When you truly take the time to sit back and reflect on it, isn’t life such an amazing thing. And yet it feels like it can pass us by so quickly and sometimes we can be left wondering where it all went. Very often it’s unclear what our true calling is, and when we think of what’s coming in the future well, quite frankly…. well it can just make us feel darn uncomfortable can’t it?
And why is that? Well as well all know, one of the prerequisites for having a life, and usually one we’d rather not think about, is the end of it, yep you got it…. death (sorry, I snuck that one up on you didn’t I). But why don’t we want to think about it? After all it’s a totally natural part of life. And yet it’s so often misunderstood and pushed under the carpet (certainly by people in the modern world anyway)
But the fact is, it’s inevitable. It’s something that will touch all of us, so isn’t it worth putting a little more time into considering what death is and how we might be able to approach it in a healthier way?
In one sense we could simply say death is an ending, and what’s so bad about that? I mean we are all so quick to celebrate birth (the beginning), but scared and confused by death (the ending), when really it’s just the natural conclusion
And digging even deeper still, how can we even enjoy our life when we’re trying to pretend it is never going to end? I would say that to be able to truly embrace life, we learn to not only become more comfortable with death, but to fully embrace it. After all, life and death are simply two sides of the same coin.
So what is death? Essentially our death is the permanent separation of our body and mind, but this doesn’t mean we retain the mind as we know it now. This is because our mind has deeper levels than the most manifest one we tend to be familiar with.
When ‘we’ die what actually dies is this body and our normal waking mind as we know it. For example – ‘Rob’s body and mind.’ Rather than focusing on the technicalities of death and what happens, I actually want to explore more the practical implications
Why would we want to think about it?
Unfortunately most of society don’t put much thought into death, well there doesn’t seem much point right? I mean if death is simply the end of everything then we’d be much better off focusing on living our life wouldn’t we? Yes of course, but how many people are actually doing that…. I mean really living and enjoying their life? How many of us are present in the things we do in daily life…. or are we more like ‘oh where did all that time go?’
Also when we encounter even slight difficulties what is our normal response? To gracefully accept whatever arises, or to internally resist it and become irritated, despondent or upset? Rather than making us upset and worried, as many people might think would be the case, being more mindful of death can actually be very rewarding.
‘Why?’ you ask… ‘how is that possible?’, well simply because it helps put things into perspective. When you have an awareness of your own mortality you tend to be much more present because you realise these moments could be your last. Similarly when you are aware you could die any time, when things don’t go your way you’re much more likely not to worry. Because who wants to worry when it could be your last day on earth right?
So what does our death mean?
Practically speaking it has many implications and some of them possibly not the ones that immediately spring to mind. When you die you never get to look into your partner’s eyes again and say ‘I love you’ because when you die you’re leaving them forever.
You never get to give a friend a hug again, tell them how much you care and try to help them through some worries. You won’t ever be able to go into nature, walk up a mountain and take a deep breath of fresh air as you watch the sunrise. In fact you won’t ever be able to take another breath as your lungs take one final exhale, never to inhale again
You’ll never get to look up at the sky again. You won’t every be able to sip on your favourite tea, watch a movie, go for a bike ride, pat a dog, play with your kids or grand-kids. You won’t be able to tell a bad joke and laugh with your friends, go on holiday, meet new people…. essentially death is the end of everything as we know it
How can we start to feel more comfortable with it?
If we understand that we are just a traveller, only briefly visiting this world for a few moments in the cosmos of time, then as we get more familiar with it we may find that we don’t worry about it so much. However because at the moment we feel that the body and mind we know and normally relate to is all that exists, death is naturally frightening. When we come to understand we’re so much more than this ordinary old body and mind, there’s really nothing left to fear
When we stay in a hotel room, we’re not clawing at the bed posts when it’s time to leave are we? Well, hopefully not. Why? Because we always knew we had to leave…. it’s like the very nature of checking into a hotel… it’s a temporary appearance and everyone who checks in knows they have to check out. So it’s similar with this life – we were born and so we must die, it’s completely natural and normal
So how can we truly embrace death, and therefore life?
If we want to understand more about death and overcome any fears of it we may have, then we should become interested in exploring the nature of our mind. In this post we took a look at the nature of the self, coming to see that we don’t exist in the way that we think we do. Many people get to the end of their life and realise they’re not their body. How? Because it doesn’t listen to a darn thing they instruct it to do
In fact I remember an elderly woman who once came to one of my meditation classes. She was saying how horrible it was when the one person you wanted to get away from most was yourself. Her body was so painful and uncomfortable she would have done anything to escape it
We need to discover the truth from our own experience. We don’t need to worry about being buddhist, christian, muslim or whatever, we should simply observe our mind and start to become familiar with it
Through exploration, when we come to realise that we are not our body or mind this is a very freeing and empowering discovery. Not only will this experience gradually help to reduce any fear we have of dying, but we can also start to gain control over our mind. Rather than, as may well be the case now, it controlling us
As it is for me, for most of us there’s probably plenty more work to be done to understand the true nature and full potential of the mind. But what a rewarding journey and one that we must all learn to embrace if we wish to find true happiness
To learn more about death and how this understanding can make us truly happy I’d really recommend reading the section on ‘What Does our Death Mean’ in Modern Buddhism or the book Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully