The Illusion of Outwitting Death

Arab Marketplace - Giuseppe Gabani

Once upon a time in a Baghdad marketplace, there was a servant who bumped into Death himself. Terrified, the man dropped his purchases and ran home on foot. When he arrived, he breathlessly begged his master, “Please, may I borrow your fastest horse? I met Death in the marketplace, and he gestured like he was about to take me, so I ran back here as fast as I could. I must escape from him!” The master said, “Take my fastest steed, and perhaps you can outrun Death tonight. Flee to Sammara, for he will never find you there.” The servant thanked him profusely, and galloped off at breakneck speed toward the village of Sammara, which was many hours away. The master then went to the marketplace, and when he saw Death, he asked, “Why did you threaten my poor servant when he was here earlier today?” Death replied, “I wasn’t threatening him. I was just shocked to see him, that’s all. You see, I was expecting to meet up with him tonight—in Sammara.”

Like the frightened servant, we desperately try to outrun our demise and deny its inevitability. We keep ourselves very busy, with an endless agenda of important tasks, reasoning that if we leave enough items pending, the end won’t find us and interrupt our very significant work. “My company could never survive without me,” we say, or “Everything would fall apart in this family if I weren’t on top of it all.” We can’t bear to go to the corner to mail a letter without our cell phone in hand—if we’re not available to other people every second of the day, we’d have to admit that the earth will indeed continue to rotate without us.

– Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream the World into Being by Alberto Villoldo

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