Awareness of one's own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience
How do you feel about the idea of death? How often do you think about it and what emotions do you feel? Many of us have been pondering these questions lately. The pandemic has reminded us that death is always there and it is an event that we will all face someday. But don't you think that in our society the topic of death is forbidden? We are taught that death is something we should avoid and that we should try to forget. If we start thinking about our own mortality, so traditional wisdom says, we will become anxious and depressed. While our ancestors regularly watched people die and see dead bodies, we are protected from death by modern medical practice. People usually die in hospitals rather than at home, and soon after death their bodies are taken to morgues or funeral homes.
As Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, writes in an article for Britain, he found in his research that encountering death - or even just a serious contemplation of death - can have a powerful positive effect.
I have found that people who have experienced accidents, serious illnesses and other intimate encounters with death look at the world differently. They no longer take life - and people in their lives - for granted. They have a new ability to live in the present, to appreciate small and simple things in a new way, such as being outdoors, contemplating the sky and stars, and holding time with their families.
Taylor notes that after a collision with death, the worries that oppressed people before no longer seem so important to them. They become more altruistic, material goods care them less and the relationship becomes closer and more authentic. It is noteworthy that over time these effects do not disappear, often becoming permanent traits.
In his book Out of Darkness, Taylor tells the story of Tony, a man from Manchester who had a heart attack at the age of 52. At the time, he was a successful businessman working 60 hours a week. When he came to his senses, it seemed to him that he had woken up from sleep. Suddenly he realized the value of things he had always considered ordinary, such as loved ones, the natural things around him, and the very fact of life.
At the same time, the goals that had previously dominated his life, such as money, success and status, seemed completely unimportant. He felt inner joy and a sense of connection with nature and other people he had not known before.
Awareness of our own mortality can help us appreciate the simple joys of life.
As a result of this transformation, Tony decided to sell his business and use some of the money to buy a self-service laundry. In the area, he was called a "self-service laundry guru" because he often told his clients about his transformational experience and reminded them not to take anything in their lives for granted. As he told me, "I know what it means to be alive, how beautiful it is. And I want to share it with as many other people as possible."
Meetings with death can really wake us up sometimes. They lead us out of a trance in which we are indifferent to life and do not realize its benefits. And yet, it can give us a number of advantages. In Buddhist tradition, monks in ancient times were advised to meditate in cemeteries or sit next to any dead, decomposing bodies they found during their travels. They were advised to think that one day it would be their destiny. It is believed that this method helped to realize the impermanence of life and the folly of attachment to the material world.
It turned out that thinking about death can be helpful
In one Buddhist text, Satifathana Sutte, Buddha tells his monks that if they see a dead body - a recently deceased, eaten by animals or nothing more than a skeleton or a pile of bones - they should say to themselves, "my own body has the same nature; it will become the same and will not escape it."
As the author of the article notes, it may not be feasible for us to meditate next to dead bodies, but we must reflect every day on the reality and inevitability of death, because it is always and everywhere present, and its transformative power is always available. Awareness of mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience that can, paradoxically, help us live a true and full life. Maybe for the first time.