Quite a while back, a question came up about how to help friends who were in deep suffering, particularly those who were facing their own life’s end. In Toni Bernhard’s new book, “How to Wake Up”, there is a chapter with some excellent suggestions that we can use to develop a greater acceptance of our own ends, which in turn can help us to be with others who fear what’s to come.
The first step is to acknowledge that we do in fact fear our own death and have a compelling desire to exist and to continue to exist indefinitely. We can be at ease with the idea of death in the abstract, but discover our own reluctance to die when confronted with the death and dying of others. We know that everything that is born must one day die, but we are resistant to thinking about it now. When people we know die, by whatever cause, there is always a sense of shock; the reality of lives actually ending is hard to get comfortable with.
The exercises I’ll be sharing will both bring our fear into focus, and give us a way to understand, accept, and (with practice) transcend our fear.
Carlos Castenada, author of several provocative books, offers this advice:
“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.”
― Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan
If we keep “death” as a companion, and consult with him/her/it frequently, it will aid in our perspective about what is important.
The first proposed exercise is called “memento mori” or the practice of remembering our own death on a regular basis. Toni B. recommends reminding ourselves that “Today may be the last day of my life”. Every day we wake up could be our last day, and one day, it will be our last day.
Three of the five recollections that the Buddha recommended to be done frequently are:
I am of the nature to grow old; I have not gone beyond aging.
I am of the nature to become ill; I have not gone beyond sickness.
I am of the nature to die; I have not gone beyond death.
By repeating these true statements, slowly we can come to accept their reality. We see aging, sickness and death all around us (if we look). Are we different from the rest of the living?