Have you ever thought about the importance of looking squarely in the face of the unavoidable end that all beings that have been born must face? It is something our present society tends to avoid talking about as we attempt to hide the inevitable from our view and never discuss it openly, usually seeing it as the greatest tragedy and defeat there is.
I’ve recently had a conversation with a man that only had one year left to live. He had a late stage of cancer and had given up all hope, deciding he was going to accept and surrender to his fate, whatever that may be. He fully accepted his death, whenever that may come (according to him it would not be longer than a year) and came to peace with it. What he told me was that the surrender to death was an incredibly liberating experience to him and he seemed happy, even joyous as I spoke to him. Superficial things like losing money didn’t bother him anymore (he donated a sum of money before I started talking with him) and he seemed at peace with what was going to happen.
We, as living beings are incredibly attached to our bodies and this physical existence. The more attached we are to our life and everything in it, the more we suffer at the thought that all that we have accumulated and created might be taken away from us – all the money, the relationships, our physical body we have cared for so deeply (if we have of course).
Though a correlation is not necessary, for the most part people that have accumulated or achieved less in their lives tend to care less about the end of them – a homeless man with no friends or family hardly has anything to lose so to him, death may even come as a relief from the nightmare he had to endure on this planet.
For others, letting go of what they have is difficult. But ultimately what traps us is not what we have or do not have, but our attachments to all these things that are only transient in their existence. A homeless man could be more attached to his life and body than a rich man who has realized his deeper self is beyond all that he has accumulated and achieved in his brief existence on Earth – his happiness it mostly not related to the passing things he has in his life and he can go freely, since his attachment is low or nonexistent. He has let go of them, surrendered to what will be and what is and has thus found peace.
To truly live, we must face death, the reality that one day we will leave this body behind and leap into the unknown. Even if you do believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, leaving this life and this body you have grown so attached to behind you can be and usually is the cause and culprit of one of our deepest fears – the annihilation of what we believe ourselves to be, the body and our accumulated mind based identities.
Realizing you will die, really accepting and embracing the fear of your physical demise is one of deepest means of coming in touch with what is beyond the body and beyond the mind – beyond that which you are so incredibly afraid to lose, because you identify with it so deeply.
Imagine if you only had a month to live? And you knew you would certainly die at the end of it. What would you do? How would you live your life? What would you give priority to?
When faced with death, your true, deepest self shines through and you find what is truly important to you at your core. Such questions are an incredibly valuable thing to ask yourself and the old saying “Live as if you’ll die tomorrow” has a meaning much deeper that many think.
Really think about this, what would you do, how would you live, what or who would you give the most attention to and devote your time to if you had a year left? A month? Or even a week or day?
The faster you feel your demise might come, the more your will stop doing things that are not really important to you at your core and focus on that which you really want, that which is closest to your heart, your very being – you will stop procrastinating and wasting time, you will feel energized, alive and you will get to know yourself in a way you’ve never known yourself before.
Meditating on Death
“Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditations, that on death is supreme.”
If you want to go a step further you can practice a meditation where you imagine yourself to be dead. There are many ways of doing this – you can for example try to, during a mindfulness meditation where you are focusing on your breath, visualize a situation which brings up within you the highest possible fear of death – perhaps this is your body buried deep inside the earth, or your funeral attended by your loved ones….
Use whatever works for you – you can imagine your body disintegrating within a deep grave, or perhaps you can imagine yourself looking down upon your funeral as a soul that has left his physical vehicle, now unable to continue to influence what is happening in the dimension you’ve just left behind.
Contemplate this situation and face all your thoughts and emotions related to this – embrace whatever comes up and thus dissolve it and become free of it.
Anthony De Mello, one of my favourite authors, talks about meditating on death-
The more emotions that come up during a meditation like this, the more you will be free of the fear of death and the more you will be able to live your life fully. Again, as with the exercise before this one, you will know what truly matters to you at your core and what you truly want to devote the rest of your life towards.
From this position, as you see yourself as being already dead in meditation, as you face death and all the fears and emotions that come with it, contemplate your life and see how your life seems now, Your problems, desires,…everything holding you back now that you’ve met your demise. What would you have done differently if you were still alive? What would you have devoted your time to? How do your greatest fears that have been holding you back look like now, when you’re looking at them from beyond the grave?
The fear of death is taking such a toll on your mind that it is subconsciously blocking you from a myriad of life experiences, whilst taking away your energy, joy and zest for life. as well as love. So face it head-on and face it often, until it dissolves completely – you’ll be glad you did. For facing the fear of death and dissolving it will all up uproot the tree of limitation – since the attachment to the body and this body truly can be enormous
Ultimately, facing death in its totality, you will realize that there is no death, that the real you was never born and will thus also, never die.
Why are you afraid of death? Is it perhaps because you do not know how to live? If you knew how to live fully, would you be afraid of death? If you loved the trees, the sunset, the birds, the falling leaf; if you were aware of men and women in tears, of poor people, and really felt love in your heart, would you be afraid of death? Would you? Don’t be persuaded by me. Let us think about it together. You do not live with joy, you are not happy, you are not vitally sensitive to things; and is that why you ask what is going to happen when you die? Life for you is sorrow, and so you are much more interested in death. You feel that perhaps there will be happiness after death. But that is a tremendous problem, and I do not know if you want to go into it. After all, fear is at the bottom of all this -fear of dying, fear of living, fear of suffering. If you cannot understand what it is that causes fear and be free of it, then it does not matter very much whether you are living or dead.
-Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Book of Life