“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I have a guideline I follow, where if I come across the same idea or suggestion from three separate sources, I try to act on it.
- reading a meditation on dying to your true self,
- being asked about experiences with ego death, and
- learning about how our subconscious mind can equate change with death.
… I decided to rehearse my own death.
If your first thought after reading that was, “What the f***?!?,” don’t worry, you’re normal. Almost everyone I’ve brought this up to has shared that same initial reaction. This practice is definitely out there, but while staring down death may be scary and unsettling, it’s also liberating.
In Buddhist wisdom, it is by letting go of attachments that we become free from our suffering and open to all that we might experience. In a similar way, becoming unattached to ideas about our own existence might be what allows us to become most fully alive.
Indian Shaivite Meditation: Dying To Your True Self
The following meditation was introduced to me by Pedram Shojai, author of The Urban Monk.
The first time I practiced it, I felt both disconnected from and incredibly grateful for, my body.
One week later, after a deeper experience with the meditation while in a sensory-deprivation chamber, I finished almost in a state of euphoria. The experience led not only to eye-opening insights and an incredible experience at the Beyonce concert, but also to a realization of where I wanted to get a long-discussed tattoo – and a trip to the tattoo parlor.
The meditation doesn’t require anything special. As Shojai writes:
“This Indian Shaivite [Dying to Your True Self] meditation is powerful and unsettling. It really helps us disassociate from our bodies and our egos so we can gain further clarity on who we truly are. The Tibetan Bon tradition also uses this type of practice actively.
The essential practice is to visualize your dead body (yes, you heard me). See your own corpse and see it falling apart. See the worms, the maggots, the flies, maybe the dogs and vultures, all eating away at your flesh. See yourself giving your body back to the cycle of life. See it decompose and settle into the earth, where it can feed flowers and plants in the soil. Don’t balk; just let it go. What do you think happens anyhow?
Facing death is a powerful practice that liberates us from the fear of it and allows us to fully live our lives. See the flowers push up and the butterflies hovering all around the life that has sprung up from your contribution back to the great cycle of nature. Do this practice daily and feel the loss and the agony of the ego as it needs to hang on. See your loved ones mourning your loss. Feel it. Why? Because it’ll help you step back into real time and live your life fully now.”
Stepping Back Into Real Time & Living Fully Now
Going face-to-face with the fact that we’re impermanent can help us shift perspective. That feeling during a tough workout of, “I’m going to die!” can become a celebrated exploration of what you’re actually physically capable of. That person who cut you off or said something rude, not such a big deal.
Even the smallest things become causes for the greatest celebrations – like being here, now. As Tim Urban writes, “Treat that time as what it actually is: precious.”
Pause, for a moment, and place one of your hands on your heart. Feel it beating beneath your chest, sending pulses of energy throughout your body.
Someday, that beating will stop. But now is not that moment. Right now, your physical body is allowing you to experience this breath, this rhythmic beating vibration, and this awareness. How awesome is that?
We’ve only got so many heartbeats. Let’s make them matter.