Use Death to Shake Yourself, Add a Sense of Urgency and Live a Meaningful Life

Most people never contemplate death effectively

Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme — Buddha

We’ve all heard a great deal about stoic philosophy. Thanks to people like Tim Ferris and Ryan Holiday — it has made its way into entrepreneurship, sports, and pretty much any area of life that you can imagine. The reason for this is simple — most philosophies are theoretical, which makes Stoicism a practical, attractive alternative.

It tells us things that we almost already know but have a hard time doing:

  • Only care about what you control, and leave everything else

  • Memento Mori — Remember that you are mortal

  • Amor Fati — Love of Fate

Though the ideas are simple to understand, most people don’t get to the root of it. Because they’re simple, they’re dismissed to be useful.

Memento Mori

Let’s focus on Memento Mori — remember thou art mortal. It’s one of the most profound ideas to drastically improve your life. That is if you understand it deeply.

It tells you to be aware that you’re going to die. You can die tonight when you go to sleep, you can die the next time you get out of your house or you can die by choking on cookies. Anything is possible.

This isn’t supposed to be morbid. It’s supposed to be enlightening. When you know that you’re going to die, there’s no reason to hold back on anything you wish to achieve. It pushes you to start that business, to have that uncomfortable conversation, to quit your toxic relationships, and to grab life by the balls.

The reason most people are not able to go deep with this, is** they don’t find ways to integrate it into their daily life**. When you read about it, it’s very emotional. You’re filled with the motivation to do everything you’ve ever wanted.

Then you keep the books aside and go to sleep. The next morning you wake up following pretty much the same pattern as you’ve been doing your whole life. You forgot about what you read the night before. And this happens to the best of the best.

Unless you have a system in place you can’t actually get it inside your psyche.

The Common Solution

There are various reminders that modern stoics use to keep the thought of death in their minds. Some of them include the Memento Mori medallion, Mourning Rings, morbid art pieces like Vanitas and Danse Macabre, etc.

The key is to keep something in your sight to remind yourself of it. While this is helpful and cool (I’d love the mourning ring), it doesn’t take the experience to the heart.

Intellectual pondering is not enough for this profound idea to make it to the depths of our being. Even if I hang a morbid painting over my desk, I can become ignorant of it. Have you ever pasted quotes on your desk and realized their effect diminishing after a few days?

The first week is always exciting — you’ve put something on the wall. It motivates you to take action, to not waste time. As time passes, it becomes another paper on the wall that you don’t take the time to think about.

The best way to solve this problem is to schedule a block of time daily to think about death. But not just think, meditate upon it.

The Uncommon Solution

By meditating upon death, you get a chance to think about what it feels like. That is the only way to make the experience within. The mind is busy with thousands of thoughts in a day. The thought of death is just another one in the basket unless it has a lasting effect on you.

A simple 10-minute routine can help with that. Sit down, close your eyes, and relax with a few deep breaths.

Picture the best story of your death — the age, the bed you’re laying on, and the reason for your death. You’ve told your loved ones that you care about them. You’ve let go of all resentment against anyone and have asked forgiveness from others.

You’ve sorted all financial matters in your family and you’ve given a part of your wealth for the causes you care about. There are no worries, only a sense of relief from your possessions.

Your body is weak, there’s no strength for moving your arms or legs. You realize that it’s the body — and you’re not the body. You feel your consciousness withdraw from the five senses.

Then imagine yourself being buried. Put inside a coffin, people throwing sand on top. See the world from inside the coffin and deepen the sense of your impermanence.

This is how you can make death seem real. To realize that it will come and what it could be like. To help yourself, you can find guided death meditations. Here are a few.

Practices like these are crucial to unlocking the true power of Memento Mori. It also helps you realize that nothing, including you, matters. It’s all dust. Compare the size of the universe with the size of the earth. And on this earth is you — worrying about your problems and making your life miserable.

The minute nature of our life is a great sense of relief if understood in the right context.

Which is why many astronauts develop a different world view when they come back.

In outer space, you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it — Edgar Mitchell, the sixth person to walk on the moon,

Taking this ‘view from above’ every day makes us realize the pettiness of our problems and rise above them.

Don’t make the same mistake as others. Don’t only dismiss this practice as an intellectual exercise. To shift your mindset, you need to contemplate and meditate.

Don’t make the same mistake as others. Don’t only dismiss this practice as an intellectual exercise. To shift your mindset, you need to contemplate and meditate.

When done right, it adds an irreplaceable sense of urgency to get things done and to do things you’re otherwise waiting on.

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Written on July 3, 2020