Death is arguably the only common denominator across every single human being. More than that, it is a certainty shared by every living organism on our planet. It blows my mind that it’s nevertheless so taboo. Research from Western Sydney University showed that almost a third of Australians avoid any conversation about death, and only half of the population has written a will.
My mum had her mid-life crisis when she was 40. She left the corporate world after about 20 years as a tax accountant, disillusioned and looking to find some purpose. Life is short, as the cliché goes. I was reminded of this recently when I watched a talk by one of my favourite spiritual teachers, Sadhguru. He says “You can live your life avoiding death, the only thing that will happen is you will not live, but anyway you will die.”
This was a response to a question about how to deal with insecurities. The notorious term that encompasses anything and everything, from social anxiety and fears of not being interesting enough, to that irritating red pimple on your forehead, to intelligence or wealth or social status or your unbranded jumper. You name it, someone somewhere is probably stressing about it. Essentially insecurity is fear, and its premise is the judgement of others. “Life is insecure”, said Sadhguru, “Death is the only thing we can be certain about.”
Living at college has taught me a couple of things about insecurities. Say I’m having a bad skin day. Usually, if I was at home and going out to meet friends or thought I might be seeing that cute boy at a party, I’d cover it up with a flick of makeup. At college, when your friends might barge into your room at any given moment, and said cute boy lives down the hall, I suck it up and emerge from my room no matter the complexion situation. The college building is my home, and I refuse to bind myself by feeling pressure to dress well or wear makeup so that I can saunter on down to the kitchen for breakfast looking immaculate. When I think about my brief time here and what really matters to me, those couple of red dots on my forehead no longer seem like the end of the world.
One of my best friends is studying medicine at the moment. She also happens to be one of the most enlightened people I have been lucky enough to meet in this world. When I asked her what she wants to specialise in, her answer was “either obstetrics or palliative care”. She wants to work at the start of life or the end of it. She will be reminded every day that life is fleeting. Every day her little problems or insecurities will be forced into perspective.
I think this is what happens to old people. That’s a slightly brash way of putting it, but inevitably they’re confronted more than most of us by their ticking clock. Perhaps as a result, they’re often stubborn or politically incorrect, as if they’ve earned the right to be. Many of us have heard our grandparents say, “I’m too old to care now.” I would argue that this, more than anything, displays their realisation that they’re going to die.
If you’re truly in touch with the fact that at any point you might, in one form or another, spontaneously combust, would you really hold on to your grudges? Would you stress about the fact that last semester your GPA slipped a couple of points below whatever immaterial goal you’ve made? Contemplating your own impermanent existence is, in my opinion, an unmatched source of motivation and perspective. It forces us to acknowledge what is most important and act accordingly. You stop wasting time on things which don’t enrich your life. You stop trying to please people who don’t need to be pleased. Knowledge of your own certain death should not incite fear, but rather produce a life that is infinitely more profound, intense and beautiful.
A final update on my mum: she is now a yoga teacher and mental resilience trainer. She goes to work every day with the conviction that she is making people’s lives better. She is calmer, happier and more driven. She comes home in the evening and inspires the rest of our family to be better versions of ourselves. By no means is she perfect, but there is a beautiful stillness that exists in her that wasn’t there before. So don’t avoid death. Our time here is transient. Instead of refusing to acknowledge this universal truth, let it catapult you into a life that is filled with purpose, passion and joy.