Yesterday I was guiding a group meditation on death. This practice is present in various traditions. Maraṇasati is a Buddhist practice of remembering death which brings the impermanence of all matter into awareness through imagining our own decay. Stoics have the practice called Memento Mori which explores the benefits of reflecting on death. One of the fundamental ideas in the code of samurai, is to live now as if you may die any moment. Sufis have the practice of visiting graveyards to ponder on death and one’s mortality. All these traditions are looking at the fear of death, as a source of change in life.
The meditation on death is actually a meditation on life. Imagine that the next hug will be the last hug we will have. The walk we take is the last walk we will ever have. Imagine people hugging us are not there anymore. As we are also not there any more and will never be, why does it matter? Why do we stress out about dying - once we are dead, nothing matters. Perhaps the fear of death is rooted in the feeling of deep empathy towards the people we love when we imagine them being left behind. And who is it who left them behind — us or them? Is death the end or the beginning? Ruminating about something impossible to experience is a task that leads to many questions. Our relationship with death is very poor, nothing to lean on, yet, it is always there in the back of our minds.
I can’t explain why I am drawn to the thoughts about death and dying. Contemplation upon impermanence, facing fear and discomfort, is a way to realise the value of life and reach deeper insights about what is truly important. The more I feel alive the more I am attracted to go and look for the edges of my comfort, challenging the safety of knowing. The feeling of aliveness comes with the feeling of openness, curiosity and bravery. Aliveness is directed towards exploration of life, but what if we could think of death as a state of being alive. Looking at death with curiosity, seeing it as a part of a process rather than a final destination.
The knot of the material and immaterial leftovers always remains in one form or another. It is impossible that our material and immaterial being dissolves completely. Matter keeps evolving, changing, transforming, becoming. In a way it is such an honour to never dissolve fully. After life comes life. So why are we afraid of death? Why is the fear of death the fear of loss in its purest form?
I would like to live the idea of me being a never-ending, evolving entity rather than cling on to a lonely, isolated, single-life creature. The thing is, that I can rationally desire to see myself as a part of something greater, but every bit of my body is opposed to this idea. The body says: fear death. It rejects my idealistic, curious longing to accommodate and practice the mindset that death is impossible. Seeing ourselves as something that can never truly die allows us to relax in being. If we would see death as an interconnected point on the map, perhaps fears would drift away and the definition of life itself would naturally expand. Death is only the end, if we think that the story is only about us.