Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Is Man Related to Something Infinite?

That is the telling question of life.

R Collier
Source: R Collier

The one absolute certainty so far as each one of us is concerned is that, inevitably, at some point in time, we are going to die.

Now it is not my intention to be morbid here about this unassailable ‘fact of life’: after all, there’s not much point in worrying gloomily and incessantly about the inevitable. But one can ruminate philosophically about it – as mankind seems to have done from the beginnings of prehistory…. witness the Shanidar Cave burials in northern Iraq –roughly 60,000 years ago – where pollen grains of flowers of the region were found in the fossilized chest cavities of the dead. Flowers…. as part of a burial rite. And, supposedly for similar reasons, we continue to use flowers today in burial rituals – serving as both a memorial to the deceased, and symbolically supporting the hope of life’s continuance in some spirit-form or another. For flowers die off in the Winter cold, and return newly-clad in the Spring’s warmth. Consequently, flowers at the grave can work as comforting symbols And even if we cremate the body, in Western culture at least we still commonly mark the event with flowers for the bereaved – be it a symbolic single bloom or a bouquet.

I have only once laid flowers on an old friend’s grave, and still remember muttering automatically ‘see you soon…’ as I did so!

Historically, in many of the world’s religions, flowers have been used to memorialize the deceased and ‘send them on their way’, so to speak. The chrysanthemum , for example, is the traditional flower of mourning in the East, particularly in Japan. Yet, after some likely 60,000 years of possessing a general awareness of death and burial as the end of life as we know it – while nevertheless expressing an uncertain hope for some form of continuity as indicated through the use of flowers in the Shanidar burials – wouldn’t you think that human consciousness would have evolved sufficiently to have us avoiding, if not outlawing warfare…. because of all the unnatural deaths ­that result? At least let us stay alive to experience whatever natural longevity is our lot… and then pin our last hope on the chrysanthemum… on the continuity of spirit it symbolized.

For we are all, lest we forget, ‘in the same boat’ so far as our brief span of existence is concerned. And I find myself wondering why it is – bearing in mind this ultimate fate we all share – that some thread of conciliation…. of a mutual humanistic and sympathetic awareness of the ultimate death we all share in the end (despite our varying faiths and beliefs), would not have prevailed to prevent us killing each other…. whether it be in wars or acts of terrorism…. seen as solutions to the range of collective beliefs and racial attitudes that characterize our species.

And with scientists talking about cosmic events that took place millions of light-years ago, it should give us pause for reflection concerning such ego-driven judgemental – even ‘religious’ – death-dealing hostility, when we consider the absolute brevity of a human lifespan.

Carl Jung, that eminently wise, and hugely successful psychological healer, writing in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), answered all the questions and concerns I am raising here in a couple of sentences.

The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not?

That is the telling question of life.