Death. When I was five years old I asked my mom if I was going to die. To her credit, she gave me the straight scoop: “Yes, you are going to die someday. Everybody dies.” I started bawling “I don’t want to die!” She held me (probably regretting her answer) and comforted me, telling me that my death was a long way off, and I believed her, and I haven’t really been that concerned about it since then.
The subject of death is on my mind these days, as there have been a few deaths in my life recently. I’m aware that the subject makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and you might even be feeling some of that discomfort now. Carl Jung said “Shrinking away from death is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose.” However, in our culture, we hold a great fear of death and shrink from it because some of our most difficult moments of pain and loss come when we are confronted with the death of another, or the prospect of our own. It rarely makes good dinner conversation.
Yet, to consider death, or even to meditate on it, allows us to gain greater meaning from life. There are formal death meditations in many cultures, and the conquest of death is a central tenet of all religions. To walk in fear of death means to walk in fear of life, as the miracle and sweetness of life is inseparable from the knowledge of it’s eventual end. To have a richer, more complete experience of life, we must become comfortable with the idea of death.
I like what the character Don Juan says about death, from “Journey to Ixtlan” by Carlos Castaneda:
“Death is our eternal companion, it is always to our left, at an arm’s length…
How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?… The issue of our death is never pressed far enough. Death is the only wise adviser that we have…It may tap you any moment, so really you have no time for crappy thoughts and moods.”
The idea here is that the realization that death always stalks us can give us the awareness that we are not promised any future, and should we recieve it, it is truly a gift and perhaps a miracle, and not to be taken for granted.
To contemplate our death allows us to understand our relationship to it and why it creates such fear. What is your belief about death? Do you believe you will go to hell? Or do you believe that you will be with Jesus and all the people you ever loved? Perhaps you believe that you’ll get a chance at another go around, reincarnated as someone or some thing else. There are those who belief that when you die, that’s it, nothing more.
What you believe about death will determine how you feel about it. If you have beliefs about death that are fearful, it’s uselful to ask yourself, “Are these beliefs hand-me-downs, or are they the result of my own searching, pondering and thinking?” You can choose what to believe about what happens at death, as well as why we happen to find ourselves among the living in this place, at this time.
When asked what the meaning of life was, the Dalai Lama replied “To be happy and to make others happy.” Again, a quote by Carl Jung: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Jesus of Nazareth said: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand, and it gives light everyone in the house.(Matthew 5:14-16). Certainly, these are beliefs that are not only life affirming but affirm what we can leave behind.
When we are faced with the death of someone we know and love, we grieve the loss, but the bitterness of the loss is tempered by the fond memories of what that person gave us. What’s become apparent to me is that the essence of a person is not their body, but the legacy they leave and the impact they have on you and others. This essence can last for centuries and even millenia.
My grandmother died a year ago, but she is alive everytime I look at one of the beautiful plates that she loved to make, or tend to the cactus that she to gave me years ago that are probably just as old as I am. She’s just as much here, in a way, as when she was alive and maybe more. My wife’s cousin died in april, but during my recent vacation with some of her family who was close to him, his name was brought up much more than it ever was when he was alive; what he would say or do, how well he played pool, his generosity.
To become comfortable with death, and particularly our own, means that we can remain open to and aware of Death’s advice: “Someday I will come for you. Do not waste time being petty or small. You have been given the gift of life and light. What will you do with it, and what will you leave behind after both are extinguished?”
We may never become comfortable, and we may never fully understand the end of life, especially seemingly meaningless and tragic death. Should we choose to contemplate or seek to understand the subject, we do so acknowledging that it will be a life-long contemplation, and our understanding of it will be informed by our own inevitable experiences. But we can continue, even if uncomfortable, to gaze directly and with courage on that which we share with every human that ever lived, our ever-present companion, Death.
This post is dedicated to my good friend and colleague Jim Locke who passed away earlier this week. He not only encouraged me to start writing a blog in 2009, he set it up and showed me what to do. If you have enjoyed any of my blog posts, it’s due in part to Jim’s contribution to my life.
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Your companion on the journey to transformation,
TManTed A. Moreno Personal/Small Business Coach Certified Hypnotherapist www.TedMoreno.com
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