Contemplation of death, rather than something to be avoided, is actually a very powerful Zoom-Out with many benefits. Buddhists in particular know this deep down and the concept of impermanence and meditations on death itself are part of the fabric of the Buddhist tradition.
“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.” – Buddha
For the average person, dare I say non-Buddhist, although on an intellectual level we know that one day we are going to die, our awareness of death remains very shallow.
Our default mode of thinking and operation is that of “I will not die today.” This may not be explicit in our minds but is implicit in our beliefs and ways of perceiving our life and ultimately influences how we conduct our lives. Subtle as it may seem, this underlying assumption of “I will not die today” is a deception that can prevent us from living our fullest lives.
However, through deep contemplation or meditation on death, we can gradually replace the deceptive thought, “I will not die today”, with the non-deceptive thought, “I may die today.” The important point is that this latter view, as well as being non-deceptive is highly beneficial as it shapes what we focus on each day and leads us to be less lazy, less attached to material things and to truly see and value what matters. To Zoom-Out.
The following is a Buddhist meditation on death. If you do not meditate, save this text on your mobile phone and read it each day for a couple of weeks and thereafter, every now and then.
“Buddhist Meditation on Death: I shall definitely die. There is no way to prevent my body from finally decaying. Day by day, moment by moment, my life is slipping away. I have no idea when I shall die; the time of death is completely uncertain. Many young people die before their parents, some die the moment they are born – there is no certainty in this world. Furthermore, there are so many causes of untimely death. The lives of many strong and healthy people are destroyed by accidents. There is no guarantee that I shall not die today.” – The New Meditation Handbook, Geshe Keslang Gyatso
Clearly, the idea is that to be aware of our mortality and to know it more deeply, we will appreciate more the time we have on this planet. We will ultimately find ways to get the most fulfillment and meaning from our lives.