within Truth.