Skip to main content

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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Crackhead Mentality

I remember, quite clearly, the first time I tried crack. I'm not sure what the allure of the drug was, exactly, but as I exhaled my first hit, I distinctly recall being thoroughly underwhelmed. And yet, just a few short months later, I’d been smoking it every day since, staying up night after night in an attempt to satisfy the urge for more.
The effects of the drug were incredibly subtle – for me, at least. It lacked the wow factor of the other drugs I’d indulged in, and yet it had me hooked. In the blink of an eye, I’d crossed the line from recreational drug user to 'crackhead'. It began to consume my thoughts on a daily basis. I pretended to myself that I could take it or leave it, but was certain to make sure I had enough to get through the night ahead. Afraid that my friends might discover the extent of my using, I became something of a recluse.

So what was it that had me coming back for more?

During this time, I realised a funny thing. I saw that the mentality that was…

If This Was Your Last Day

Just consider for a moment, how would today be different if you knew it was your last?
How would you be? What would matter? What might you notice?
Maybe you would take it slow. Maybe you would savour each moment. Maybe you would tell those that mattered that you loved them. Maybe you would resolve an old and now meaningless conflict. Maybe you would watch the sunrise. Maybe you would taste each meal and be grateful for each meal you’ve failed to taste. Maybe you would just watch. Maybe you would embrace what truly mattered. Maybe you would smile or laugh, taking yourself just a little less seriously. Maybe you would sing at the top of your voice without a care in the world. Maybe you would be kinder or more compassionate towards yourself and others. Maybe you would finally give yourself a break. Maybe you would listen to the birds. Maybe you would meet someone fully and without judgement. Maybe you would notice the subtle in/out of the breath that will soon desert you. Maybe you would…

Shattering The Great Doubt

I have just returned from a quite beautiful week in Wales.
Still very much re-entering the space we refer to as 'normal'.
It seems anything but.

The retreat I attended was called 'Shattering the Great Doubt', also known simply as a Koan Retreat.
For those you unfamiliar with the term 'Koan' it is a short story, statement, dialogue or exchange between master and student, that is used as a form of practice in the Rinzai tradition of Zen. We are asked to meditate on , and merge with the koan, observing how it 'triggers' us or prompts and provokes habits, patterns and ways of being.
It is something that must be experienced to be truly understood but that is a brief and simplistic overview.

I met with 18 other curious souls to investigate and come face to face with ourselves in a rustic, electricity-less farmhouse in the middle of the welsh countryside.
The schedule would involve a week of silence, meditation, great food, working for the bene…