It seems like an incredible opportunity lost to not include education about death and mortality from our early childhood.
It is clear that curiosity about this naturally arises for most of us when we’re between the ages of 4-8. Innocent questions about death from kids at that age can be met initially in many ways — in addition to the standard pat religious answers we often offer. Yes, we could say that in death, people go to heaven or to God or whatever we believe. However, as we say that, we could also expand by saying how we aren’t really sure how death and the afterlife work — that’s why it’s great that ‘you’ (the kid) is questioning this. Please keep asking questions.
Recognizing that death is a guaranteed part of life highlights the importance of including it in our awareness and communication. My experience, both personally and professionally, is that it can be utilized as a source of inspiration to live each day fully and lead us to not take life for granted. Facing our mortality can also help us illuminate how we are all in the same boat as human beings, animals, and plants. In fact, it can even be used as a source of unity in the world. The alternative is often reacting unconsciously and having our death-related feelings (like fear, anxiety, and anger) affect how we treat other people and groups as an exaggerated danger — rather than highlighting what we have in common.
The ongoing suppression of death leaves us in a state of unconscious fear, helplessness, confusion, and anger that makes us vulnerable to believing that “others” are the source of threats to our lives and well-being. In reality, this suppression often creates the distortion that the enemy or danger is outside ourselves.
That is not to deny that some groups are bent on our destruction and are killers. This is the exception, but not to be denied in some idealistic illusion. Most of us agree that there are truths and there is science, just as there is goodwill towards others. All this can be violated and is being violated today. We must learn how to best relate to others in this state of thought and action. We need to know how to set strong boundaries by being even stronger in ourselves, which is vastly supported when we embrace our own mortality.
Recognizing (and maybe even making a major movement toward accepting your mortality) is a monumental turning point one way or the other. When we live a life that buries our vulnerable, terrified, and angry feelings, we will inevitably imagine these fears coming from people and situations outside ourselves.
When we can face this vulnerability, it can lead to feelings of caring and protectiveness toward both ourselves and others. At the same time, it could also become a unitive force for our families, countries, and the vast majority of humankind. It may sound disorienting or strange, but this depth of including mortality as a critical part of our life would lead us to think things like:
“Oh, we’re all going to die, aren’t we?” That’s a shared mysterious and scary reality (subject to those in a depth of faith who have lived a caring life).
“It would be very helpful to deal with our own sense of mortality if we allow ourselves to take it out of the closet and include it in our thoughts, conversations — it would be nice to let it influence how we live our life.”
Recognizing our finite time on earth can inspire us to go for our deepest dreams and ironically wake up from what we’ve been conditioned to believe is most important.
Why do we need to recognize our mortality at all?
Everyone will ultimately face certainly one of the greatest dilemmas of their lives — realizing that mortality is a common universal bond. When we understand and sense that death is very real, most of us naturally want to be more protective of the many people who are not bent on destruction. The people I’ve talked to about this, and I all feel this strongly — because I’m not in denial toward myself or them in the same sleepy way I have been.
I can see the horrors of war, nuclear danger, and global warming more clearly because I’m not suppressing mortality (my own and others’) as much anymore. Instead, I naturally want to preserve life and quality of life because I can see that life is impermanent, at least in this body we are all in.
Life isn’t as simple as we were all raised to believe. The temporary nature of living in this body has made me reconsider what really are my top priorities — especially since now; I can see the interconnectedness of all life more clearly as we are all vulnerable. I don’t have to suppress my vulnerability, allowing me to be more open to feeling others’ vulnerability.
Facing my death can be liberating as it helps make it clearer that I want to think for myself, as the society in which I was raised didn’t include this as a key element to consider. This is especially important as we put more of an emphasis on success, power, youthfulness, war, and violence. We need more focus on cooperation, survival opportunities for everyone, and national and international communication and unification. It is stronger now, as we are close to experiencing the dangers of annihilation of the planet.
Of course, I realize I might be just touching the tip of the iceberg in my awareness of death. Still, even that tip is enough to re-orient and make me reconsider how much money I need. It makes me ponder over questions like:
- How balanced is my daily life in terms of pursuing a quality of life?
- Isn’t it clear that quality of life is the most important consideration?
- If we reach a quality of life that is deeply fulfilling, isn’t it clear that we want to share that with others while we’re here and alive?
Doesn’t it seem clearly paradoxical that to be aware of our deaths at increasing levels will support a longing to not take life for granted? It will also motivate us to contemplate how to create the best quality of life for ourselves. If and when we succeed, we will most likely want to share it with others.
Realizing how little we know and how far we’ve got to go
Can we recognize that we don’t know how we got here and that each of us is given a chance to live a free and meaningful life (except those in war-torn countries or deep poverty? Doesn’t it make sense to think outside the box of what we were taught?
Can you glimpse the miracle of being nothing (as far as we know before we got here) and suddenly appear as life in a mind-blowing complicated brain, heart, and body? To add, we are on an equally extraordinary planet and in a universe beyond our comprehension!
No matter our beliefs about god or a higher power — no one can discount the incredulous miracle that we are here rationally. As we take a more steady and ongoing realization of this, it discourages being complacent. It brings us to a mystery that we can’t fully understand. To let this in deeply and stably requires a good deal of remembering this perspective of miraculousness. Unfortunately, most of our lifestyles are fraught with denial, and virtually all of us have been told a compelling hypnotic fairy tale about what matters when living a fulfilling life.
To drive this home, can you correctly answer how our bodies were made from the start? Can you really say that scientists have figured out how we might have come from absolute nothingness to the utterly miraculous organization of trillions of cells that allow life to exist?
As I ask myself these questions, the answers are clear: we are all equally clueless, and I believe everyone I’ve met is still waiting to learn, even if there are a few; that leaves the rest of us — 8 billion people who don’t know.
If you don’t just let what is being said as words and face the reality of your life and death, you will see that you don’t have good answers, and at best, they are based on beliefs you don’t know for sure. This is our universal heritage, legacy, and tradition. Unfortunately, it has not been presented this way except for some indigenous cultures.
How can facing our mortality help unity and create a better quality of life?
The more we let this in, the greater the chance for a universal identification that all of us are in the same dilemma and heritage. Moreover, it lessens the possibility of putting our fears, anger, and confusion on other races, countries, political parties, and religions. This is worth repeating over and over again as we are countering our perpetual conditioning and the same from our ancestors.
How we make our country and planet work so that all of us can live in safety, survival, and a greater chance for peace? The fact that this is not a question we ask or make our number one priority is an inevitable consequence of not facing our universal vulnerability. Throughout history, I believe projecting these very challenging feelings has been the source of war, violence, and separation. It is viable that we can see this principle for all of our human race as motivating us to unite rather than divide.
When we recognize and accept our mortality, we could have questions/discussions like this:
“I’m going to die too, and so are you. How do we make the best possible world by each doing what we can in our own small way? All while we still have a chance?
“I want to preserve my life and quality of life as much as possible as I can see that my time here is limited. So I would like to help you too.”
I have had several deep conversations about this reality with most of my clients and dearest friends. There’s always a common reaction as we continue to let this in on a deeper level. Almost always, people want to dedicate themselves toward being a unitive source of increasing peace, quality of life, and greater accountability for their emotions, thoughts, and actions.
One of my more recent clients said to me only half in jest, “Before I met you, I thought I was going to live forever; now I realize I’m not. Thanks a lot. (with a smile).”
Waking up from the dream of unconsciously thinking we’ll live forever supported a major change in caring more about the moment, the day, his life, and others on the planet. It is inexpressible how much of an impact our denial of death has on our planet. Instead, we could work towards the potential optimism, courage, and inspiration there could be in facing the reality of our impermanence on this planet. It is one of the most satisfying and joyous paradoxical moments whenever I can connect with anyone about the joint human reality we all face, whether we recognize it or not.
So how are you taking this in?
Are you leaving it as a belief system I am portraying, or are you considering taking it in as the reality we’re all in even the slightest bit more?
This is much more vital at this time of jeopardy in our country and the world.
Perhaps you have faced this for a long time, in which case I am preaching to the choir and asking the choir to keep sharing it. I also think it’s important to distinguish between being intellectually aware of our death vs. it being a more primal factor in our day-to-day life. The latter is where it starts to change our relationship with our key motivations.
It becomes obvious that we can’t take our money with us, no matter how much we amass. We can naturally find a place inside that wants to take advantage of every day we are alive. But we aren’t going to let ourselves be complacent. As this understanding deepens, we become grateful for the opportunity — we didn’t pay for our entrance into the life we arrived in.
It is like we each got a free ticket to Disneyland and don’t really understand how. For some who are born in horrific circumstances, this would not seem to be a blessing. I sincerely believe it is up to those who have been more fortunate due to better life origins to share wealth and well-being. I don’t think this is radical or particularly generous. It’s simply natural and just.
We need to let ourselves feel both gratitude towards mysterious opportunity and see that a part of it is contributing to those who are not as fortunate as we are.
This is not a moral standard, but one that is obvious when you are asked, “How were you so wonderful that you created a life that has privilege and freedom?”
Hopefully, this makes you smile and be humbled. If it is a morality that we are following, then we aren’t seeing the nature of how we unknowingly came into being on this planet. We will have a shared sense of purpose when we know that we can all play an interconnected role. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to see because our history didn’t teach us this basic understanding of life. Instead, it has given us a fairy tale set of goals toward success, power, and security that is essentially a myth and delusion of happiness.
We need to look deeply into this conditioning to set ourselves free from the bonding of our false standards. The need to be self-sufficient is natural. However, the need for security is arbitrary, and addiction to wealth in our society has become delusional and detrimental for those who have made it significantly their primary goal or need.
When we see our life is finite in this body for sure and lessen our denial of death, we will naturally join the human dilemma of all of us being mortal. It will support a tendency to unite in our same nature.
Gaining empathy for us all being alive and facing our deaths can inspire us to play the balancing role that is intuitively natural, especially if we look at it from a place of caring for as many other innocent souls as possible. This is a life of great potential purpose and connectedness and one that can give inspiration and inner and outer peace.