Dismantling the Universal Fear of Dying
It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.
~ Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
One of the most interesting subjects I studied while emerged in Vedic culture in India, was the way yoga philosophy views death.
I absolutely embrace the idea that death should not be looked upon as a dark, unknown and mysterious abyss that we must fear and dread, but as a normal and natural event in the ever changing experiences of our lives.
But how many of us can say we truly embrace the idea of change including death so naturally?
Resisting change is like resisting the idea that we will one day die. We may hold on to the vain hope that we’ll be exempt from the clutches of death because we’re somehow different, immortal. It is wise to remember everything in life is impermanent. So then the antidote against suffering and misery is the knowledge that all is in motion, constantly moving, morphing and shifting from one state to another; from light to dark, from sun to moon, from day to night, from hot to cold, from life to death.
To truly accept and embrace change, not just on an intellectual level but to fully embody it, is what makes death lose its enigma. Then we’re able to accept it as just another experience in our lives. We must embrace it as much as we embrace life, we must celebrate it as much as we celebrate birth, and know that as we breathe in for the first time to begin our lives, so too we must breathe out for the last time.
So what happens on the journey between our first inhale and our last exhale?
Life is a constant pulsation of inhalations, exhalations and spaces in between, taking us on an adventure through the roller coaster of life. If we manage not to fall off the ride by maintaining a firm and equanimous mind when the vicissitudes of life come our way, then we can face even the biggest of challenges. We are able to dive under the giant wave coming toward us instead of panicking as it comes crashing down around us swallowing us whole. The power of nature is stronger than we are, and to think we can control death or even avoid it altogether, is of course naïvely human and goes against the very dharma of our true nature.
Perhaps what makes us truly apprehensive at the whole idea of death– even though we know it to be the only one true reality- is that we simply don’t know what to expect, as no one has ever returned from that fascinating journey to enlighten and expand our limited views. So inevitably, we are afraid of what we have never known and do not completely comprehend.
Lord Krisha discusses the cycle of birth and death in the Bhagavad Gita, (the most revered of all Hindu texts) and says to his disciple Arjuna:
Dyaya II, sloka, 27
For in that case death is certain for the born,
And rebirth is inevitable for the dead.
You should not, therefore, grieve over the inevitable.
Dyaya II, sloka, 22
As a man shedding worn out garments
Takes other new ones, likewise the
Embodied soul casting off worn-out bodies,
Enters into others which are new.
Dying is moving into a more beautiful house, quite simply abandoning the physical body is like a butterfly abandoning its silk cocoon
~ Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
Most people today dislike mentioning the word “death”, thinking it an unnecessary topic to discuss while they still breathe in life. Avoiding death is precisely what makes us unprepared to deal with it. We are not taught in school the sensible subject of the Art of Dying gracefully, or how to prepare or accept death as a normal part of everyday living, or even how to pick up the pieces after a loved one dies. Instead we are left to our own devices to manage the searing pain of our grief.
How can we make the transition to the other side or help someone else make the transition with greater ease and comfort?
The Vedas state that your last thought before death will be the seed that passes through to your next life. If you actively resist death, then that is precisely how your next life will start, full of fear and suffering. This samskara or impression will be sown into your next life, therefore it is essential to remain as calm, focused and serene as possible.
This is why meditation is such an incredible tool. It helps you to generate a calm and peaceful attitude for yourself or toward the person transitioning, so it makes it easier for the person leaving this plane to move forward on their journey. Sometimes they resist their own departure if they feel your pain and suffering and don’t want to leave you alone.
So, can you surrender to what is? Can you lean into the unknown despite the fear, hesitation and resistance?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Recommended Reading: Stop Procrastinating & Start Meditating. Your Mind Will Love You For It
Recommended Reading: On Death and Dying– Elizabeth Kübler Ross
Recommended Film: What Dreams May Come (Director: Vincent Ward, 1998)
Recommended Podcast: Anita Moorjani Dying To Be Me