Friday, March 22, 2013

Why reflecting on death can bring about meaning and purpose

Excerpt from

"This contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the Visuddhi Magga which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega) and with understanding (├▒ana).

For example, suppose a young disciple fails to realize keenly that death can come upon him at any moment, and regards it as something that will occur in old age in the distant future; his contemplation of death will be lacking strength and clarity, so much so that it will run on lines which are not conducive to success.

How great and useful is the contemplation of death can be seen from the following beneficial effects enumerated in the Visuddhi Magga: — "The disciple who devotes himself to this contemplation of death is always vigilant, takes no delight in any form of existence, gives up hankering after life, censures evil doing, is free from craving as regards the requisites of life, his perception of impermanence becomes established, he realizes the painful and soulless nature of existence and at the moment of death he is devoid of fear, and remains mindful and self-possessed. Finally, if in this present life he fails to attain to Nibbana, upon the dissolution of the body he is bound for a happy destiny."

Thus it will be seen that mindfulness of death not only purifies and refines the mind but also has the effect of robbing death of its fears and terrors, and helps one at that solemn moment when he is gasping for his last breath, to face that situation with fortitude and calm. He is never unnerved at the thought of death but is always prepared for it. It is such a man that can truly exclaim, "O death, where is thy sting?"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To seek out new life and new civilizations....

"Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived."
~ Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Portable Atheist

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” – Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist

I'm ordering this book today... 

I'm also enjoying this quote from Orwell, especially the "humanist attitude"...

“A normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven: he wants life on earth to continue. This is not solely because he is ‘weak,’ ‘sinful’ and anxious for a ‘good time.’ Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise. Ultimately it is the Christian attitude which is self-interested and hedonistic, since the aim is always to get away from the painful struggle of earthly life and find eternal peace in some kind of Heaven or Nirvana. The humanist attitude is that the struggle must continue and that death is the price of life.” – George Orwell, “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Seven Pounds

I just watched the last seven minutes of Seven Pounds. I love this film - it's beautiful, original, thought-provoking, and overflowing with love and tears.

Would I live my life differently if someone had died to give me my beating heart?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

no death, no fear

A friend recommended "no death, no fear" as part of my Morbid March exploration. I started the book tonight. In the initial pages, the book is already serving as a poignant reminder that our views on death are intrinsically tied to our views on religion. I know this to be true, but this book reminds me how separated I am from those who follow a religion. Yes, naturally our views on death are different. But, more importantly, and more interesting to me, is how will our religious views, or lack of a religious view, define meaning and purpose.

If the examination of death will lead to a better understanding of life, then the results of my investigative journey will be from the viewpoint of an atheist (with compassion and love and appreciation for alternative and religious viewpoints)

I'm peering down the rabbit hole...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Celebration of Life - checklists

I started the process of researching funeral and "celebration of life" checklists. Just as I suspected, it is overwhelming! I can't imagine sorting through all this while grieving - and I know my grieving is dramatic and all-consuming - so I'm glad I'm making an attempt to prepare all of this for me and for my family now, while there is nothing to grieve.

Turns out, there are no easy-to-follow, comprehensive checklists that are quickly found online, so I started building my own. I'm using excel and compiling good questions and recommendations from sites like:
and many more...

This is daunting. I'm trying to just focus on the logistics, not the emotional ramifications of loss, at this point.

More work to do, but the process is started. I'll have more details soon, but for now, I'm hoping to create celebrations for me and for my family that are loving, meaningful, and that truly celebrate and capture the essense of our time here on this earth. Easier blogged than done...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tuesdays with Morrie on a Thursday

Finished Tuesdays with Morrie today. I enjoyed the read. I found Morrie delightful, but Mitch's writing derivitive. How rude of me to critique a writer for attempting such a noble literary work. But I felt like I've read this before and aside from a few noteworthy lines of text, most of the writing quality was ordinary at best.

I loved getting to know Morrie.... some meaningful anaphorisms that I will carry with me...

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
“Don't cling to things because everything is impermanent.”
"Everyone knows they're going to die,' he said again, 'but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thoughts on aging...

I had a wonderful talk tonight with a dear friend of mine. Gigi lights up a room. She has this energy and aura that embraces you. And when she holds your hand or looks you in the eye, you feel connected in a way that is so often lost in the fast-paced, technology-laden communication of today.

She is 83.

We spoke of many things, but two related to aging that I thought were relevant this month. At 83, she knows this for sure:
  • She can say no. She can say no gracefully and without guilt. She can say no even if the cause is noble, because time is precious and she can now be selective with her time.
  • She has chosen her friends carefully. She knows she doesn't have to spend time with anyone whose energy isn't positive or enriching. She knows who her true friends are and she relishes her time with them.
  • Friendships, true and genuine friendships, are to be nurtured and treasured.
After our conversation, I also know this for sure... there is love. Love in friendship. Love in family. And there is a love in soul mates. As Gigi said, "he" is out there. He is born. And we will find each other.

The last tidbit isn't related to my monthly theme.... but perhaps it is. Perhaps in examining the meaning of death, I should remember that love has to be part of the answer.

Thank you, dear Gigi.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A little night meandering... in the form of a poem...

Because I Could not Stop for Death
by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess—in the Ring—
We passed the fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—

Or rather—He passed Us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill—
For only Gossamer, my Gown—
My Tippet—only Tulle—

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground—
The Roof was scarcely visible—
The Cornice—in the Ground—

Since then—'tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity—


I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, and then
There interposed a fly,

With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tuesdays with Morrie

Today, I read 110 pages of Tuesdays with Morrie. I have heard about this book for years, but never read it. I'm guilty of often ignoring mainstream bestsellers... literary snobbery, I know. But, I'm happy that my friend Heather recommended it for this month.

Here are two of my favorite quotes so far...

“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” 

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

What does this mean to me? The first quote reminds me of how important it is to consider our own mortality. In understanding the certainty of death and facing the uncertainty of the timing, I will naturally change the course of my life. By facing death, I should consider the life I want to create for the remainder of my days.... however long they may be.

The second quote is especially poignant. I have dedicated much of my life to my work - I find joy, reward, and challenge in my work supporting a non-profit environmental organization. However noble, I need to remember that even non-profit work can be overly-consuming and can drive away meaning if I'm not careful. Most days, I love my work and I'm grateful for the fulfillment. On rare days, I know that I work too much (70 hour weeks are not sustainable) and I sacrifice too much. Is more balance in order, or is it time to tip the scales in a new direction, or is it time to throw out the scales entirely?