Meditating on death
Suma Varughese muses over life’s inescapable certainty—death. She raises questions, all of us need to ask to better our life on Earth
I am 63 years old, and I live in Mumbai, which is currently the epicentre of COVID-19 in India. Two of my neighbouring buildings have reported COVID-19 cases. The question is inescapable. Am I going to get it? And if I do, will I die?
The only thing I have done so far to prepare for this eventuality is to write a will. As to what I feel about it, I am not quite sure. The idea of dying of COVID-19 is daunting. I will be carted away by the municipality and cremated, without any member of my family being present. It could get worse. My body could be simply dumped somewhere because, as a bearer of the disease, no one would want to come near it. My neat-as-a-pin house will be violently overturned and fumigated, and who knows what will be taken. Moreover, I always thought I would be enlightened in this lifetime itself, so I would be pretty disappointed if I went before that happened.
On the brighter side, death by COVID is a speedy process, unlike paralysis or cancer. And furthermore, I do look forward to returning to what is our true home. All the accounts I have read of near-death experiences paint a marvellous picture of a space of unconditional love, of meeting and melting into your Divine Source, of having Masters do your life review and help you process your learnings of the life gone by, and of a grand reunion with your departed friends and family. I am guessing it would be like, what a kid in boarding school feels when returning home from the holidays.
And I also know that if I am going, it means my work here is done.
But still, I am not ready to go. I am aware of many unfinished conversations, many unhealed parts of my being, many incomplete relationships. I suppose the idea of a clinically neat death with all parts of my life neatly tied up is unrealistic, but I do want more closure, a greater sense of having come to terms with my life.
The prospect of death also makes life so much more enticing. The sunshine, trees, breeze, river, sea, sky, animals, family. How would it feel to leave them all behind?
And I suppose that is what death is here to teach us. The very thought of feeling its fetid breath upon us makes us embrace life so much more fervently and become aware of the incompletions that haunt us.
Every moment becomes invaluable, for we know that it is never going to return. Like Olympic athletes train with dead seriousness, we take on our projects, aware that we may not get another chance. And what is most important is that we will evaluate our life and our choices. In the face of death, what remains important? And what does not?
In the collective history of humanity, this is one such time. Destiny has trapped us all as neatly as a bird catcher traps songbirds, and money, power, fame, gold, land, no longer seem as significant. The concerns are more primal.
If I were to go tomorrow, am I prepared? What legacy am I leaving, if any? Am I proud of the way I have lived my life? What changes would I make if I could? What should my priorities be?
These are the best questions we can grapple with. The answers may not come immediately, but when they do, we will change within. Meditating on death is the most powerful way to lead a meaningful life. Try it. And when all this is over and we can resume our lives once again, maybe our encounter with death will support us in the business of living.
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