“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.” Carlos Castaneda’s character don Juan Matus
Regardless of ones opinion about the late writer Carlos Castaneda, his books contain many nuggets of wisdom. I remember reading the above quote in his book, Journey to
Ixtlan. I’ve re-read Castaneda’s don Juan books many times out of fascination and enjoyment and keep finding myself contemplating don Juan’s advise about our own personal deaths.
A person must be careful about discussing this topic, because one may be mistakenly characterized as a mentally unbalanced, morose danger to society. Open discussion about the reality of our own, personal death is a great taboo in our culture. Most of us even shrink in fear when the thought of it enters our minds. Some people will not have read this far into today’s post because of this taboo.
Despite the denial of our own personal mortality, we live in a culture of death. Society barely flinches at the thought of execution of criminals. Our nation regularly engages in wars. We view teevee shows, video games, and movies that engage death for dramatic effect. We drive our vehicles on the streets and highways with little thought about how fatally dangerous that activity is. We are numb to death until death takes away a loved one.
I bring up this subject not because I’m morbid, but because I’m mortal. I understand that because I face oblivion, the fact that I’m alive becomes incredibly precious. While contemplating my own personal death, I know that every single person who has ever lived, has or will face their own oblivion. It is the knowledge of personal death that is the main gateway to empathy.
In my opinion, the denial of personal death, leads to careless attitudes towards oneself and ones fellow humans. The lack of empathy leads us to careless driving, criminal behavior, and the casual acceptance of war. It is the misinterpretation of the sentence, “In death, there is life.” that contributes to our easy condoning of mayhem. Death on the screen and in the headlines cheapens our view of death.
This is exactly why I think it’s vitally important to honestly and fearlessly meditate upon our own demise. One of the best ways for me to understand the supreme urgency of oblivion is to place the remainder of my life within a time-frame. When I first tip-toed into this exercise, I asked myself, “How would I live if I knew I had one year in which to live?” This is the usual question we encounter, even in popular culture.
One year can pass quite quickly. Yet, a person can accomplish many things within the span of one year. Right away, I think of my bucket list. If I had only one year left, I’d visit
India one more time. My long dreamed of pilgrimage to Nepal and Tibet would be a reality. I would make sure to finally visit Russia. I’d finally make that trek to Antarctica. Most of us will never fulfill our biggest dreams of travel before we die. We think we’ll do it later, when we have more time. However, someday never comes.
I’m not suicidal, so I don’t know when nor how my death will occur. None of us can really know, absolutely, for sure, right now. Even a death row inmate might get a reprieve. There are many types of appointments with death, but none of them have been penciled into our day planner books. However, just for this contemplation, I’ll think of my best last hour.
First of all, I want my boyfriend at my side and my loved ones around me. I would ask them for forgiveness of anything I may have done to harm them. In turn, I would forgive them for their acts that hurt me. I would let go of my desires for things of the world. I hope that I’d remember that I am and will always be part of the Universe in some form. I’d want to live every remaining minute, fully aware. I don’t want to be drugged into sleep. Death would be at my side, as my greatest advisor. I hope that there will be smiles all around me.
Why don’t we think about what our last hour might be? Why can’t we think about the fragile nature of our own, and other lives each time we get behind the wheel of our vehicles? Why doesn’t the Secretary of Defense seriously ponder his own personal death each and every day? Why doesn’t the industrialist contemplate his final hour? What would happen to the criminal statistics if every person on Earth contemplated her or his personal deaths on a regular basis?
There are people who would indulge their greed and desires for one last thrill. There are others who will gracefully turn over their affairs and belongings to humanity, the Earth, and to posterity.
What will happen when one hour remains?