The Enlightening Mat: Fear of Death

fear of death dying winged heart sufi
the doorway

Death is a certainty. Death is your promise. From the moment you took your first breath, you began the process of dying. It's happening bit by bit every day, yet so many people rarely contemplate this intimate process of one's own life. Denial of death is one way to remain afraid of the end.

Fear of death is the sixth and final universal fear that holds you back from openly sharing your true nature with the world. To read my whole blog series on the six universal fears, click here.

Fear of Death

In my own exploration of dying and what may exist beyond this life, I've spent some time reading and watching documentaries about near death experiences. The person who was dead for 45 seconds in the emergency room and then came back to life with stories of tunnels, white lights, out of body experiences, and visitations by dead relatives, totally fascinates me not only because it's such a universal experience, but it provides a possibility for feeling at peace with the dying process.

Whether these near death experience stories are a glimpse of an afterlife or these visions are hallucinations that are the result of the brain being deprived of oxygen, what I think is most comforting is that anyone that comes back from the dead seems pretty happy and content. A doctor in one of these documentaries said that she's never had anyone upset by these visions, on the contrary most people come back from near death experiences more full of life and completely transformed.

Whether you believe in an afterlife, reincarnation, or that your switch just turns off and it's game over, there seems to be a great deal of evidence that the process of dying might actually be pleasant, and we have nothing to fear. Our bodies and minds already seem to have a program in place for how to make death a natural and comforting experience filled with sensations of love and peace.

This suggests that maybe our fear of death has do to more with anticipating the suffering that may be experienced beforehand --  pain from disease, traumatic accidents, violent crimes, or the natural aging process -- and the idea of not having enough time to do the things you most desire or you spent your life in way that was lacking truth and meaning.

How to Dissolve Your Fear of Death

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

- Tecumseh, Native American Shawnee Chief, Live Your Life

I always feel comforted by the last line of this poem that may have been written by the great chief Tecumseh: "Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." In this amazing prescription for living is the central theme of consciously embracing your death and knowing that it is your true home. You are encouraged to prepare your noble death song ahead of time, and you can only do this if you spend hours both contemplating the impermanence of life and the certainty of your death.

To dissolve your fear of death you must meet it every day through conscious thought, prayer, contemplation, or meditation. Tibetan Buddhists spend much of their practice imagining their own death through meditation and countless hours sitting in burial grounds for two specific reasons:

  1. To understand the frailty of life so as to make each day meaningful.
  2. To become familiar with the exact process of dying so that all fear is removed at the time of death, ensuring a good rebirth.

In a short video, Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu explains two simple questions about death that you can use during meditation so as to live a more fully and to awaken to the reality of dying. When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself:

  • Will this be my last day?
  • Is this the life that I want to live?

By repeatedly asking these two questions, and contemplating them deeply, each day will be made more meaningful and you will connect with the idea that the gift of this life has an ending. If you do this practice, and learn how to "perfect your life" through kindness and love, living will be your central focus and death will seem like the final note at the end of beautiful symphony -- a place of completion, stillness and peace.

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures

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