How to voluntarily accept your death
“Suppose that god announced that you were going to die tomorrow ‘or the day after.’ Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was – what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.”
- Marcus Aurelius
The difference between dying tomorrow or the day after is obviously insignificant – if you were in this situation you’d probably be devastated either way. But less intuitive is the fact that the distance between tomorrow and several years is just as insignificant.
Why does Marcus claim that’s the case?
It certainly doesn’t feel insignificant: most people would jump on the opportunity to live for another 50 years rather than a day if they had the choice. Surely it goes deeper than just being a tough guy making a show about not caring about death.
And I think it does go deeper: I think the reason that the length of your life doesn’t matter is because literally all that matters is the present.
At first glance it sounds like hippie talk, and in most cases it is because I don’t think very many people actually understand this. But seriously think about it: if you can’t enjoy the present now, and makes you think you’ll enjoy the present in the future? What’s the use of living a long life if you never actually to learn to enjoy it?
Or think of it this way, you (and me too) would probably agree that it’s better to live a short life that you love, rather than a long life of apathy. So if that’s true, then the next question to ask is, well what about living a long life where you can appreciate the present? Surely that’s the best thing to aim for?
But then you run into a problem – do you really appreciate the present if you still want the future? And what makes you think that you’re already living to the highest quality of life in the present? If you could live a shorter, but even fuller life, would you? Where is the limit? Does it exist?
Intuitively it feels like it does, but the more I read this stuff the more it feels like that’s just an illusion created in the mind of somebody who hasn’t tasted the infinite fullness of the present. Because among types like Marcus Aurelius, also extremely hardcore religious icons like the Buddha and Jesus Christ, and even great warriors and martial artists like Miyamoto Musashi and Bruce Lee, there seems to be a common theme that once you really embrace the present, you’re ready to die.
In fact, the moment that you realize that might as well be equivalent to your death. Bruce Lee and Musashi talk about fighting as if they were already dead – that is, that they’ve voluntarily accepted death, and for all intents and purposes that might as well mean that they’re already dead. They’ve got no attachment to the outcome of any given battle – no skin in the game of life. I don’t know much about the Bible and this is pure speculation, but to me this also echoes of the death (and perhaps rebirth) of Jesus, and the voluntary acceptance of the worst possible suffering (the crucifix).
And so this leads me to think that once you really understand and experience what it means to be present, the idea of death, and therefore the time until your death simply becomes irrelevant.
So, what to take from this? I think a good place to start is to stop betting on the future. Turn inward and attune yourself to the moment. Appreciate the things that you’ve got right now, and realize the futility in wishing for things to be different. If these people are onto something, then everything you’ve ever wanted is right in front of your nose.
This article is part of a series on “Perspective”, and I have much more where it came from.
Your quality of life is 100% dependent on your perspective.
Nothing can phase you with the right perspective. Life is beautiful. And not in a trivial way. It’s absolutely fucking mind-blowing how beautiful it can be.
The problem with maintaining perspective is that it can feel like digging a hole in the ocean – with every heave of the shovel the water just floods back in.
And for that reason it’s easy to just drift through life unconscious, blown around like a leaf in the wind, and suffering because of it.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The more you realign with it the longer it sticks, and eventually you can entrench it permanently.
So I’m going to keep writing about it and sharing my insights, and if you want to come on this journey with me drop your email below and check out the social media icons.
Stick with me, and I’ll do my best to keep us both on track.
Much love ❤