I’m sure you are thinking: what would make me want to explore death meditation???
Life is about how well we handle change. When I get to a place in my life that is a big transition, I go through this grieving process—feeling like who I was is gone and that I am shifting into someone new. My past helps to make me who I am today, so in essence I’m not really losing anything. I am just transforming into the latest greatest version of me. However, this process is easier said than done!
In the moment of change or the realization of change, there still seems to be this grieving process or sense of loss, which led me to think about death—connected to the concept of “death of my old life” or “the death of my former self.” I have done releasing ceremonies to “let go of” or “surrender to” an aspect of myself that I want to change or transform, so the concept has already been in my consciousness.
I believe in reincarnation. I don’t believe that anything really dies. I believe that it is just transformed into something else. This transmutation is like the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it just transfers into something different; or it is like the way water goes from liquid to steam, or solid ice becomes liquid water…you get the picture.
I decided to commit to doing a death meditation every day for a week and see what would happen. I looked up death meditation online. There is a Buddhist practice called Maranasati. Come to find out, there really weren’t many actual death meditations to follow on YouTube.
However, I did find many articles and a couple videos on death meditation. I started reading articles on the practice. All of them were saying meditating on death (which really is meditation on the concept of impermanence, meaning change) helps you value life, find deeper meaning, and experience more compassion, joy, and empathy for your life and other people.
Of Course, there were a few warnings that said if you are not in a good mental state then maybe you should not do certain types of death meditation. I feel like I’m in a pretty healthy state of mind, so I have been contemplating different aspects of death. I have definitely had major shifts! The recommendation is only to do a 10- to 20-minute meditation, not to take it too far.
There were all different aspects of death to meditate on. The meditation I found online that I liked focuses on the stages of death and rebirth (as in reincarnation). It was very positive; one of the comments suggested that it wasn’t a meditation on death at all but on immortality. I can see why they would think that. Presently, I have done this one the most: the Buddhist eight stages of death that takes you from leaving this physical form, to the bardo (the space in between death and rebirth) and all the way into the womb of your next mother. I always jokingly say that I don’t want to come back: I’m done, never mind! However, I’m sure I am not enlightened yet.
So the first thing I started thinking about was how the world keeps going on regardless of who dies. So whether or not I’m alive, the world will continue. Contemplating this idea, as well as thinking about how I want to leave things, is very humbling. This meditation suggests that all of your affairs are in order, you’ve made amends with everyone, you’ve said what you needed to say, as far as telling your loved ones how you feel about them and similar finalizations.
It also says to imagine that all your possessions are donated or you know they are in the proper place, so you’re not burdened with anything at the time of death. The reality is that, when people pass away, they usually don’t have all their stuff in order. The people alive are the ones that have to deal with all of this stuff and the unknown. I’ve also been going through a process of releasing my belief in lack lately and trying to get rid of my stuff that I don’t use. If I were to die today there would be so much stuff people would have to deal with that it’s kind of embarrassing. This fact is inspiring me to get on the move, keep getting rid of this stuff, do something with it, or at least write down what I want done with it when the time comes. All of a sudden making a will doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Here is the point: life is not about our “stuff” that we accumulate over time. No one else is going to have emotional attachment to a match book we got at a restaurant on vacation. Value relationships and experiences more than physical items.
The next aspect of life that the meditation focused me on was non-tangible things like relationships with loved ones. I started realizing that it’s very important to make sure that my children and loved ones know the way that I feel about them and how important they are to me. I decided I may want to write letters to them and put them aside for when the time comes. Alongside of this, I decided that making amends with people is important. I asked myself, have I made amends with everyone that I feel like I have wronged or done a disservice to? In twelve- step programs, this is the eighth step that you go through with a sponsor. Making amends is not simply giving an apology—it has more to do with admitting that you were wrong, having genuine remorse for what you have done, and asking the person how you can honor them by either behaving differently or paying back what’s owed in some way.
I also realized that once someone is gone, it’s a little hard to ask them how to make amends. I have to come to terms with how to make amends with people that have passed, such as my mother. At the time of death, I don’t want to be dealing with that. I’m not interested in having that kind of karma hanging over my head. I had already decided I wanted to write a letter to her and read it at her grave site and then burn it. It is in another state, so it will be a year before I’ll get to go do that; however, I can start making a living amends daily through my behavior and my relationship with my own children.
I have also started to have more empathy—seeing other people’s perspective—especially as they are getting older, such as the “getting their affairs in order” thing. When my mom would speak about those kinds of things, I used to tell her, “No, stop talking about that stuff. I don’t
want to hear it. Don’t say things like that.” Now I’ve come to understand what some of those articles were saying that life, in essence, is really just a preparation for death.
There was another meditation I found that focused more on decomposition. That one seemed a little more morbid on the surface. The thoughts of bugs and decomposition grossed me out at first thought. However, as I started contemplating decomposition, I came to a whole new perspective. Following through with the practice, I realized that we all one—the concept of unity overcame me.
First of all, if my spirit has already left my body, then all that is left to decompose is the shell, the physical form that housed my spirit in this incarnation. So technically I wouldn’t even be conscious or aware of the decomposing body or the bugs. I imagined my body decomposing in a forest. I thought about how maggots would form and the animals would start to smell my body decomposing. Perhaps a coyote or wolf will come along and tear off one of my ears or arms and take it back to go eat. I thought about how the birds would come to eat the bugs. My body would become fertilizer for the soil, feeding the surrounding trees and plants. Then it occurred to me: I have eaten animals and plants my whole life. What better way can I give back to them than to offer my dead body? It is like this incarnation’s final offering.
I started thinking of the circle of life and the food chain. That’s what I mean by the sense of unity and interconnectedness. The only certainty in life is death. We do not know when our time will come or how it will come. No one can escape it. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your job is, or what you have or have not accomplished. Generations later we may not even be a memory. I have to live fully in this moment—all I have is the present.
Having contemplated all of these ideas, I now think: what am I doing today to better the world around me? To live authentically with no regrets? This practice is very humbling. All I can really do is be the best version of me and hope to positively impact others as I go through this life. Those people will then pass on attitudes ideals and beliefs to the next generation. That’s really the only legacy that I can hope to leave.