I should probably start by saying that the title of this post is not meant to be taken literally, so all four of you who read this can stop worrying. The saying itself comes from a Samurai manual of sorts, and is typical of the absolutist interpretations arising from that particular warrior cult. These have always appealed to me, and not just because of the cool armour and beautiful swords that come with them.
The fact is that life and reality have always struck me as rather dreamlike. My earliest recollections are consistent with my current experience in being essentially surreal in nature. As I walk down a footpath, I have to remind myself that I will not sink down through the concrete, that I cannot jump to the roofs of nearby buildings and that if I walk off the edge of a precipice I will die. It is said that the mark of immaturity is the belief in the uniqueness of one's own experience, but I don't think it's juvenile of me to believe that, in this case, I am at least atypical.
The evidence for this is in the behaviour of other people. Almost everyone I've ever met has been hellbent on convincing me, sometimes by force, that stuff is real and that the things we do actually matter. Concerned observers - parents, teachers, friends - have made it clear to me that my behaviour and decisions are bizarre. I have been at great pains to explain, unsuccessfully, that they make perfect sense to me. I eventually came to the conclusion that the essential disconnect lay in the fact that they live in a world which is substantial and tangible, and I do not.
Huxley had an idea that the true role of any art was to 'transport' the viewer to another realm of the mind. I think that inherent in this is the implication that the artist is already in that other realm. As tempting as it is, however, the idea that the vagueness of my experience is down to an 'artistic nature' smacks of vanity, and I am therefore unwilling to accept it. A thing in myself which I do not recognise in others must, by my logic, be a flaw, and one which needs to be eliminated.
Which brings us to the idea of 'rushing to death'. I've always taken this to mean that a real and vibrant world is accessible through absolute immersion and absorption. That absolute dedication to some pursuit, lethal danger, service to a cause or deep connection with another, would provide a hard link to the universe and coalesce it into a coherent and 'real-feeling' reality. The theory is that by pushing oneself to liminal realms of thought and experience, one might gain an understanding of the boundaries of reality and thus define and understand it. And, ultimately, experience it fully, in a way which no longer feels like the faint imitation of a vivid dream. I believe I've tested this proposition fairly thoroughly and found it to be false.
Extreme situations feel, if anything, even less real than ordinary daily life, dedication and commitment to skills or causes increase rather then reduce the distance between the self and the other. And on the few occasions I have connected with others, they report that, far from their reality transferring to me, their time with me feels as surreal for them as every day has for me. So now I pause and reflect. I'm running out of things to try, and I'm beginning to suspect that my focus on external means has been profoundly stupid.
What's worrying me most, though, is the idea that I might simply be wrong about this. It's looking increasingly probable that this process of anchoring oneself in the real world is a task which every single human must undertake. That this is a challenge which everyone faces and that, far from being different, I might merely be one who has failed to overcome it.