Over the last few months, I've been trying to explore the concept of death more--specifically, seeing it as an opportunity to help me figure out how to better my life. When I lie in Savanasa, I try to think about myself actually being dead. That might sound morbid, but it's been helpful in a few ways:
- My body releases more, because my mind gets more behind the idea that there's nothing I have to do anymore--nothing matters.
- My mind lets go of all the piddly little "to do's" and in the space that opens up, I can consider what's really important and ask myself what it is I want to experience before I die.
- In this space I also ponder the impressions I leave behind. Would I be remembered as someone who ran around doing things, or as someone who cared about people and was fun to be around?
Another way that I have found to safely contemplate death is to carry out an exercise recommended in the fabulous book called Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner. In it, she learns how to write Japanese death poems--four lines based on a simple predefined structure, ideally done for the new year. Here's the one I wrote on January 1:
I've survived, achieved, struggled, controlled, and complainedRe-reading this poem reminds me of how I've been, and how I'd like to be when I die.
For thirty-six years in this life
Releasing old views and limiting beliefs; increasing compassion, love and joy
Balanced through non-effort.
Of course when someone you know and love passes away, or you are close with someone who's going through a personal tragedy, it's more natural to think about mortality. Whether it's a colleague who has a sudden heart attack, a beloved pet you may need to euthanize, or close friends going through an incomprehensible loss, it is in these devastatingly sad times that we often stop to recognize just how blessed we are on a day-to-day basis. They are stark reminders that we should always appreciate each other, and all that we have.
But we shouldn't wait for large, terrible events to wake us from our preoccupations, nor should we easily forget them and go back to living our lives blindly. Doing exercises like the ones I described above, or even drafting your own obituary (as I know a former colleague and friend of mine has done), can be really powerful. None of us really know when death will claim these bodies we're borrowing, but when the time comes, it would be comforting to know that while our spirits were alive inside them, we really experienced all this world had to offer--we explored, we learned and taught, we deeply felt both joy and pain, we savored, we loved and were loved, and we were present in each and every precious moment. By contemplating death now, we can continually adjust our life's direction, before we're out of time.
What changes would you make to your life or how you're living it right now, if you knew you wouldn't wake up tomorrow? Start doing those things now.