32. Make a Friend of Death
We are all terminal.
Recognizing mortality gives your life impetus unlike anything else. An awareness of your mortality urges you to use your time constructively to keep your priorities in order. From the perspective of your deathbed, things that are troubling you now might seem trivial and nonproblematical. Death is a fact of life; make death a friend. The Buddha, Siddartha, started on his path to understanding and enlightenment when he first saw a dead body. It plunged him into deep reflection on the meaning of life.
Love the life you have; live sensuously and intensely. With death as your friend, you might live more consciously—caring for your health and wellbeing, honoring your body as the only one you’ve got. You might live more playfully—taking more risks and not taking yourself so seriously, playing life as a game! It is paradoxical that befriending death can increase your joy in life. You might live with more ecological awareness—realizing that your life and health, and that of your children, depends upon the life and health of this planetary body, Earth.
When you think about it, you are always “dying” in small ways every day, because you are always in the process of change. Change means saying good-bye to something in order to say hello to something else. Each good-bye is a little death. Baby teeth fall out, adult teeth move in. Skin cells die and are sloughed off as new skin replaces it. A new job means death to the previous one. Growing means death of old belief patterns.
Every moment you are being born to something new, as something old dies. Nothing lasts forever. As you become more aware of the death and rebirth in each moment, you reevaluate priorities. Treasure the transformative quality and possibility of each death and each birth. Celebrate the process of life instead of wasting valuable energy resisting change.
In some North American tribes, young men and women learn a death chant early in life. The chant is a particular repetition of words that reminds them of their destiny and helps them prepare for it throughout their lives. Whenever they are in danger, or ill, or frightened, they recall the death chant. It becomes a source of reassurance, something that builds personal strength.
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