Mindfulness of Death, Appreciation for Life

Ajahn Karuṇadhammo

Mindfulness of Death, Appreciation for Life

Luang Por Pasanno mentioned that Debbie’s mother is going to be signing into the palliative and hospice care programs because her condition is deteriorating. I would think Debbie has been practicing with death contemplation as this is happening, particularly after she lost her sister-in-law a few months ago. The Buddha encouraged us to reflect daily and remind ourselves that death can come at any time. It’s easy to externalize, It’s happening to somebody else, not me.But at some point, it won’t be somebody else, it will be us, and it would be nice to think that we are ready for it when it comes. This isn’t meant to be a morbid reflection, but more an encouragement to contemplate death, bringing us closer to the reality of it and to encourage a sense of heedfulness and urgency in the practice.

It’s so easy to get lost in the tasks of the day, particularly as we are about to launch into a work period. I would imagine that a significant number of people right now are thinking about the tasks they need to do. I find myself doing that sometimes as well. But we can pull back a bit and remind ourselves, Hold on a second, life is precious. I don’t know when or how I’m going to die. If death occurred for me right now, would I be ready for it? Would there be remorse? Are there things that I have done or left undone that I would regret if I died today? We can take a few moments to contemplate the potential immediacy of death and see what this might bring up for us. Contemplating death in this way allows us to clarify what is precious in our lives which frees us from the tendency to get lost in the details. This in turn helps us focus on what our priorities are. So instead of death contemplation producing a negative feeling such as fear or bewilderment, we can be moved to a sense of lightness and release as we focus on what is most important to us. A life well lived, focused on what is most meaningful for us, has the greater potential to be a life free of regret and remorse.

Death is a present-moment experience; it’s not in the future. When the moment of death arrives, it will be just that moment—everything before that moment of death is still life, with all of its projections, worries, and fears, including the fear of that approaching death. But when death actually occurs, it is just one brief moment. So at the moment of death, death is now. Before that moment, it is just a projection. With contemplation of death we become more familiar with this inevitable ending so that when it finally comes, we are prepared for it, neither afraid of it or confused with this very ordinary present-moment experience.

If we keep that in mind then we do not really have any other option than to contemplate what’s going on for us right here and right now. It’s the only place we are going to be ready when it’s time for the body to move on, for the elements to dissolve. For most of us, one of the best ways to do this is by using mindfulness of the body. We can notice the position of the body, the posture of the body—standing, walking, sitting, and lying down. This is the most basic contemplation of the body, and we can maintain it when we are doing just about anything—constantly coming back and asking ourselves, What is the posture of the body? What is the disposition of the body? If it’s moving, how is it moving through space? We can know what’s happening with the arms, the legs, the head, the torso, and be present with the body. We can also incorporate the mood of the mind, What’s the mood like right here and right now? If we keep on attending to right here and right now as we go through our daily activities, then when it comes time for death to greet us, we will be ready right there and right then to be aware of the event as it happens. Bringing mindfulness right here and right now and reminding ourselves of the preciousness of this human life is a great way of reducing fear and anxiety and establishing a sense of purpose along the path.

This reflection is from the newly released two part collection of Dhamma Reflections:

Beginning Our Day Volume One Beginning Our Day Volume Two