by Donna Maurer
If I were to say out loud that I try to think of death every day, many people might react by worrying about my state of mental health and wellbeing. More and more, people are saying that they “want to live each day as if it were their last.” But that is not exactly the same thing as thinking of death, even though living life in such a way may result from such thoughts.
I remember an incident that happened a few years ago: A friend and I were walking in the Vedanta Society of Providence parking lot when a car pulled in abruptly with us in its path, leading us both to instinctively jump out of the way. We also had the same verbal reaction: “Not Yet!”
Many times it is the “wake-up calls” that propel us into action: Someone close to us passes away, we have a brush with death or a serious disease, or we watch scenes of an unexpected tragedy on the news. Oftentimes, people have very strong emotional reactions to such incidents, at least in part I think, because they fear for their own mortality.
Swami Vivekananda, I feel, would admonish us all to abandon fear, to gather up and direct the emotions, and to focus on the goal of one’s life. Depending on one’s perspective, the “goal of life” may be what occurs prior to death, during death, or after death. Thus for some, the goal may be a “fulfilling life,” for others it may be God-Realization, while for others it may be reaching heaven, as they perceive it.
Just acknowledging the inevitability of one’s own death puts all actions into their appropriate context in relation to achieving the goal; in other words, it leads to a number of questions for personal reflection: What is important? What’s not important? On what should my attention be focused? What is the best use of time? Is there something I am avoiding? Is there something I truly want to do in this life that I might seriously regret if I don’t do it? Am I stuck or lazy and need to make some extra efforts to move forward?
Thinking about death doesn’t mean dwelling on death, nor does it mean having a morbid disposition in life. While it’s great to live in the present moment, having a perspective on what’s important in the present moment is what can help us make this human life meaningful and move forward toward the goal.