What is Death Asking of You?
To think about death is hard. So very hard.
It’s impossible to fathom and sometimes debilitating in its all-consuming and inconceivable magnitude. It can be anxiety-inducing at least and terrifying at most. And in some ways, seems to make life harder. But, maybe that's the point.
The work of remaining conscious of your mortality, in the hardest of ways, confronts your life like no other truth can.
How can you argue over a parking space in light of your finite existence?
How can you justify stressing about money when you consider the fact you won’t exist someday?How can you appropriate our current culture’s notion of “success” when you’ll be gone someday and eventually entirely forgotten?
How can you buy more and more “stuff” when you’ll inevitably lose everything, all of it?
Why can’t you forgive and forget in the context of our shared mortality?
Why can’t you quit the poisonous and destructive parts and patterns of your life when you remember how preciously fragile you are?
How can you work a job you hate if you're going to die?
So, what is death asking of you?
Maybe the point isn’t to quit your job and leave your family and move to Hollywood to finally become the famous actor you always wanted to be. But maybe death is asking you to be more present where you’re at, with what you have, accept it all and give yourself to it completely. It’s the work of your death to get answers to life's questions with the clearest perspective. In this day and age, with as many options as we have in life, with as much as we’re overwhelmingly faced with individually and globally, getting clear on anything AT ALL is an incredible feat. So figuring out what really matters in your life SHOULD be hard! And maybe the answer actually is to quit your job and leave your family and move to Hollywood. Is it?
Death asks you to go beneath the surface. Death asks you to go deeper. Death asks that you shed falsity and triviality. Death leaves no room for bullshit. Death brings up our issues with jarring clarity and offers the opportunity to shed them. Death sometimes demands vulnerability while asking us to make room for more aliveness. Yes. If your job sucks, but you feel like you have to do it to make money, your eventual death, maybe even tomorrow, could be confronting. BUT THAT’S THE POINT. It should be hard to do something you don’t really want to do, but think you have to, when you consider that you might die tomorrow. It should make you intensely focused on why you're yelling at your kid AGAIN when they spilled their milk AGAIN when you consider you AND your own child will die someday. And maybe your mortality can offer the clarity of understanding that while sometimes spilt milk does deserve a good cry, mostly it probably doesn't.
It’s easy to sensationalize death, or to think it overly dramatic, or unhealthily obsessive to ponder this inevitability so much, but the act of engaging with this part of being alive can dissolve our caked, blurry, worn and dusty edges, if we let it. Like, right now, during the most alive part of your existence, when death seems impossible. And when people say, “I don’t have time for that. Death is for the dying. I’m busy being alive. It's too stressful. It's too much,” I’d argue that we do PLENTY of TOO MUCH in just being alive. Plenty of stressing about living. Plenty of making money. Plenty of buying things. Plenty of working too hard. Plenty of screen time. Plenty of consumption. Plenty of numbing out and triviality and hurrying and waste and distraction. Plenty of frantically trying to be SO alive that we''ll somehow immortalize ourselves and hopefully NEVER DIE please God please NEVER ever ever NEVER WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO AVOID DEATH AND NOT THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT ME AND EVERYONE I LOVE WILL EVENTUALLY DIE??????
If my years of experience sitting with dying people has taught me anything, if watching my mom and my mother-in-law die left any impression on me, it’s that DEATH IS HARD. If a ravenously starving lion showed up right now, wherever you are, and cornered you for its meal of the day, or if you got a terminal cancer diagnosis right now from your doctor, the threat of death would be very real. Your fear and fight or flight would be an adequate response to being suddenly SO close to not existing at all. So of course considering your death before it happens, in as much advance as possible, would most certainly bring up so, so much for you. Too much. But isn’t that what it deserves? Isn’t that what your life and death deserves? It should do that. That’s how it’s effective. That’s how it works.
Life is precious because you're going to die.
How you live your life deserves regular consideration of that fact.
And while sometimes contemplating death will instantly release you, free you, help you let go, joyfully and in inspiring ways... still other times it will destroy you and the understanding you thought you’d figured out about being alive. Sometimes it will be too much. And sometimes it will make room for more aliveness than ever before. And so, much of the work in considering mortality is your great balancing act. Your death acknowledged by the balance of just the right kind aliveness. The balance of DEATH with being ALIVE. Your death has the potential, in sometimes difficult and deeply challenging ways, to train you to live well.
Death does not forget.
And eventually, when it has to, it will remind you.
So, in the meantime, pay it the respect it deserves...
Do not forget death.