Let’s face it.
We’re all going to die. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people push this thought to the back of their minds, or never dwell on it at all. You’re going to die one day. I’m going to die one day. The cat, the tree in your backyard, your loved ones, the insects. Every living organism that has ever existed on this planet will one day return back to the ground, to the air, to the universe, as an arbitrary scattering of atoms.
I’m not trying to be morbid. I’m not suicidal. I just want you to face this inexorable truth.
Death shouldn’t be a taboo subject in our society. As a kid, when I asked adults about death, they patted me on the head and told me I shouldn’t think such dark thoughts. I was given no answers and taught to not explore thoughts about my own mortality. Now that I’m older, nothing’s changed – my peers do the same thing. This shouldn’t be the way things are. We should show people the reality and not cloak them in ignorance with the excuse of keeping their pretty little heads bright and happy, all songbirds and sunshine. We shouldn’t shy away from topics just because they are gloomy and depressing. Talking freely about death should be acceptable, not socially improper.
The fact is, as living organisms with a heightened awareness of our consciousness and sense of self, in a society that doesn’t want to consider the demons that lurk underneath the glitter of our world, we don’t think about our own mortality enough.
But, you say, I know I’m going to die, that I should live my life to the fullest, yolo, I think about it!
Are you sure about that?
Maybe you do think about it. But so many don’t. How do I know that?
If people truly reflected on their own mortality on a daily basis, they wouldn’t be stuck in jobs they hate. They wouldn’t stay in unsatisfying relationships. They wouldn’t procrastinate. They wouldn’t be afraid of following their heart. They wouldn’t think they have something to lose in life.
Your life is so short. Shorter than you can possibly imagine, in the full scheme of things. It’s all you’ve got. This consciousness, this body, this mind. Do yourself a favour. Remind yourself of your own mortality, so you don’t waste your existence. Here are a few ways to do just that. You might find some of them to be macabre, morbid. That’s fine. But all of them will help you face the abyss, the truth, to acquaint you with the nothingness at the end of this road, and that’s what we want.
1. Become aware of your bones.
A skeleton is the ultimate symbol of death; but sometimes, we forget that underneath our own flesh padding, there is the same, wintry structure. I want you to, right now, press your fingers against your cheeks, your chins, your forehead, feeling the hardness of the skull underneath the skin. Twiddle your finger bones. Tap your kneecap. Count your ribs. Now imagine this. One day, that skeleton inside of you will be all that is left of you. Your flesh will melt away from your bones. You will be a crumbly, calcium frame, sleeping an eternal sleep in a dank coffin in the earth, while the world above you trembles and changes, the grass growing, the sun shining, the birds fluttering.
2. Visit a cemetery.
I find cemeteries and graveyards to be some of the most peaceful places in the world, at least during the day. When you visit, take your time. Sit down on the grass near one of the headstones. Read the inscriptions. Realise that every body buried underneath the earth was once a person just like you, with their own dreams and aspirations and hopes and loves and desires, and now they’re dead, just as you will one day be. Don’t feel anxious, scared or afraid. Just be, feel, experience and know.
3. Touch a real human skull.
This might seem a bit icky; the skull has negative connotations of fear and death and danger (pirate flags, anyone?) in our society. Get over your squeamishness. I haven’t done this myself, not having the chance to come across or obtain one. Perhaps you could visit a museum, or a science lab. Perhaps you could buy one, though they are astonishingly expensive. If you ever do get a chance to, touch it, examine it, poke your fingers through the eye holes. Look into its eyes and realize that your own head is not far from looking like that too. Am I grossing you out yet?
4. Watch a movie, read a book or listen to a video made by someone who has died.
That voice in the video, composed of sounds and signals, is speaking to you from the past. That actress on the screen, the one smiling, walking and talking, is gone from this Earth. You are looking at an image, made up of pixels landing on your retina, of a past person. The words before you were once penned by another human being, in another time, another age, whose flesh has long melted from their bones. These mediums provide snapshots of humanity, preserving souls like dried flowers between the pages of existence, and remind us that, though our corporeal form will one day evaporate, our mind, our thoughts and our words can live on.
5. Imagine your own funeral.
Pretend that you are a ghost, spying on your own burial ceremony. Who has come to say their goodbyes, place lilies at the base of your headstone? What will people remember you for? Are you content, watching the funeral? Do you have any regrets that make your little ghostly heart waver and wisp like smoke inside your nebulous chest? Imagine seeing your pale form in the casket, your eyelids withered closed, one last time, before they place on the lid and lower you into the earth and cover it up with more earth. Make it dramatic, if you want. Add in black umbrellas and pouring rain. But know that the sun will continue for the living once you are gone.
Death isn’t a morbid thing. It isn’t scary. It isn’t depressing. It isn’t even sad, though the grief of the living can sometimes make it seem like it is. Death just is. Trust me, you won’t be bothered by death once you’re dead, because it is a total absence of existence. But you can control how you spend your time in the realm of the living. And perhaps, by reminding yourself of your own mortality now and then, and how little you have to lose when everyone is headed for the same trapdoor on the great stage of life when the curtains fall, you will try to live the best life you can in the time that you have.