I’ve written about death in a past post, and how to use death as a means of liberation. I think intellectually a lot of us understand death, however, it is hard to internalize the idea that we are going to die. I’ve found it even more difficult to internalize the concept that everyone around me is going to eventually face death (family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers).
Culturally, it seems like this is an unpopular topic to talk about. I doubt I’ll have much luck with the ladies if I try to have conversations about death at parties :). However, I adamantly believe that from a self development perspective death is one of the most useful concepts to explore. If you really spend time trying to understand what it means to die your true goals and priorities in life surface, which gives you the opportunity to clean out the cruft.
Death is the only thing that I know of that can slice through all the social constructs and identities we hide behind like jobs, education, family, money etc. Understanding that we are all united by death has personally forged bonds of oneness amongst all the differences I have created between myself and others. It propels me to act a little bit more compassionately towards all beings in life.
Last night, (due to intense stomach pains) I couldn’t sleep most of the night so I stayed up and re-read one of my favorite non-fiction books Tuesday’s With Morrie. If you really want to start internalizing what it means to face death this is the book for you. The book is about Morrie Schwarz an articulate 78 year old professor who was diagnosed with the terminal disease ALS in 1994. Instead of cowering under his imminent death, he used this opportunity to really explore and communicate what dying means with his former student (and author of the book) Mitch Albom.
It is a pretty short read, I’ve pasted some of the passages I found most impactful below:
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
“…even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.”
“Take any emotion—love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions —if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.’ “
Passages about Money
“We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country. Do you know how they brainwash people? they repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it—and have it related to us—over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.
“These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.
“Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”
“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? I wrote it down, but now I can recite it: Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
“Mitch, if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down at you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
“Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel. Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
Passages on Culture
“People are only mean when they’re threatened and that’s what our culture does. That’s what our economy does. Even people who have jobs in our economy are threatened, because they worry about losing them. And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for yourself. You start making money a god. It is all part of this culture.”
“Here’s what I mean by building your own little subculture. I don’t mean you disregard every rule of your community. I don’t go around naked, for example, I don’t run through red lights. The little things, I can obey. But the big things—how we think, what we value—those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone—or any society—determine those for you.”
“Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.”