“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.”
If you read my most recent poetry book you would’ve seen a section titled: What the gods sound like when you’re almost 30 and trying to practice stoicism and self-love but you’re afraid as hell.
So let me start there. The philosophy I’m about to describe makes a lot of sense to me, but it making logical sense doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to practice it on a daily basis.
I still have those nights where I imagine not being here before I fall asleep, and get a cold chill down my spine.
It would be weird to be completely unafraid of death. But the thing is, if you are like 100% of every other human that has lived up until this point, it is coming regardless.
So how do we cope?
Some people turn to religion for assurance. Many religions offer a vision of the afterlife that seems appealing (as long as you end up on the right side of God).
Funnily enough, though, even some religions use the phrase “memento mori” in their teachings. It seems even promises of eternity put a special emphasis on the brevity of this life.
Some people probably try not to think too much about it at all. I’ve tried that method, and it mostly left me anxious without always understanding what I was anxious about.
The truth is, inevitably, you’re going to have to grapple with the idea of dying, or it’s going to blindside you.
At some point, I stumbled upon the stoic philosopher Seneca who opened up my eyes to meditating on many negative aspects of life, including death. That may sound like a somber enterprise, but it actually has some logic to it.
There are things that are inevitable. We know that they are inevitable. You are going to get sick. You are going to have financial struggles. You are going to get your heartbroken. You are going to have unexpected traumas. And one day, you are going to die.
If we allow ourselves to be blindsided by these events, it is because we ignored an inevitability and treated it like a possibility. This does not mean you allow yourself to spiral into depression about this inevitability. Quite the opposite.
Memento mori encourages you to find or make some sort of memento (I made a t-shirt) that will remind you to “remember we die.” This has the effect that a phrase like “carpe diem” or “Yolo” might. It is a reminder for me to live in the moment because I only have so many.
If I did not meditate on this idea, I might sleepwalk through life until I am surprised to find myself on my deathbed. Instead, I can seize the moments in front of me, and appreciate them in reference to a fate that I am thankful is not my current state.
The Buddhist’s call it maranasati.
The hadith literature, which preserves the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) , records advice for believers to “remember often death, the destroyer of pleasures.
Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a celebration and reminder that we all die.
There are many other examples from cultures and time periods all over the world.
A New Lease on Life
So what about you? What would you do differently if you thought more often about how little time you had?
Who would you appreciate more if you realized that they will not always be here?
What momento can you use to remind yourself to live now because you don’t have forever?
Feel free to reply here. I’ll read it and comment back.
“Come to terms with death, thereafter anything is possible.” -Albert Camus