And why you should consider doing the same.
It’s considered disturbing and unpleasant to think about the end of one’s existence. Even though it’s a taboo subject (well certainly in my culture), what came from this practice for me, was a chance to get closer to my authentic self.
Why don’t we talk about death in the west?
It’s quite traditional in the west to not speak about death; I was certainly brought up to know that it’s not a socially acceptable topic for conversation. I am a bit of a non-conformist, so I have tried to test the boundaries with this social custom. I can safely say, trying to talk about death at a dinner party is met with awkward responses and immediate changes of subject.
Death anxiety causes an out of sight out of mind mentality. Speaking about death can also bring up raw emotions which can be awkward in social situations. Ultimately talking about death is a reminder to all of us, that we are not yet everything we’d like to be and this life is not forever. It seems to me that this is a bury-your-head-in-the-sand-until-you-suffocate tactic.
Who says otherwise
Considering our deaths does acknowledge our finite existence, in our bodies, in this mortal world, no matter your beliefs, this body will cease to exist at some point. And now while this is a scary thought it also highlights something more critical, we are alive. This understanding creates an appreciation of being.
The stoics believed thoughts of death inspire gratitude, Memento Mori — the ancient practice of reflection on mortality goes back to Socrates, who said that the proper way of philosophy is “about nothing else but dying and being dead.” Marcus Aurelius said, “It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”
“Being-towards-death” an idea from German philosopher Martin Heidegger, highlights that our being is finite; therefore an authentic human life can only be found by confronting this finitude and trying to make meaning out of the fact of our death. He also said that it’s only when one is being-towards-death that he becomes passionately aware of freedom.
Maraṇasati is a Buddhist meditation practise that uses various visualisation and contemplation techniques to meditate on the nature of death. The cultivation of Maranassati is said to cultivate the right effort and helps in developing a sense of spiritual urgency and renunciation.
Contemplating your death
With the above in mind, I meditated on the following;
If I am told today I am dying, what is still important to me?
Please feel free to ask yourself the same question, be open when thinking about this and note down what comes to mind.
I only had five things on my list, and when I read it back, I feel a lot. What immediately came to mind for me were family, friends, laughing and love. When I look at my life and how much time and energy I put into other things, it makes me realise how easily we can get caught up in stuff that does not matter.
This process has highlighted to me what is genuinely meaningful in my life.
Remember, don’t conform to what is believed to be the right way to live. Master the art of living and dying. Stay true to being and what is meaningful, until the end.
Thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments, what you found out when asking yourself the same question :)