To handle death anxiety, rather than avoiding, be mindful of death
Learn to remember – ‘Our Death is Inevitable and its timing is Unknowable’
Death is a great equalizer. Whatever the position by way of wealth, power, prestige and hierarchy, we achieve in society, we all are destined to die one day. When that day will be, no one can guess. Death has been very well explained by Lucius Seneca, one of the most prominent Stoic philosophers of the Roman empire around 2000 years back, during in the following words:
“You were born a mortal, and you have given birth to mortals: yourself a weak and fragile body, liable to all diseases, can you have hoped to produce anything strong and lasting from such unstable materials? Your son has died:
In other words, he has reached that goal towards which those whom you regard as more fortunate than your offspring are still hastening. this is the point towards which move at different rates all the crowds which are squabbling in the law courts, sitting in the theatres, praying in the temples.
Those whom you love and those whom you despise will both be made equal in the same ashes”
Everyone dies but most of us are afraid of it. Even we don’t want to discuss it with our close family members and friends. We want to live longer but we don’t want to take steps that are required for longevity. It’s a paradoxical situation, through which most of us pass through. The reason is that we don’t accept death wholeheartedly.
So, we never discuss our own death with anyone including family members. Marcus Aurelius, the other most important Stoic philosopher in widely popular “Meditations’ reminds us that,
“Death, like birth, is just a natural process, material elements combining, growing, decaying and finally separating and completely dispersing.”
However, the most dreaded part of death is the fear attached to the process of dying, especially the uncertainty and pain prior to the last breath. That’s why we all want to die gracefully and peacefully. If we are certain of dying in a peaceful way then that fear is dissipated substantially. In this way, what is really dreadful about death is the suffering and pain that are associated with the process of dying.
Therefore, we are fearful of death because of uncertainty, physical and emotional pain, besides, the feeling of losing everything we accumulate in life. The anxiety that’s caused by thoughts of death is called death anxiety. It’s a feeling we experience when we think of the process of dying or ceasing to be. We also experience the fear of being harmed in life. It’s the most fundamental form of death anxiety.
As time goes by, we can observe changes taking place slowly in our physical bodies. We don’t become old at any specific age. Aging is highly subjective and its nature and speed vary from one individual to another. One is our own age, purely the years, months, and days we have so far lived. This is known as chronological age.
Another is our biological age. It refers to physiological changes in the body that commonly occur as we age. Then comes the psychological age, it’s based on how we feel, act, and behave. A 70-year-old person may feel as if he or she is 80 years old or maybe 55 years depending on that person’s feelings or actions. It is extremely important what we really feel about our own aging process.
The feeling of aging is a significant impact on the process of aging itself. We have tremendous power over the speed of our own aging. We can accelerate as well as slow down the process of aging. There are proven ways to de-accelerate the process of aging. Health experts have prescribed certain steps, on the basis of research studies carried out in recent times, which can slow down our aging.
Interestingly, as we age, time starts moving fast. When we are young, we continue to experience new things in life, facing fresh challenges and struggle for better living conditions. During those time, comparatively speaking, time moves slowly.
On the other hand,
When we get older, we mostly experience repetitive and habitual life, keep doing the same things again and again. At this stage, time moves fast.
Older people don’t know how days and months move. Time really moves fast. How can we slow down the movement of time when we get old? The answer lies in experiencing new things in life at an older age. By visiting new places, start doing new things at home; start reading books and magazines, and playing mind games like Sudoku, we can make our life more interesting and creative. When we do these things, we can enjoy our life more for longer days.
We get older; we reluctantly and slowly start perceiving the inevitability of death. Our only wish during those days is to die gracefully without pain and suffering. We don’t want to experience an uncertainty about death.
One study shows that when people saw their death imminent in near future, due to terminal illnesses like cancer, they start accepting death and focusing on the positive because they know they don’t have much time left in their life. At least uncertainty ends in those patients waiting for death to arrive in the near future. Otherwise, most people are uncomfortable talking about their death.
This is also a reason why very few people write a Will for their inheritance. Somehow, we have a tendency to suppress this unconscious thought to let it come to our conscious minds. However, through the practice of mindfulness, we can accept death more easily. With greater self-awareness and ‘mindful’ behavior, we can prepare well for the last leg of our life’s journey.
Mindfulness means staying more awake, conscious, and mindful during the day. It sounds easy and we all are confident of being awake and self-aware but surprisingly most of us lack this meta-skill. If we learn the art of becoming more aware, conscious, and mindful, we can gracefully accept any eventuality or adversity in life. Through the practice of meditation, contemplation, and relaxation techniques, we can inculcate mindfulness in our day-to-day life.
Knowing very well that our death is imminent and its timing is unknowable, then we must learn to accept death and whatever finite time is available to us must be utilized in the best possible manner.
With each passing day, we are getting closer to death. Life is short if we waste time. Otherwise, we have all the time to achieve whatever we wish to get in life.
Every day, we must remember and thank the Supreme Being for adding more moments to our life. Also, we shouldn’t forget a Latin word – ‘Memento Mori’, which roughly translates to ‘remember that you will die.’ The ultimate truth of life is that ‘we die in the end’. Lastly, we should keep the words of Marcus Aurelius in mind, written in Meditations:
“…… look to the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?”