What Death Can Teach Us About Living

Pretend you’re going to die in exactly 6 months from today. What would you do differently? Not much? Or perhaps everything?

  • Would you still go to that job that is stressing you out and you despise?
  • Attend that wedding/party/dinner with people you don’t choose? Merely because you ‘have to’ due to some self-imposed obligation to be a part of a community/social order?
  • Would you continue doing all the things you currently do to be socially accepted?
  • Would you still be afraid to express your true feelings to someone?
  • Would you still worry about embarrassment? Failure? Loosing ‘face’?

Yes, it is not a comfortable subject for many to talk about or even think about, it is rather gloomy, as death provokes many unknowns. No one actually knows what happens after death. Yes, there are numerous scriptures and theories but no one has actually gone through it and verified any of those. However, thinking and talking about death is one of the most important practices you can do to give your life any sense of real meaning and purpose.

As Steve Jobs very eloquently said in his Stanford commencement speech:

All external expectations, all pride, all fears and embarrassment of failure fall away in the face of death. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to loose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

You can watch the full speech here

Keeping this in mind, let us go back to my opening question.
Pretend you’re going to die in exactly 6 months from today.
What would you do differently? Not much? Or perhaps everything?
My bet is; you would probably want to do everything differently.

Remembering Death

From the ancient Stoic philosophers to Buddhist monks and Sufi mystics, various cultures throughout time have meditated and contemplated death in their own ways.
The purpose? Simple; Remembering death and keeping it at the forefront of your mind makes you live. Really live, and ask the big questions and reexamine your priority.

We waltz through life as though it is never going to end. There is always that magical land of ‘tomorrow’ where we will achieve all our goals, have the perfect relationships, build a six-pack and become billionaires. Until then, we are comfortable and don’t want to bother.
Remembering that everything is impermanent including yourself, your thoughts and your words gives you perspective.

Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows. ― Michael Landon

We are very far removed from the concept of death and the ending of this very short life. It is going to end, for some, a lot sooner and suddenly than others. True story. Accept it.
Can you do anything to stop it? No. What you can do though, is start thinking about how you live. Reexamine your goals, motivations, dreams, hopes and actions.

Learning From Death

You see, death is the most fundamental conditions of existence and the single most important aspect of life. It is the only reason there are any thrills, excitements, motivations, the will to do something and build something.
Without death, without an end, there is no sense of urgency, achievement, legacy and personal motivation. Everything is mundane. Everything just is. Time is endless and therefore the will to finish anything simply does not exist. Death gives life it’s container. The impending sense of urgency. It’s meaning and purpose.
Knowing that you are going to die one day soon and leave everything behind, makes this life worth truly living for.
(Read my post on Knowing What You Want In Life)

No one gets out of life alive. Death is inevitable. We have all heard the sage advice and sayings, we all know this stuff but we don’t act as we know it. The true tragedy of life is not that everyone dies, the true tragedy is that not everyone really lives.
Living and merely existing is not the same thing.

“Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime.” —  Dalai Lama

According to David Eagleman, there are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.
Let this sink in for a moment.

So I ask you; If today was the last day of your life, would you do what you are about to do today?

Remember you are mortal. Your time is limited. Don’t sweat the small stuff (and everything is small stuff in the grand scheme of things). What would you like to leave behind?
How do you want to live the rest of your life?
What will be your legacy?
Are you truly living this life or merely existing?

Make some time to ask yourself these hard questions. Make some time to reflect and reexamine your priority. After all, we all just have this one life – that we know of. Make it worth living and make it stand for something.


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