I first read about the “death meditation” years ago, and honestly, I can’t even remember what book it was in. I was in a stage where Eastern philosophy was at the forefront and I was starting to understand a grand truth: eastern philosophy is based on imagery and stories, and western philosophy is robotic and linear. This I believe is why many people have such trouble understanding the eastern mystic beliefs in general. If you look at the myths and stories that permeate Zen and Buddhism from a western standpoint you will see exactly what we are taught to see here in the west: a bunch of bullshit.
But I started to understand that the reason for the stories was that the information that was portrayed through these fables lets the reader develop the knowledge from within. When you hear “facts” in the west it is treated extremely left-brained meaning linearly and black and white.
The ability to get the point of a story is a much more imaginative thought process. You have to sit and meditate, think through the story…what is the moral? What does this mean? The story itself is really irrelevant, its the idea that comes from that story.
So during this time, back to the point, I heard about the meditation on death. The man who wrote the book posed a very simple idea. He stated that if you suffer from depression or more importantly anxiety, then one way to help is to meditate on death, first thing in the morning. This means that you imagine you are dead, as soon as you wake up. You lay in bed for a few minutes and just imagine what would happen when you die.
Do you advance to another world, heaven or hell? Perhaps there is a judgment of sorts. Maybe nothing, just blackness for all eternity. Maybe you soar through the universe in a wormhole like out of the movie Stargate.
Obviously, nobody knows what happens when we die. I have my beliefs, and I’m fully aware that when the final breath passes my body, I may simply disintegrate into blackness forever. Of course if this was the case then there would be no “experience” because there would be no “me” at all. So I would just cease to be. All of the accomplishments in life, all the experiences, all the people, money, cars, toys, and other bullshit we carry around, would mean absolutely nothing.
This may sound like a depressing meditation but I assure you that it really changes the way you think about what is so damn depressing about this life. Compared to what I just described, our problems in this world are relatively small and irrelevant. Bills to pay? Who gives a shit, they’ll be meaningless when you die. That grudge you hold against a certain someone for something they may have done years ago? That will be completely meaningless. Debts? Bad decisions? All of it will be gone in some shape or form.
So what effect does that have on the psyche. Well for one you don’t take all this frivolous crap so seriously. Life is a ride, like Bill Hicks said. Its a roller coaster, and some people have forgotten that its just a ride, and that its going to end. They take it too seriously. Problems that really amount to piddly shit are taken so damn seriously!
When you meditate on death for a few minutes, then you come back to reality you will have a new appreciation for this life. It's really remarkable that we’re here at all. Enjoy it. Your problems do not define how you treat this life.
If you think about it, you don’t even need to meditate fully on death. It's just an extreme example. For instance, if you are mad about something trivial, say a traffic jam, you can simply meditate on the idea of being a starving child in Africa. Things could be much much worse than they are.
I would venture that the biggest benefit coming from a meditation on death is that it brings thoughts of gratitude to the person doing it. After returning from the somewhat depressing thought of being dead (although what’s depressing about death? We all go through it eventually) it is very easy to see all the things that we should be grateful for, and how useless it is to simply sit around thinking about how bad things are. It puts things in perspective.
And if you think about it, perspective is everything when it comes to anxiety and depression. Shift the perception and perspective, shift the depression.
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