How many times in a day do you think about death?
What a morbid question, right? But there is a reason why I’m starting this blog with it – thinking about death can alter the way we see and live this life.
Citizens of one of the happiest countries on Earth – Bhutan – are surprisingly comfortable contemplating about death. According to this great article in BBC Travel “Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness“, “death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for happy thoughts”.
According to the author, “thinking about fleeting moments and death is not going to make us feel depressed, but more focused on the present”.
Bhutanese person is said to think at least 5 times a day about death. They don’t just think of it, they reflect on it and accept it as an important cycle of life – something that we in the West tend to avoid at every cost. We think that talking about dying is morbid and a show of depression. We think that advances in medicine will do something to extend our life, but in the end, there is still this inescapable truth: we are still going to die. What makes a difference is how we lived that life that we were given.
…such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate. – Buddha
Thinking about death is so embedded in Buddhism, that Buddhist monks practice the so called meditation on death. They do this by watching the photos of the corpses in various stages of decay and contemplate on the transitory nature of their own physical selves. This stimulates them to think: “Are they making the right use of their own scarce and precious lives?”
Life is short. Tomorrow might not happen for some of us. So why do we keep on waiting until that very last moment to start living the life we were given? Why are we not making the right use of it – by helping others, spending time with our families and loved ones, going places we wish to go..? We all have bucket lists, and yet, we stash them away for a time when we might need them. The time is not WHEN. The time should be NOW.
Henry David Thoreau once said:
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.
Bhutanese people are not shielded from great losses, sadness, fear or other “human” emotions. They are not that different from us. They too experience death and grievances. They mourn and cry too. The only difference between us and them is that they accept death as an inseparable part of life and focus on living the life the best they can. Can we do that too?
Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, their time runs out.