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How to start living by walking in the shadows of death

“If we refuse to accept death now, while we are still alive, we will pay dearly throughout our lives, at the moment of death, and thereafter. The effects of this refusal will ravage this life and all the lives to come. We will not be able to live our lives fully; we will remain imprisoned in the very aspect of ourselves that has to die. This ignorance will rob us of the basis of the journey to enlightenment, and trap us endlessly in the realm of illusion.” — Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Less than one minute after walking out of this glacier cave in Nepal, giant boulders crashed onto the very path we used to climb into the cave. In that moment, I felt the brush of death and came alive!

This is part five in the ten part series that began with the brief outline of the 10 steps to becoming the greatest salesman in the world, as outlined by Og Mandino in his book, The Greatest Salesman in the World.

The fifth step to becoming the greatest salesman in the world is to live this day as if it is your last.

One day you will die. One day, all of us will die. Yet, this does not frighten us. More people are afraid of flying, public speaking and heights than they are of losing our very existence. Why is that?

Perhaps it is because we spend our entire lives living as if we will be around forever. We live every day ignoring the reality that one day it will all be gone. No matter what you believe about death and the afterlife, the truth still remains that this reality, this body will be gone forever once you die.

Because we sleep walk through life, we have no fear of losing it. And without any concern for death, we simply don’t value our lives enough to start living it. Most of us certainly act like this. Why else would 80% of people be unhappy with their jobs? If these 80% of people walked in the shadow of death every day, do you think they would spend another minute doing something they hate? Or would they smash through the brick wall to live their passions? What would you do?

If today were your last, what would you do with it? Imagine a life where every day were your last. A life where every day was all you had left and the hours within it became your eternity. What would that do for you? What would that do for your business or your relationships?

The very best thing about life is that it is temporary. If life were permanent, what difference would it make if we followed our passions today or 10 years from now? What difference would it make if we continued putting off the actions we need to take to live the life we are meant to live?

But one day we will die, so maybe it does make a difference. Maybe we should, or must, follow our passion today and break the shackles that bind us into a life of mediocrity and live as the greatest version of ourselves.

If we don’t take action today, there might not be a tomorrow.

My intention is to frighten you because fear is good for you. It gives you power. My intention is also to shock you into the reality of your life today so you can ask yourself am I exactly where I want to be? Am I doing what I am meant to be doing? Am I living the life I want and deserve to be living?

I recently watched the movie the Dark Knight Rises again. In it, there is a scene where Batman or Bruce Wayne is trapped in a prison that offers the possibility of escape by climbing out of the hellish pit. The toughest part of the climb is a seemingly impossible jump from one ledge to another.

Batman tries to make the leap twice with a rope tied to him and fails. When discussing the climb, he reveals to a fellow prisoner that he is not afraid of death. The prisoner tells him that his lack of fear is not a strength, but a weakness.

He asks him, “How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death,” and then tells him to make the climb without the rope so that fear will find him again.

The fear of death is truly the most powerful impulse of the spirit. It makes us unstoppable. It inspires a sense of urgency in our lives to take action. It ignites the very fires of the human spirit. It allows us to do grand and amazing things like climb mountains, build multi-billion dollar empires and travel into space.

Our mortality is our strength. But first we must embrace it. We must see it, taste it, know it and feel it. That will give us the means to escape from dormancy and live our lives because only then we will know, from the very core of our being, that one day it will all be gone. That one day we will die. But when that day happens, we will die knowing that we have lived.

Steve Jobs once said “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” By getting present to the impermanence of life, Steve Jobs built a multi-billion dollar empire.

What do you think you could do with the force of death on your side?

Everything in life exists in duality. Good and evil. The known and the unknown. Night and day. Life and death. It is this polarity of our existence that creates variety, uncertainty and excitement. For without it, our entire lives would be mundane. To know one extreme, we must experience the other. For that very reason, we often see the best of humanity emerge from the worst.

And so to experience life, to REALLY experience life, we must immerse ourselves in the shadows of death. Out there on the frontier of all that is lies our salvation.

Og Mandino writes in his book, “I have but one life and life is naught but a measurement of time. When I waste one I destroy the other. If I waste today I destroy the last page of my life. Therefore, each hour of this day will I cherish for it can never return. It cannot be banked today to be withdrawn on the morrow, for who can trap the wind? Each minute of this day will I grasp with both hands and fondle with love for its value is beyond price. What dying man can purchase another breath though he willingly give all his gold? What price dare I place on the hours ahead? I will make them priceless!”

The hours you have left are your most valuable assets. Cherish them by recognizing that they will be gone one day. This creates a profound shift in the manner in which we approach everything in our lives. Our work, our relationships, our daily habits, everything.

How tight would you hug the persons you love most if this was the last day of your life?

In the ancient Samurai treatise, Hagakure, it is written that “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.”

Buddha himself echoed this sentiment: “Of all footprints That of the elephant is supreme. Of all mindfulness meditations, that on death is supreme.”

Meditate on your death. Visualize it. Welcome it and start living your life. This ancient wisdom has been passed down through the ages and practiced by the most successful people in our generation.

Learn how to die and you will learn how to live. Live today by dying.

Your action for today is to picture your death. See yourself on your deathbed and ask yourself have I lived the life I wanted to live? Did I become the person I wanted to become? Did I do the things I wanted to do?

In The Zen of Living and Dying: A Practical and Spiritual Guide Philip Kapleau suggests one way to practice this meditation, “Masters of old advise, ‘Stick the word death on your forehead and keep it there.’ In the beginning it is effective to harmonise the inhalations and exhalations with the soft vocalisation of the word death. Later the word may be uttered only on the exhalation. One need not visualise the word itself, unless picturing it helps keep it in mind. The mind should be fully concentrated on the meaning of the word death; care should be taken to avoid a mechanical repetition of it.”

Do this and then when you return back to the present, take one action, just one, to move your life in the direction you want it to go. So when one day many years from now you do find yourself on your deathbed, your answer will be yes, I lived my life exactly the way I wanted to live it.

Please share your action in the comments below and tell us how this worked for you. Or if you have other thoughts on this post, I would love to hear your comments as well.

“AKSHAY WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT FEAR” – CAL NEWPORT

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3 thoughts on “How to start living by walking in the shadows of death”

  1. Moving and irrefutable article, Akshay. Dying to who we were opens the door to become who we desire to be. I agree that each day is a gift, and living with passion and purpose is essential for fulfillment on all levels. Thanks for sharing you inspirational insight!

    Reply

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Fearvana inspires us to look beyond our own agonizing experiences
and find the positive side of our lives. ~ The Dalai Lama