In the immortal words of Axl Rose, “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain.”
I’m fairly certain he was referring to romantic relationships in that song but here I want to talk about my relationship with my Self. I’ve been meditating on death for years after having a glimpse of what that surrender can do to my perspective during my near death experience in 2008. I didn’t have any sort of format for this, and really the focus has always been on my own death and served as a brief, daily reminder that I am going to die. I don’t like to be caught off guard by this idea. There are times when my vigilance slips and I temporarily forget how very temporary I am and when I remember, it causes a teensy bit of panic. Aside from avoiding this mini mental breakdown, the benefits of death mindfulness for me include being better equipped to quickly put the “little things” in perspective and having a clear focus on what matters to me in my life, which is giving love and being of service whenever and wherever possible.
Recently, I discovered (via remembering that I can Google things) that there is actually guidance on how to do this:
Maraṇasati is a Buddhist meditation practice of remembering that death can strike at anytime, and we should practice assiduously appamada and with urgency in every moment, even in the time it takes to draw one breath. Not being diligent every moment, is called negligence by the Buddha. (Wikipedia)
Now, if you’re reading this and you are not a Buddhist, guess what? Neither am I. And practicing this meditation will not make you a Buddhist. I promise. It does, however, offer an effective outline on how to be mindful of death and dying. There are different approaches to this and I’ll offer some links at the end if you want to research on your own but I’m just going to tell you how I’m doing it.
Eleventh century Buddhist scholar, Atisha, gave us a nine point set of contemplations on death. I am doing each one for two weeks, during meditation before morning yoga. I will write about each one separately because as I work through this, each point deserves its own conversation.
1. Death is inevitable.
We know this but do we like, know know it? Everyone dies. As an abstract thought, it’s fine, right? The transformation of thought comes from more specific consideration. So I sit and breathe and list historic figures, pop culture icons, and finally family and friends that have died. For those I don’t know personally and/or who have been long dead, I hold in my mind (briefly) what I know of them. For family and friends, I consider a memory of them. As I do so, I think [Name of person] died. So it goes like this:
George Washington died. Abraham Lincoln died. John F. Kennedy died. Prince died. George Michael died. Grandpa Leonard died. Grandma Lola died. Grandpa Pat died. Digger died. Grandma Nell died. Eric died. Mary died. Kate’s dad died. My dad died.
As I wrap up two weeks of beginning my days with this meditation, I find it not only a reminder of our impermanence but also of the importance of honoring the memories of those we’ve loved and lost on the regular.
Give it a try. I double dare you.
Further reading: The surprising benefits of contemplating your death. (Vox). The Nine Point Meditation On Death (The Daily Enlightenment)