“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Gandhi
Death is certain, which is not intended to start with a melancholic tone, but rather a calling for understanding the phenomena in order to elevate the physical form. The Stoics viewed death in a manner that aided human purpose. By philosophizing on our impermanence they were able to reason ways in which fear of death could be replaced by honoring living. They practiced concepts such as negative visualization, which meant approaching thoughts and actions as though they were the last time having said thoughts or doing said actions. The practice plays on how there will be a last time for everything without our knowing. A last time for drinking water, a last time seeing the blue sky, a last time for sharing with a loved one all exist. In this manner, stoic adherents were empowered to express greater gratitude for what they thought and experienced. While stoics experienced an event, emotion, or thought, they experienced it objectively by fast-forwarding to the end in order to pay full justice to living it in the present by recognizing it will end inevitably. By contemplating death in a balanced fashion, so without extreme tunnel-vision to steal the light away from living and without extreme denial to permit wasting valuable time, a powerful perception is developed, in which every day and every moment is filled with startling energy, presence, and awe.
Throughout human evolution and history, the cognitive assessment as well as the spiritual understanding attributed to death is recorded through cultural tradition, written material, and more. From religious beliefs, ceremonial rituals, and grief and mourning, there exists a vast array of interpretations in approaching the idea of death and dying. Two terms are used in order to draw attention to their distinct spheres of impact. With death, the concept involves awareness and understanding of the end both from the perspective of the individual who is passing and the individuals who will remember the deceased. Along with death, decisions await on how to view and carry-out the remembrance as either a celebration of life or an end to life as well as whether to believe it is a new beginning or believing it is the end. With dying, the concept involves scenarios, where both the individual who is dying and loved ones are immensely aware of time left due to medical diagnosis and prognosis or to fragile age. Alongside the concept of dying, several choices await with respect to how to continue living with the newly revealed knowledge. Action to create a change, to remain the same, to go, to stop, to jump, to hide, to listen, to shut-out, or a mixture are possible choices.
Interpretations of death and dying are not only derived from the mind, which is a part individuals have a capacity to control, but also are shaped by the manner or decisions we take in choosing how to live. Making sound preparations and having honest and openhearted discussions with loved ones for its coming in order to avoid negative thoughts or emotions later enables living day-to-day as fully and urgently as stoic wisdom instructs. Discussions and preparations serve as proofs toward achieving greater transcendence and consciousness, while still living. Since the future is uncertain, why wait for its arrival to do X. The past is done and highlights how much less time is in front of us. The present is ours.
We all experience death personally with respect to our own demise and those we love, which is not to convey insensitivity, rather to emphasize the key elements relating to death and dying are awareness and understanding. Regardless of individual views on what happens to the soul after the physical body’s death, stated with utmost respect, life is a loan, and we are responsible for growing its value for the sake of others and ourselves before having to return it. From physics stating how energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and from the notion of sacred scripture, which paraphrased states ‘dust returns to dust’, we all die and return from where we originated. Thus, grappling and attempting to understand death in order to not only make peace with its arrival but to also enrich living with vivid color is a must, if we are to do justice to our finite time. Regardless if an individual lives 20 or 100 years, the spark of light that we inherit when we come into being is short. Attempt beginning every day by asking would you do what you intend to do that day if it were your last day, which is a question attributed to Steve Jobs, though the question must not be restricted to any external metric or comparison with Jobs, rather listen to your heart and soul. Similarly, end every day by asking can any additional tasks wait to be completed or experienced until the following day.
Death and dying are not negative, when the physical brain and body are no longer alive. The true tragedy lies in breathing through the physical body while being dead in the mind and spirit. As Gandhi stated, seek new knowledge as though you are immortal. Learn indefinitely with respect to understanding and embracing the human condition, others, and the world as well as to learning how to live fully every day and experience as much as humanly possible.
“The word ‘life’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by death.”- Unknown