Contemplating Death


Yikes! The first two guardian meditations were so uplifting! And the last two are such downers! Well of course. Sometimes the medicine you need is energetic and encouraging. Sometimes the medicine you need is a little less fun. Sometimes the doctor gives you morphine, sometimes chemo. The morphine might be more fun (temporarily), but sometimes what you need is the chemo.

Contemplation of Death is definitely on the darker side. Again, not so popular in yoga classes and meditation CDs.

I have a bunch of cartoons on my wall in my office. Most of them are pretty silly, but there is one that I like best. Far more students have commented on it that any of the others. It’s my favorite. There is a little both sitting on a pile of books, and he’s doing his best to read one. The caption is, “When work feels overwhelming, remember that you’re going to die.”

The strange thing is, it’s weirdly comforting! When I’m swamped, I sometimes really do look at that cartoon and think, “Sheesh, why am I really getting so worked up about all this grading.” It puts you in mind of what’s really important.

Again, this is strong medicine. Someone with a depressive mindset shouldn’t dabble in this. Traditionally it’s the antidote to laziness. Again, all you want to do is watch TV and relax. Oops, I’m gonna die, better meditate.

But I think there’s another use as well: perspective. What are all our little worries in the face of death. Sometimes in meditation all the little things I need to do start bubbling up and interrupting me.  This is powerful meditation for that tendency as well.

We will all die. It’s worth remembering. In the past year I’ve been in mind more often that there are only so many things I can really accomplish in the next 40 years. Or 60 years. Or 6 months. Or whatever. Better to really do what I truly want to do, rather than put it off to some imaginary day when “I’m not as busy.” That day will never come. And if it does, you may not have the energy or health to take full advantage. Better do whatever you want to do in this life now. I assume since you’re all here, the spiritual life is a part of that.

We will all die, so a good attitude to have toward it is, “May I be ready when my time comes. May I not have regrets. May I have done what I need to do.” When you take that attitude, you’ll be surprised how many things you DON’T need to do, and how many possibilities there are for things you DO want to do!

How did the Buddha die? He died doing the jhanas. That is truly what I want as well. Well, better get to work.


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