To talk of death is not encouraged in todays world; we don’t like to think that
one day will be our last day. It invokes such fear, as we do not know what lies
on the other side, and in todays society, where we are protected against the
elements, where all our base needs of food, water, shelter and healthcare have
been met, where medicine has advanced to such a degree that many once fatal
illnesses are now nothing but minor inconveniences, it has never been easier to
ignore. For most, death is an abstract concept, something that happens to other
people but not us, and we certainly don’t prepare for it.
Our ancestors were not as protected as we are, and death was a constant
feature in their lives.
Overcoming, accepting and rehearsing death is a key pillar in Stoicism. Rather
than the meditation of death being a morbid and depressing act, it actually
leads to a far more fruitful and enjoyable life. Knowing our time is limited means
we no longer waste it. Knowing death can arrive at the drop of a hat, suddenly
our grudges, fears and ambitions seem infantile.
The Stoics believed only those who overcome and accept death can be free and
so long as you avoid and fear it, so you shall always be enslaved by it.
Nothing in life is as sobering as death; it cuts through the noise and nonsense
of life like a sword through silk. You will have heard of many people having near death experiences and it changing their lives completely for the better. Suddenly they are filled with purpose, they waste no time, they chase their dreams and live life to the fullest.
It gives them complete clarity and confidence, they have an acute awareness that their time is not infinite and they must live now, live immediately. Their brush with death cleared the dust from their mind and all that is left is clarity of thought on life.
Thankfully you do not need to nearly die to understand death's power.
The more we visit death, the more we can loosen its grip over us; with death by our side we can live a full life.
Death will come, this we cannot change, but we can stop our souls dying whilst we still live. As The poet Charles Bukowski wrote, "you cannot beat death, but you can beat death in life."
The worse kind of death in the eyes of the Stoics was the death of the soul whilst the body lives on.
"Most people die at 25 but aren’t buried until they are 70." - Benjamin Franklin
Try this simple exercise on the power of rehearsing death:
Death puts everything into perspective, the things that truly matter in life will still matter when compared to death; those that don’t, pale in comparison.
Think about your life right now, the petty grudges, the senseless fears, the empty ambition and all that you spend your time and energy thinking about and doing.
How do all these things compare to death?
Are they still scary?
Are they still worth it?
Questions and exercises to get you started
If I knew the date of my death, would I be more mindful of my mortality, would I waste and much time as I have?
Your death and resurrection:
Imagine you are dead, at this very moment your heart has stopped beating. Think back over the course of your life, watch it all flash before your eyes.
What regrets would you have?
What deeds left undone?
How would you have live your life differently?
You have been resurrected and given a second chance at life. Now go and live it correctly!
Do I fear death?
How can I change my perception?
If I no longer feared it, how would I live my life differently?
Quotes to inspire
Rehearse death: to say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned to die has unlearned how to be a slave. - Seneca.
He will Iive badly who does not know how to die well - Seneca.
He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man. - Seneca.
Day by day you must keep before your eyes death and exile and everything else that seems frightening, but most especially death; and then you’ll never harbour any mean though, nor will you desire anything beyond due measure. - Epictetus.
Do not act as if you had thousands of years to live. The unavoidable hangs above your head. While you have life in you, while you still can, make yourself good! - Marcus.