What is important about “facing death” and not setting up a wall of compromise, as an attempt to keep death at bay? Because, by facing death one steals Eros from it. Every too cautiously taken step, every compromise between self-determination and safety concedes some ground to death. Such concessions have as their assumption the feeling that practical compromise with the status quo is necessary to protect one’s very basic level of existence.
By means of such conventional responses, a form of life continues — but the content of that life becomes eroded, lacking in vitality. So it is by facing death square on (actually, facing our fears about death) we can force it to give up to us our life force, that our fear of death would otherwise squander.
Personally, I confronted my fears of annihilation as punishment for nonconformity when I had reached a point of consciousness that allowed me to experiment with some metaphysics. I didn’t like a pit of snakes I had fallen into — by which, I mean the kind of human company I had been forced to keep in order to earn a living. I wanted a way out, but I feared that there was some weakness to my character that was holding me back.
In facing death, I weighed the two sides of the matter. One side was the possibility of life continuing in the way it had been going. This had the fear of authority hanging over me, compelling me to timid compromise. I was caught between what I wanted to do and what the authorities wanted to make me do. On the other side was my fear of death (a fear that if I disobeyed the authorities, I would surely die). I held the two against each other, and I weighed them. The burden of a repressed life force turned out to weigh more heavily on me than my fear of facing death.
At that point, I stated “no” with my whole being. As I did so, I paused to see what was the worst thing that could happen. What would my authorities dish out for me? At first nothing happened. Over time, I grew stronger and less fearful, so that when attacks did come, they were relatively ineffectual — I saw them for what they were and was not confused nor intimidated. The mental and spiritual ability to pronounce “no” against the forces of compromise with death is the beginning of shamanistic self-transformation.
Refusal to compromise with death is the means by which one takes back what is rightfully one’s own, the ability to live spontaneously (which Bataille refers to as “wholeness”).
By means of this refusal to compromise with death, others are commanded to remain within their own psychological and physical boundaries and not to continually invade one’s own. This radical embrace of life is the basis for individuating the self; for ego differentiation. One lives life with one’s own goals in mind, which is to say, no longer obedient to irrational forces — including one’s own fears (sometimes irrational) of the consequences failing to accommodate the status quo.
It seems to me that the shaman is often one who has done deliberate damage to their current character structure in order to break free from the control of superego:
IN FREUDIAN TERMS:
You cannot have the first thing you want (ie. in Freudian chitter-chatter, one’s parent — for the other parent would surely kill you). So you introject the law of the father instead, as superego, and walk around in a mode of delayed gratification — in line with what you believe are society’s expectations of you.
IN NIETZSCHEAN TERMS:
I like my new interpretation of Nietzsche — which involves a recipe for being shamanised (the shaman faces death). You have to get beyond yourself if you want to kill this old character structure.
IN HEGELIAN TERMS:
Well we can put a bit of Hegel in here, too: To become master, you have to face death head on.
Your superego is keeping you a slave because you are afraid to face “death”. You fear that by doing your own thing you will surely die.
However, you need to face that sensation of death by going beyond your present version of self. That is the way to become the Overwoman.