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Reflections on Death

Every morning, when I wake, I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude. A real sense of "Wow! I'm alive!" I must say, it's a great way to start the day, with the profound recognition that today was not a given.
The flip side of this is the subtle awareness that one day I will not wake, that one day I will pass on.
I often quote a line by a Native American elder; "The problem with your people is that you wake up every day assuming that you will live." I love this because it is so true. Do we not just take it for granted that we have awoken? That we will undoubtedly see out the day? How exactly does this presumption impact the way we live? How many of us truly acknowledge that we and all those that we love and value will one day pass?
It seems to me that the prevailing feeling surrounding death in our culture is one of fear. We fear death and so we refuse to accept it as inevitable and essential to life.
I have always had a fascination and curiosity with death. The ultimate mystery, you might say.
I recall, as a small child, lying down on the floor, crossing my arms across my chest, closing my eyes, and imagining – inquisitively rather than morbidly - what it might be like to die.
As I grew older, I subscribed to the death and dying phobia that our culture promotes. I grew fearful and suffered anxiety when the thought of my own mortality entered my mind. Can you recall the first moment you realized everyone you loved would one day die? It overwhelmed me no end.
Over time, I have reacquainted myself with death as a fact. I’ve begun to explore its meaning with the same curiosity I had as a child. Little did I know that what I did at the age of six or seven years old was a profound meditation.
Rather than trying to work out what happens after death, these days my focus is on how the inevitability of my death changes the way I live life now. This has enriched my life no end. It has made me truly appreciate life in a way that I could not do for many years. I would often complain about life, taking it for granted. Now I see it in a different light. Now I value it in a way that only death could deliver.
This acknowledgement of the inevitability of death has demanded that I reassess the way in which I engage with others. It makes my actions the focal point of how I am in this world. It asks of me that I retain this realisation in all my interactions - this is seemingly much harder, but the intention remains in spite of any shortcomings.
There is a wonderful passage from the Upajhatthana Sutra that illustrates what I am pointing to much more concisely than I ever could.
In the meantime, try to remember that you are alive. Pretty amazing, and a gift in the truest sense of the word.
* I'm of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
* I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.
* I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
* All that is dear to me and everything I have and everything I love will change. There is no way to escape losing them.
* My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequence of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.


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