“Some people fear running out of money more than death itself,” said ABC TV’s financial commentator Alan Kohler’s the other night.
You can see why.
Kohler was making the point because with the Covid-19 led recession, the worst of which is to come, unemployment will rise, the official definition of recession. But of much more serious concern to those facing retirement, savings such as superannuation, stock market shares, and capital tied up in businesses people had planned to sell, will all shrink substantially – in many cases, by one third.
This has led to much anxiety on the part of those close to retirement, and the fear, greater than death itself, that Alan was referring to.
Following through on this argument we looked at a piece by Sarah Schmalbruch, in Australia’s Business Insider, April 9, 2015.
In that article she wrote about Napoleon Hill’s 1930s personal finance classic Think and Grow Rich.
Hill identified six major fears that hold people back in life and at the top of his list was the fear of poverty.
The other fears listed by Hill were of: criticism, ill health, loss of love, old age and death. Hill said the fear of death comes from the fear of the unknown, although since Hill’s time psychologists have argued the reverse – that fear of the unknown is actually a fear of death.
Fear of old age is not unlike fear of poverty, since Hill argues that fear of old age is actually the fear of poverty. So it relates to the first – a likely combination as we confront the Covid-19 lockdown led destruction of many of the world’s economies, as Alan Kohler has so eloquently pointed out.
Sarah summarised Hill’s approach to overcoming the fear of poverty: “In order to conquer this fear, Hill says you must create a desire for riches and completely banish the option of poverty. You must be unwilling to accept poverty.”
This must have been as hard a rabbit to pull out of the hat when the book was written in the 1930s, just after the Great Depression, as it is to do in the 2020s.
But is there another way to approach this?
What about addressing the fears instead, or at least as well as? In another set of bullet points, the Buddhist teacher and co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project, Frank Ostaseski, talks of ‘the five invitations’.
To Buddhists, looking death in the eye is considered fundamental to personal growth and death is seen as the final stage of growth.
Frank restates what we all know about death: “This is not a fairy-tale happy ending that contradicts the suffering that came before, but rather a transcendence of tragedy.”
“I have seen ordinary people at the end of their lives develop profound insights and engage in a powerful process of transformation that helped them to emerge as someone larger, more expansive, and much more real than the small, separate selves they had previously taken themselves to be,” he says.
“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.”
Frank has experienced a lot, been with a lot of death and suffering and has taught extensively on it. In essence, his five invitations are (the comments in brackets are mine):
1. Don’t wait (every minute counts, something the dying know but the living can easily forget.)
2. Welcome everything, push away nothing (even the things we do not like.)
3. Bring your whole self to the experience (including the parts we don’t normally put on show, our darker sides.)
4. Find a place of rest in the middle of things (Doesn’t have to be a physical or separate experience, it can simply be a setting in our heads.)
5. Cultivate ‘don’t know’ mind (I just don’t know – but I am curious.)
Frank’s book is The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. For more on this go to:
To read an interview with Frank Ostaseski, go to:
Not everyone will want to be Buddhist about it. For those more fiscally oriented, who want to read Sarah Schmalbruch’s piece, go to:
To buy A Good Death, a compassionate and practical guide to prepare for the end of life, go to: