Say this with me: “I and everyone I know and love is going to die”.
Now let go of the fear that tightens the muscles in your belly, that makes you sick with despair, that makes you want to drop to your knees and hopelessly weep.
You see, there is no avoiding this fact of death. There is no postponing it until you are ready. There is no negotiating with it for a few more minutes of life so you can wrap up all of your loose ends. You can’t mark it in your day planner or include it in your retirement strategy. You have no idea when it will come. In fact, there is no guarantee that you will be here tomorrow (or even tonight). Even if you keep yourself healthy, if you run, if you eat right, if you do yoga, you still could die at any moment.
If you stop with this meditation right now, there is no doubt that you will be paralyzed with fear. You might even go a little mad. You might lock yourself and your husbands and your wives and your children in a shed in the back yard and never want to come out again.
But why is this? Why are we all taken by surprise when death comes? We all know that it’s coming. Each day that passes is a day closer to death. But we trick ourselves into believing that it’s a long way off, that it’s an unpleasant experience that we will have to face but only in some remote future. This trick of the mind even leads us to believe that maybe we and our loved ones are going to be the exceptions.
By not facing up to the reality of death we do ourselves and those around us a great, if not unintentional, harm. Of course, we’re afraid. Of course we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the pain of this truth. But avoiding the truth only makes it worse.
And the thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Despite all the wisdom of all the world’s spiritual traditions that tell us that there is something after death, we still don’t know for certain what’s in store for us, do we? There are so many different possible outcomes.There are a bewildering array of heavens and hells and rest stops in between. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if any of them are real. But of this I am certain. When the time of death comes, we will not be greeted by a cold, dark void before being blown out like a candle in a storm. The essence of who we are, the indestructible and unbounded nature of our minds, is ever unchanged.
So hold on to that. Trust in that. Be strong. And though we can, and should, grieve when we lose someone we love, we don’t have to be afraid.
This post is dedicated to my friend Jamie Heiney and to all sentient beings. Om Mani Padme Hung Hri.