Recognizing your mortality can help you open your eyes to your opportunities
There is a benefit in accepting that someday you, too, will die. Recognizing your mortality can help you take stock of your life and open your eyes to the opportunities in front of you. Sensing your mortality can be a catalyst to create something that will outlast you, touch lives that will outlive you, and experience the places and things you’d always filed away in your mind’s “someday” drawer. Now is the only time there is. When you recognize that life is finite, you can finally get life right. To live like you mean it.
Or, you can let mortality cripple you. You can let your fear of death shrink your life.
If you want to be a seize-the-day person and use the time you have left well, try these strategies for accepting your mortality so you can live your fullest life.
- Take care of mortality’s paperwork
Do you have legal documents that will help those you leave behind know what to do with your stuff when you’re gone? Do you have a living will that will help your family and friends make medical decisions on your behalf?
While making preparations like these may not help you feel anymore ok about death, it will help alleviate some anxiety, and it will assist those you love and who love you and want to be helpful to you.
- Use mindfulness to get comfortable with mortality
While mortality’s paperwork is more for the benefit of others, the emotional and spiritual acceptance and preparation for mortality is for you. While ruminating endlessly on death isn’t healthy, using mindfulness to sit with the idea can reduce the very anxiety we imagine thinking about death will trigger.
Sitting mindfully with your mortality means not denying that someday you’ll die, worrying about it without resolving your feelings, or pushing off thinking about it until later. Instead, just observe and acknowledge your thoughts and emotions. Mindful contemplative reflection can help calm you, making it easier for you to take more steps toward living your fullest life.
- Discuss death at the dinner table
Death is a topic people really, really don’t like to talk about. We’d rather have arguments about politics over Christmas dinner than talk about dying. This is, of course, terribly unhealthy for us. Refusing to have a conversation about something doesn’t make that thing go away.
There is an interesting organization called Death Over Dinner [http://deathoverdinner.org/] (link is external) that holds events where people can get together to talk about dying. You can also hold a dinner of your own. Get together a group of friends who are in the same boat as you and who may also be apprehensive about having an open conversation about the thing we all think about, but never speak of.
- Consider your vision of a good death
You may not have much choice on the exact day or cause of your death, but there are many decisions you can make about your last days in this life. Zen priest Robert Chodo Campbell talks a lot about the idea of a “good death.” He urges people to consider their vision of their best possible death experience. Don’t wait until death is imminent to do this.
While you’re still healthy and not engrossed in urgent fears and concerns, spend some time mindfully thinking about the sights, smells, tastes, location, and people you want there when you die.
- Make a plan to go out in style
What does the movie version of your death look like? What songs are on your death soundtrack? What are the last foods you want to eat and drinks you want to enjoy? Where are you? By the ocean? In a mountain cabin? Who is surrounding you?
For now, don’t worry about medical considerations. This is all about imagining what your good death will be like. After you’ve come up with your ideal death plan, write it down and give it to the person or persons who you want to help you realize your vision.
In order for you to live your fullest life with the time you have left, you have to accept and prepare for your death. It seems contradictory, but when death hangs over you like a storm cloud, you can’t free your mind enough to write the novel you’ve always wanted to write or travel to the country you’ve always wanted to visit. You can’t fall in love, make new friends, or teach your grandchildren to read if you’re feeling scared and bitter.
To free yourself from death, you have to say, “Ok, death, I see you. I’m ready for you. Now I’m going to go live for today.”