Eros, Thanatos and identities

The most basic fears and wants have been coming up more vividly lately, during the waking hours and especially in dreams and just after waking up. They are there, as a layer, underlying everything in this life. And it seems that they were formed in early childhood, mimicking those around me who lived from a sense of I and Other, and separation.

Eros and Thanatos

It is a basic fear of existence itself, of life, of being alive, of what may happen, of suffering, loss, the unknown, death, nonexistence.

At the same time, its mirror image also comes up, the desire for life, for fullness, richness, intimacy, fertility, belonging.

And both comes up in very detailed and specific ways, attached to very specific situations in my particular life.

To borrow from Freud’s terminology, these are the basic principles of Eros, a desire for life, and Thantos, a fear of death.

Freud’s Thanatos and the attraction and aversion that naturally comes up whenever there is a split

As a side note: Freud actually saw Thanatos as the death drive, a wish for death, but this drive is the natural companion to a fear of death and nonexistence.

Attraction and fascination is the inevitable mirror and companion to fear. That which I fear, is also that which I am fascinated by and drawn to.

In general, any split gives birth to attraction and aversion. Whenever there is a sense of I and Other, there is an inevitable attraction and aversion to Other.

Evolutionary, it helps this human self survive by being drawn to carefully explore and become more familiar with what appears dangerous. Psychologically, there is a drive to be whole, and to get to know, befriend and integrate the shadow.

All of these are aspects of the processes which give birth to a natural fascination and draw to exactly that which we fear.

Eros, Thanatos and identities

It is also very clear how Eros and Thanatos has to do with identities.

The basic identity is that of an I, separate from Other.

And this is fleshed out with identities of being a human being, of wanting to be alive, of not wanting to die, of wanting a full life, of wanting freedom from suffering, and so on. All of these are identities that support and prop of the initial identity of being a separate I, of being this human self, finite in space and time.

Surrendering the I placed on these identities

And I see how I am invited, over and over, to surrender any “I” placed on these identities. To allow them to be as they are, and see that there is no I inherent in them. They are just that, identities, ideas placed on top of what arises here now.

Any I placed on top of them, any identification with these identities, any being blindly caught up in them, is born from just a belief in an idea.

In themselves, they are just thoughts, innocent, nothing of consequence. But when a sense of “I” is placed on these identities, on the idea of separate I to all the elaborations of this I, it gives a sense of solidity and reality to a split world. And this inevitably brings suffering in its many variations.

Shakyamuni Buddha, and Mara’s daughters and army

This process of dis-identifying with these most basic identities, is beautifully illustrated in the story of Buddha Shakyamuni’s awakening, where Mara first sent his daughters to tempt him, and then his armies to frighten him.

Of course, there is more to this allegory than just facing our most basic fears and desires, the identities they are born from, and more to the point, our identification with these identities, but it seems to be one aspect of it.

At some point, each of us have to recognize these basic identities, and the story of “I” we place on top of them.

And as with anything in this process of exploration (and awakening), in its universality it is also very personal, it is about this life and here and now, in all its details and manifestations.


So how does it look right now in this life?

As for Thanatos, there is this layer of basic fear that comes into awareness, one that seems to have come very early in this life, and having been formed from a sense of I and Other, from a sense of separation. It is a fear of life itself, of the unknown, the unpredictable, suffering, death, nonexistence.

When there is a sense of I there, this I get blindly caught up in it, it seems too difficult to deal with, and there is resistance in different ways. When this fear just arises as part of the field, and the field notices itself as a field, it becomes just a part of the tapestry. It is still there, but not all that serious anymore.

Eros comes up in desire for a full, rich, fruitful life, and also regrets over (apparently) lost opportunities. Again, when there is a sense of I there, it is also a sense of being blindly caught up in it. All the stories around these themes seem very real, impactful and solid. When the field notices itself as a field, these stories become more transparent, just stories.

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