I want to face my fear of death before the body dies, but how do I do that?
Right now as I write, my cat, Shimla, is sleeping peacefully on the chair near the heater. My other cat, Pushkar, strolls in and with a graceful roll of his body, lies face up on the warm pavement in front of the heater with a blissed-out look on his face, totally unconcerned with what may happen next. If death should come the next moment, so be it. There is no concern. He is too busy living life moment-by-moment to be concerned with the future, totally releasing one moment and welcoming the next.
As human beings, we are very rarely in the present moment. Rather we tend to be “lost in our thoughts,” one moment thinking about our past and the next about our future. If we stop chasing past and future, we land in the present moment, here and now. From here, death is happening in every moment. One moment subsides and that is the death of that moment. Then another moment arises and that is the birth of another moment.
The truth is that we go through birth and death continually. They take place every moment. Learning to recognize this moment-to-moment birth and death is to go behind our ideas and concepts about death.
The essence of death is discovered in the gap between one moment ceasing and another one beginning. That essence is the wakefulness that is our true nature.
Facing the fear of death
Death and dying are taboo topics in the western world. While we all know the inevitability of death and the fear that it inspires, this is not a reality we like to face. We would rather deny, repress and run from death. This, however, will not help much because in the end, death always catches up with us.
Death was part of the contract when we accepted the idea of life, and facing death before we die gives us the choice to rediscover the awareness and the love that will guide us when we have to confront this most feared moment of our lives.
Our bodies progress from childhood to adulthood to old age. But there is something within us that never changes, never becomes anything other than what it has always been. This is the truth of the essential self. It is who we are when we are born, what remains unchanging as our bodies age, and it will still be the same when we die. The only thing that changes is the appearance and there is no appearance that can touch what we really are.
Only the form changes
Our bodies are temporary vehicles and they appear and disappear in the awareness that we always are. No matter how many billions and billions of bodies come and go, awareness remains unchanged. The appearance may shift, but our awareness and being are still the same.
Only the form changes, like you would change your shirt. Consider an outfit you used to like. You wore it, looked good in it, were comfortable in it, and when it no longer served its purpose or got worn out, you threw it away. Our bodies are like that, but our true nature, as awareness, is not altered by death.
If we let our minds wander to envision ourselves beyond death, we lose sight of our true nature as ever-present awareness. Time is a concept in awareness, and it is created by the mind. But awareness exists outside of time, independent of bodies coming and going, unconcerned with any temporary appearance.
What does death mean to you, deep down, in your gut, nakedly?
How we define death is how we will experience death and this is an important question that will guide us in how to die well. To die well, we need to learn to live well. Living well is learning to die every day, every moment, to our thoughts, to our emotions, even to our life. Only by learning to die to everything can we meet life and death fully.
Every story comes to an end. Every moment comes to an end. What we call our life and our story is just one moment after another, a million moments succeeding one another, giving the illusion of continuity. But if we look closer, we see that this continuity is illusory and that each single moment is born and then dies, and then is born again like the ocean’s waves. The I in the story with which we identify also arise and dissolve each moment. If we watch closely, we will notice that the I of this moment disappears when the next moment arrives and the next I is born ever fresh, ever new. Only the mind strings them together as the same continuous self.
By observing this continuous ebb and flow, we start to understand how death and life are intimately connected. We see that it is only through death that something new can be born. Life without death would be a state frozen in eternity. No reality, no creativity, no new discovery would be possible.
By learning how to die in each moment, we discover that with each death there is rebirth. Only by releasing our grasp on the continuity of our own individual existence do we have the opportunity to see the luminous space from which all forms are born and die.
Then our mind relaxes, becoming open and accepting of the inevitable changes and deaths that are part of any life. Welcoming the sensation of fear with complete openness slowly softens the barriers that we have created with our habitual patterns.
You are the One that witnesses death
Investigate the natural life cycle of one single moment. It doesn’t have to be any moment in particular; you can use your next moment. Watch the moment being born, watch it live, and watch it die. Take note of what happens when that moment dies. Do you die?
Awareness is totally and completely present when each moment dies. This Eternal Presence is the only constancy. All else is temporal. In recognizing the illusion of continuity, we have the opportunity to stop fearing death and to know the deeper reality that exists underneath and beyond death. We realize that we are not the one that is frightened. We are That which is witnessing fear. We are not the one who dies. We are the One that witnesses death.
Then we are no longer afraid of death because we know that death is not apart from the life that we are, and that only That which is able to renew itself is truly eternal.