Being born has a hundred percent mortality. Try as they may, the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley may indeed succeed in prolonging life; however, we are all going to die. And the sooner we realize that the more profound our lives will be.
A good life will bring a good death. It does not matter how one dies: at the hands of another or from one’s own hands, from disease or debility or declining years, from war or famine; a good death can be had.
A good death is one that corresponds with one’s beliefs. If one believes that life is only the end of the physical body, then their good death is the removal of the burdens of the body. However, they may be greatly perturbed and confused by what happens after. They may dread that last breath having no inkling of their immortality in the astral and spiritual realms. One may believe through study or through religion that we have a further existence through a soul that meets a God that either rewards or punish them based on their life on earth; the former having the ‘good death.’ Or one may be a mystic who knows through direct experience in this lifetime that they are, in truth, the Creative Principle; they realize themselves as Spirits-in-Bodies with God-Consciousness. All mystics “die” well because they never really die.
Or one can simply drop the question if there is ‘life after death’ and focus on how we live this life right now to its fullest extent possible right up into its final moments: the Zen of living and dying!
We treat existence as a metaphor, created in the mind, which says we exist in a location and that location is: here; i.e. we conceptualize existence as a presence in a bounded region where we are. To speak of life then as a form of existence, we say that death is a ‘going away’ or death is a ‘departure,’ a ‘leaving us;’ which can make it sad for those ‘left behind.’ If we, however, conceptualize the region of our existence as boundless and timeless, then who is to say that we ever really leave?
Thanatology is the study of death and dying; most of what we know comes from people with near-death experiences (NDE) and people at their deathbeds. Of people with NDE, nearly all of them will have an out-of-body sensation wherein awareness is separated from one’s physical body. There is a heightened visual and auditory sense of what is happening in the room. People describe a sense of great understanding, of harmony or unity, and of being in a timeless state. There is an overwhelming peace and loss of pain and some may sense the presence of some kind of tunnel or see a blinding, bright light.
People who have NDEs describe it as a transformative experience that leaves them with a reduced fear of death and a heightened belief in their own continued existence beyond a physical body. These are all experiences consistent with every major religion and the esoteric teachings of yoga.
Patients on their deathbeds, i.e. terminal patients who have days to months to contemplate the finality of their situation, also describe a heightening of awareness and other mental functions. Many people say they have never felt more alive as when they are conscious of their dying.
And common to the NDE and deathbed experience is the dissolution of the “I-Me-Mine” perspective; i.e. a suspension of their sense of ego. It is a point of surrender to a bigger sense of Self. It can be a short-cut to Self- and God-Realization. Death is truly one of the most important moments in the soul’s spiritual evolution and future destiny.
We do not have to wait for death to realize our true Selves. We can start now by knowing that death and birth are just opposite sides of the coin of life, and our very concepts of death influence the way we live. And the way we live will influence the way we die. We can learn to still our bodies, quiet our minds, so we can meditate and turn inwards and upwards to see our true Nature.
I write this on the eve of the weekend of Father’s Day with my dad in his deathbed. We liked to kid him that because he had no vices, he ended up with 12 children. He lived a wholesome, healthy life and now he lies in bed, frail, and wondering what to die of. Done mindfully, death and life are a slow, timeless process full of wonderment. How he lived is how he will die; at home surrounded by loved ones, finding succor and comfort in the arms of his Savior: his Highest Self, his God.