Why Pondering Death Evolves Us – Both Spiritually and in Everyday Life
“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.” ~ Socrates
What does that mean? How can death be a blessing, let alone the greatest?
I have been fascinated with death since my younger sister died when I was a child. My mother told me that this was macabre, and this is the normal reaction of many people in our society—that thinking about death is not only strange, but actually negative. To do so will corrupt you, or change you, or somehow emotionally f*ck you up.
Our society teaches us to ignore death—to pretend it doesn’t happen, which is ridiculous considering it is the one guarantee that we all have—we all die.
Many spiritual teachers suggest that rather than not thinking about death, we should think about death. That it is not only healthy and mature, but wise to do so.
So here are seven reasons why thinking about death can be beneficial to your life and to your spiritual evolution:
“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” ~ Lao Tzu
The recognition of our own mortality helps us practice aparigraha, or non-attachment or non-grasping. Why hold onto anything impermanent, when all of that will be lost? This is one of the most difficult tenets of the spiritual path, and death is the most powerful catalyst for this understanding.
2. Sense of Humor
“Everyone is so afraid of death, but the real Sufis just laugh:
nothing tyrannizes their hearts. What strikes the oyster shell
does not damage the pearl.” ~ Rumi
“I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” ~ Woody Allen
Hand in hand with non-attachment comes a sense of delight, of playfulness, of the innate lila or play of the cosmos. When we are not so identified with ourselves—with our lives—we can engage with even suffering in a playful and joyful way. The awareness of death and the impermanence of this life can help us see the innate hilarity of the human situation, and our own lives, even in their midst.
3. Clarity of Belief or the Meaning of Life
“There is but one freedom, To put oneself right with death.
After that everything is possible. I cannot force you to believe in God.
Believing in God amounts to coming to terms with death.
When you have accepted death, the problem of God will be solved–and not the reverse.” ~ Albert Camus
“Normally we do not like to think about death. We would rather think about life. Why reflect on death? When you start preparing for death you soon realize that you must look into your life now… and come to face the truth of yourself. Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected. Our exploration necessarily begins with a direct reflection on what death means and the many facets of the truth of impermanence – the kind of reflection that can enable us to make rich use of this life.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche
Pondering death, and the end of life, will help us bring clarity into what we believe—in terms of spiritual understanding—about ourselves and the divine. To bring this to an experiential clarity, rather than just a mental understanding, takes the courage to really accept our end. To imagine dying, and to be open to what one experiences afterwards. Not just to read what others think, what one has been told by different cultures and traditions, but actually to open oneself to this possibility, will crystalize one’s understanding of reality quickly and powerfully.
By making sense of death, we make sense of life. We learn the meaning of life and the meaning of our life.
with love and gratitude,