Immortality Complex

Felice Rhiannon

In conversation with a friend a few days ago she dropped a phrase…”immortality complex”. She claims to have it, this dread dis-ease. While she and I do devote some time to the usual banter about aches, pains, and increasing attention to various diminishments, the bulk of our conversation is always about our inner life. So when she mentioned this complex, I asked if she, as a psychotherapist of many years, created the term.

She said that she had!

Imagine, that which is so much a part of the human psyche has remained without a name! Everything else has a name…table, chair, grass, building, car, anxiety disorder.

So what is this newly-named ‘thing’? By another name it could be called denial. It is the part of each of us that cannot comprehend what it is to be without awareness, to be without consciousness, to be without being. We know we will die, sooner or later, but we cannot imagine not being here. The knowledge is not the same as the knowing.

Reincarnation and near-death experiences aside, life goes on in this body, in this mind, in this sense of being. We may forget, and remember again things, past. We certainly create new memories each day, and new forgettings. We can add to our store of knowledge and skills. But we cannot comprehend the incomprehensible…the not being.

Many spiritual traditions encourage us to meditate on parts of the body, to become deeply aware of each arm, the belly, each leg, even each toe, to experience it in the present moment, alive now to prepare for death. In the Buddhist tradition there are profound meditations on death. Hindu and Buddhist monks meditate in cremation grounds. Jews are encouraged to be with death for periods of time after the passing of a close relative. Christians meditate on the death of Christ. Among Muslims, the Sufis tend to pay special attention to the issue of death. They are extremely and passionately attached to the contemplation on death. At the end of many yoga classes, what is called “final relaxation” is actually called shavasana, the corpse pose. It is as close as we come to experiencing our death while we breathe.

And yet, we can’t truly know our own death.

Felice Rhiannon is a Onespirit Minister and spiritual counselor in Great Britain.  She can be reached at