"You are going to die."
Undoubtedly one of the most meaningful axioms I have ever written about, immortalized in my second Photo Book*. This sentiment, “you are going to die,” is one of most hard-hitting and impactful paradigms you could ever hope to impart onto someone else.
Playing with this idea throughout early childhood, my late teens, early 20s, and even to this day; the phrase, “you are going to die,” was first affirmed to me after having read up on the samurai philosophy of Bushido*. Why was this elite class of philosophical-warriors so intent on realizing their own impermanence, so much so that they would practice meditating on the ways in which they would die, ritualistically, on a daily basis? Because in a world ruled by perception, it is the only real truth.
Morose imagery in contemporary society, sure, but it served as a strong guiding principle during their time.
Interestingly enough, when I continued my studies past Bushido and into more commercially-acceptable practices like yoga, I began to realize that we all, in fact, may be fearing the exact same thing… This notion that, “you are going to die.”
There is a reason why, in Hinduism (and, in effect, what most people in the West consider to be the origin of yoga — though not entirely true), Shiva has the most temples dedicated to him. Who is Shiva? The lord of destruction. Understanding that all things are going to end (or, more accurately, change) is a staple principle in the path of yoga. Why is it that we have a hard time accepting this most obvious of truths? Perhaps it is because we are so separated from death in the West, so detached from seeing it on a daily basis, that we even go so far as to avoid seeing people getting old; resulting in our forgetting. "Old people", after all, often get shipped off to nursing homes and are considered “unknowledgable” about contemporary affairs. Think about it, when was the last time you asked an elderly person for advice? If you have, that’s great! It’s what the East denotes as filial piety*; a respect and reverence for one who has come before you — seeing them as an invaluable resource for guiding you on your path towards real understanding.
Ultimately, the thing separating us from realizing our own impermanence is our own mind. The biggest obstacle we can ever face in life is no-doubt what we "think". This is also probably why Ganesh (remover of obstacles) serves as another one of the most coveted deities in Hindu mythology. Is it also any wonder that Ganesh’s father is Shiva? Funny how one is direct ("you are going to die") and the other is helping you to realize this directness by "removing" the stigma of dying being a bad thing from your mind.
Alas, in life, there must always be a balance. With dark, there must always be room for light. Is it also any wonder that Shiva's wife is Parvati; the goddess of love and devotion? For, how else can you escape your own fear of death, but by engaging in that which you are so devoted to, dare I say, love?
You see, the only true way to overcome the obstacle of mind and free yourself from this fear of death is to become fully present in the here and now.
Where presence roams, the projecting mind cannot follow.
In fact, this “coming to terms" with death is one of the most important practices in all of spirituality! In Aldous Huxley’s critically acclaimed work, The Perennial Philosophy*, he compares and contrasts all of the major religions and spiritual sects in relation to one another. And do you know what the most commonly held theme was? A fear of death; overcome by a practice of presence. Samsara becoming our nirvana.
They often say that animals do not need meditation, they "are" meditation. This may in fact be true, as animals do not (at least, "in appearance") have time to "think" at all. They are so focused on what they’re doing in that moment that they do not (again, at least "appear not to") seem to be clouded by the future of something they cannot change anyways. Perhaps they know and have already accepted this fact, or perhaps they are being outright ignorant. Either way, they do not carry the same burden we do as a (so called) “evolved” species.
It’s actually quite funny when you think about it. Me, as a child, constantly concerning myself with this notion of death. It’s likely what had led to all of my impulsive “phases”… It's just that, when faced with death, you come to want to do as much as a can, while you can.
In the end, the truth of the matter is this:
We are all each only here for a limited amount of time. So, we must ask ourselves — how exactly do I want to spend the rest of my days? Ignorant and hoping that I will somehow live forever; or, blissful in the pursuit of what I truly love? Because the sands of time will inevitably run out for us all; no matter how much willful-ignorance we try to project onto our lives.
It's our life. We should live it how we want.
Become freed from the burden of your own thinking mind — by becoming fully present in the here and now...