Some people may view death as a morbid subject. But a variety of ancient cultures and present day believers suggest facing the fact that we have limited time on earth is a healthy attitude.
Knowing we will die strengthens us to live with greater intention and less fear.
And regardless of your age, gender, race, or religion, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the wisdom people offer us.
How Cultures Perceive Death
Various cultures throughout history knew that being aware of death was essential to a healthy attitude. An example of this interpretation is the ancient Toltecs who celebrated 13 deaths available for the human experience.
Sergio Magaña, a famous Mexican healer — initiated into the 5,000-year-old Toltec lineage of Mesoamerica, as well as the Tol shamanic lineage of dreaming knowledge — briefly explains.
“The deep understanding of these mysteries made the ancient Mexicans fearless of physical death – because they had experienced many other little deaths throughout their lives.”
The Toltecs would use death as “fuel to live and to love.” The constant reminder ensured them that they would live with less fear, more kindly, and more boldly.
Another perspective comes from Michel Eyquem de Montaigne — one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance.
Montaigne offers his view.
“To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death. We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
Most of the time, many of us live as if there will be no end to our lives. We stay working on jobs that are unfulfilled. Many of us don’t share our talents with the world for fear they may criticize, or judge us harshly.
Countless people stay in unhappy — and even dangerous relationships. And many fall short in telling people how much they matter to them.
On the other hand, people who are dying don’t mention the revenge they were unable to deliver. They’re not sad over not being the most famous.
Neither are they melancholy for not being the prettiest or thinnest. And they care less of their insufficient status.
International best-selling writer Bronnie Ware shares some of her experiences with the dying. Bronnie was a hospice nurse in Australia for several years. She cared for patients in the last few weeks of their lives. In her book titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” Bronnie wrote how the dying shared similar regrets over-and-over again.
The Five Most Common Regrets
- I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself — not the life others expected of me. “This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. “All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. “Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks, and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.”
- I wish that I had let myself be happier. “This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content.”
Clarify What You Want
Your life and time on earth is precious! If you’re trying to figure out what you want to do, or what you want to have, Susie Moore recommends this exercise to help you. Susie is a life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City.
Begin the exercise by finding the time to take an hour and sit in silence, uninterrupted. This is a time without any distractions.
Visualize yourself in your elderly years. Try to see your life through the eyes and mind of your 80- or 90-year-old person.
Begin a completely honest conversation with this wiser, older version of yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What really makes me feel happy and alive?
- Where am I holding back?
- What do I really, really, really want?
- How can I make my happiness and my truth my number one priority?
- What will I congratulate myself for having the courage to do, right now?
- What part of myself do I really need to honor and be true to (even if this goes against others’ expectations of me)?
Whenever you think about these questions, constantly keep that older and wiser version of yourself in your mind. You won’t be alone — because, every day, with every small action you take in the direction of your happiness and truth — your older version of yourself will be smiling and encouraging you.