Death as a reminder

We live in this world, making plans and acting as if we’re going to stay here forever. We behave as if the people we love, hate, and can’t forgive are going to stick around. And that’s what leads us to have unhealthy attachments. It can be hatred, anger, envy, toxic love, and everything in between. These are emotions that will never allow us to embrace the ‘beauty of the present’ fully.

When I experience such emotions, I think of a Latin phrase called ‘Memento mori,’ i.e., ‘remember death.’ What this means is: We’re going to die. Everyone around us is going to die.

Most of us are capable of wishing bad things to happen to people who hurt us when we’re angry. But we all know, these feelings settle when their existence comes to an end. It becomes a little too late to have moments of epiphany. And it sucks to befriend regret and guilt. That’s why we must remind ourselves of the inevitability of death.

When the person we are mad at is no longer alive, do we think of the good moments we shared with them? The good deeds they did? If we can consciously recognize the good parts we saw in them after they’re gone, we certainly have the power to imagine that when they’re alive.

Likewise, think of the times we obsess over our success, failures, shame, guilt, and worldly possessions. We’re either proud as a peacock or feel as if we’re not worthy enough. Both these states are equally unhealthy as they’re driven by ego. But there’s one thing that we’re all aware of: when it’s time, we have to leave everything behind and take our own, lone path. 

That’s reality.

Remembering death will help us reevaluate our priorities in life, and put our prosaic obsessions into question.

“Keep death and exile before your eyes each day, along with everything that seems terrible— by doing so, you’ll never have a base thought, nor will you have excessive desire.” 

Epictetus

Memento mori offers us a way to forgive, move on from the rusted strings of the past, and be grateful for what we have today. It helps us choose kindness over hatred, kindness over arrogance, kindness over ego, kindness over everything. It gives us a chance to surrender to the impermanence of life and practice humility.

We all deserve to feel liberated, and that can happen only when we remember death.

If you enjoy spiritual philosophy and like to learn more about the concept of ‘Death as Teacher,’ I highly recommend reading about the conversation between Yama (God of death) and Nachiketa (a young, knowledge-seeker) from the Katha Upanishad. It’s my go-to book whenever I feel like a nihilist.

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