Contemplation of Death and Dying

"Of all footsteps, that of the elephant is supreme;
Of all mindfulness meditations, that on death is supreme."


Death is the great mystery. It comes for all of us sometime, but we don’t know when. Most of us would rather not think about it. Not thinking about it, we protect ourselves from fear by creating illusion.

For some of us, the illusion may be in clinging unquestioningly to our childhood beliefs about the afterlife. Others of us desensitize ourselves to the fear of death through stories. Books, movies, computer games project death out there on the page or screen, often sanitized, made interesting. No matter how death is portrayed in media, gruesome or not, it is just media. You can turn the page, rewind the tape, or hit the replay button. Characters die and die again. It’s not that way in life.

In real life, the dead stay dead. In real life, death comes in many forms. It can be quick and painless, but often is not. Life wants to persist. Life force does not give in to death casually. The struggle and surrender can be longer, tougher, and messier than you’d have thought.

As we go about the job of living, each of us forms our own responses to the thought of death. We develop strategies to keep the horror manageable. We may avoid thinking about it. We may engage in fantasies that comfort us. Some become preoccupied with death at the expense of living. Others of us build an intellectual wall of philosophy that keeps death abstract and distant. What would happen if we gave up our illusions? How would we live if we looked at death squarely, without filters?

If you feel ready to examine your relationship with death, contemplate the following:

Given that life will end, and you don’t know when, consider that life, therefore, must be lived now. Commit yourself to living now, as if this and every day were your last day of life.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett