Dealing with Death - Ours and OthersJul 24, 2006
We lose loved ones all the time. We hope for an afterlife. The self wants to grow and be powerful and young. It is completely opposed to it's own extinction. So there is fear and panic around the thought of death for many. In fact, many people can't even discuss it. But all living things seem to pass away. How do we deal with that?
Today we're going to talk about death of the body, but also death of the self. We'll talk about how meditation relates to death, and how putting your life in perspective can be meaningful. We'll talk about the death of others and how to deal with that. We'll talk about the desire for an afterlife, and how death really makes everything deeply meaningful. Death is a part of life, so let's talk about it.
We've discussed in the past, that we are not only self. We are also in some way connected to everything. Can that other identity help us deal not only with our own death, but also the death of others, and finally other types of change as well?
All living things die. But we can expand the idea of death from there. Situations die, friends change, we get divorced. All of these things are mini-deaths. We "die" in a different way as well. I am not the same 10 year old boy I once was. That boy is gone forever. So we are all changing. Everything is in a state of change. Death s a kind of change.
Meditation actually teaches us a death of self. We are putting down the ego and just identifying with the big mind. You obviously don't actually die, and you can retain your "self" as much as you wish, but each time you enter this other mind, you will see it is a death of self in that moment. You will find that this type of practice can change you fundamentally. It can make you more able to deal with change, and hence your own death, and the death of others.
Truly being in the Now is about not thinking about the future. The entire thing is to watch the mind that wants to leave this moment. So in that, the Now becomes much fuller. Our entire attention is on it, and it becomes rich and thick. The understanding of this type of mind leads spiritual leaders to talk about eternity. Many talk about no death, in the death of self. So the temporary idea of you, or your ego, dies in that moment. And what is born is a fuller understanding of timelessness, or eternity.
Pulling away from your life and looking at it on a time line is very helpful and can put your life into a different context. Often we find ourselves just drifting along, but all events are precious, so it can be useful to find that context and check in.
There's an old saying, or it might have been a viral email that went around way back, about filling a jar with a marble for every year of your life expectancy, and removing one on your birthday. It shows the significance of our lives. That could potentially give a deeper context to your life as well.
The desire for an afterlife comes from the mind that that is unhappy and wants salvation. It also may have been used as a carrot and stick for controlling people. But whether that's true or not, it is really important to expose the mind that craves a better future, the ultimate of which would be a glorious afterlife.
We think that to stay moral, our culture needs to be held in a "proper space" with the appropriate carrot and stick. Meaning, if I were to take away the idea of living a good life being the thing that gets us into heaven, people might begin to behave poorly because there's no point in behaving well. The idea of putting down the external carrot and stick scares many people. They immediately image anarchy and insanity ensuing from removing those guidelines. But a sincere morality comes from seeing the beauty that's here, not a future hoped for beauty.
We need to become OK with who we are, without the hope for a prize. Because fear of not getting the prize does not work as our motivation. Fear based morality will not work. The example of extremists who die to get to heaven also cause great pain and suffering. They want the "prize" too much. Their morality is quite different, but also belief based. Either type of morality doesn't seem to be working. To be clear, I'm not attacking peoples beliefs necessarily, I'm just saying that the mind that thinks about salvation, or hopes for it, or gets attached to it, is not the healthiest mind. It is ego based, and fear based. Seeing the beauty right in front of us, rather than being controlled by fear will work much better.
Death of others is very hard to deal with. It is very hard to lose a family member or loved one. We are attached to permanence, which doesn't exist. This is a fault of the egoic mind. While losing things we care about will always be hard, I want to point out that the natural desire for permanence can make dealing with death and change even more difficult. If we realize that nothing is permanent, then we don't have unrealistic expectations around things like a loved one dying. We need to learn to face non-permanence.
Fear of death and the unknown is enormous. But death makes everything matter. Living forever would take value away from lots of things. You'd be able to take literally forever to master things, so being a master chef as an example would have little meaning. We'd constantly be approaching everyone knowing everything, with no risk because we'd have forever to fix any problems, etc. It would be a very different existence for sure. Certainly different than most people would fantasize. Death is a part of life, and it is something we'll do well to get more comfortable with.
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