One day you are going to die.
Time is the undefeated master. It is an ever-flowing river where if you try to put your foot down and stop the current, it will only move around you even faster.
It is quite an uncommon thing to talk about death.
This is perhaps unsurprising. If you have ever had to go through the experience of losing a loved one, you will know that those emotions of sadness, despair, hurt and sometimes just pure emptiness are not ones that you tend to want to voluntarily bring back up.
Death marks an endpoint. We, as humans, take great pride in our ability to control our immediate environment and the immense power that we exert over most things that we encounter. We are even sophisticated enough to be able to create various scenarios in our heads about the future, run a simulation on them and see how they might play out.
Death is different.
It’s not something in our control, we exert almost zero power over the time and place of it.
Everyone is going to experience it at some point, but nobody has come back to tell us what it’s like and what they’re up to now. If anything.
Taking all of this insecurity and negative emotions that shroud the concept of death, it is no surprise that it is treated as a morbid subject, especially in Western societies.
As with most things though, it is a matter of perspective. In certain cultures, death is celebrated as a transition rather than an endpoint. And after having given death quite a bit of thought, even at my own relatively young age, I am absolutely convinced that the following words are perhaps the most empowering, humbling and important words that you can remember at any given point in your life and ironically, learn to live by.
One Day, You Are Going To Die.
‘Memento Mori‘ is a concept that has been practised for at least hundreds and most likely thousands of years. Translated into English, it means ‘Remember You Must Die’.
The idea has largely been popularised in recent times by the resurgence of Stoicism and many of its beneficial teachings. As the Daily Stoic points out:
The point of this reminder isn’t to be morbid or promote fear, but to inspire, motivate and clarify.
In his famous journal Meditations, the famous Stoic and emperor Marcus Aurelius coined one of his most iconic quotes with regards to Memento Mori and the nature of death itself.
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.
The point of Memento Mori and remembering that one day, you are going to die is to be able to put your whole life into perspective. Suddenly you realise how meaningless some tasks are that are causing you the most stress. You realise how special the relationships that you have right now are and that there is an endpoint to them all.
When you have your own death at the forefront of your mind, the life that you are living becomes that much clearer.
It’s not just you, but everyone else too
This is perhaps the most tragic but also the most powerful part of Memento Mori. As difficult as it is to come to terms with your own inevitable passing, for many of us, it is even more difficult to contemplate that the same applies to everyone else too, especially those closest to us.
Aubrey Marcus talked about this in a recent email, highlighting the importance of remembering death as an essential part of life.
Why? Because my Mom is gonna die. My sisters might move away. And then I’m gonna die. I don’t know when any of those things are going to happen. And if I forget about my good friend Death, then it’s way too easy to forget how precious these moments in life are.
Even if we move away from the concept of physical death which can be very tough to think about, there are all sorts of ‘deaths’ and impermanence that we often forget are susceptible to change.
I like to use the idea of Christmas dinners as they are a special time of year with your closest people. But if you can use this idea for every meal that you share with others, your appreciation levels with soar through the roof.
Think of all of the Christmas dinners that you have had over the years. The one that you had last year, a one that you had 10 years ago. All of the different dinners that you have shared with different loved ones.
Maybe some of them moved away, some of them passed on, some of them you just aren’t close to anymore.
At the time, you probably pictured it being like that forever. Picturing the next Christmas with the same great people, even taking the people who you were with for granted. The problem is that we forget things change, circumstances change, life happens to people, death happens to people.
The good news is that you don’t need to wait until next Christmas to remember the temporary yet hugely special nature of the moment. You can do it when you have dinner tonight. You can slow down, remember that it won’t always be like that – for whatever reason – and then make the very most of the unique moment in time that you are experiencing.
The importance of death
What if we could live forever?
This is a question I would think about quite a lot about as a kid.
It is also an idea that is painted over many Hollywood films. Some heroes or villains embarking on their quest for immortality, for good reasons or bad ones. The noble protagonist searching for the elixir of life, for the ability to save the ones that they love. Some even turn to the dark side as a result of the painful search (I’m looking at you, Anakin).
What these films and popular narratives seem to miss is that not only is death a key part of life, death is what gives life its meaning.
The quote from the famous Greek author Homer often springs to mind and is just as relevant today as it was then (and most likely always will be):
The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed.
If we had no deadline on life, if this whole mysterious existence just sort of stumbled on forever, what would be the point in anything? I know for one that I would procrastinate even more than I do now.
What would the rush be?
I believe that our mortality is the tension that causes us to act. And without some call to action, some sort of responsibility and end goal, life would be a pretty rubbish place.
In his book Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson manages to take this idea and coin it in his awesome Mark Manson-y way:
Death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.
What to do with all of this heavy info
I get it, this post has been pretty heavy.
If you were previously going about your daily life all cheery and then I punched you in the face with your inevitable death, I’m sorry.
But hey, it’s important too.
So you have made it through all of the tough, self-crisis-instigating text. Now, what can you do with all of this heavy information?
Prioritising your life and getting your shit together
As mentioned before, death is the ultimate perspective giver. When you realise that you actually haven’t got forever to finish that project, to enjoy the company of your best friends, to leave the world in a better state than you found it, then you can start to prioritise your days and to start making each day of your finite life count.
Steve Jobs was another famous and successful person who managed to use the ever-gazing presence of death to propel himself forward and squeeze the most out of each day. Here is a lesser-known quote from the man:
Almost everything – almost all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
You aren’t going to be around forever, so it’s time to take action.
Physical Enjoyment and Embracing Our Humanness
Whatever your beliefs are about life after death, there is one thing that is for sure, you will never experience this life that you are living again. Not in this body, not with the same people, not in the same environment, and unless you believe in reincarnation, not even in the same physical realm. This is it. This is the Game of Life.
Whether we just go back to the dirt or transcend into some higher form, here on earth we have things.
Things that are unique to this human experience and our time here. The feeling of rain on the skin, tasty foods to enjoy, physical hugs, the smell of bacon or coffee or whatever else you love. Whatever death brings, it certainly won’t be exactly what you have now. There is no physical love in the dimensions that are not physical, so enjoy all of the small earthly pleasures that bring so much joy while you still have the chance.
Legacy and living
For some people, if they get the wrong end of the stick, might interpret ‘one day, you are going to die’ to mean that nothing really matters. That since all of this is temporary, then what is the point in anything at all really?
You can choose to see it that way, or you can choose to see what you can manage to achieve, what you can manage to give, what you can manage to build and who you can become in your short time window on this planet.
It can become the fuel in your soul, to max out each and every day, leaving nothing on the table.
Because whether your death comes slowly or quickly, soon or far into the future, you don’t know.
Nobody knows. But it will happen, sometime.
And you can leave with the satisfaction of having lived each day with your final day in mind, or you can go with the regret of never seeing what you could have become. Or even worse, knowing and having done nothing about it.
One Day, You Are Going To Die.