“To philosophize is to learn how to die.”Michel de Montaigne – The Essays, Book 1, chapter 20
Death is a subject we don’t often speak about, but we should. It happens all around us and will meet us all. I didn’t want to think or talk about it. It scared me and made me nervous. My fears kept me from exploring my full potential.
As I got older and I noticed more examples of our mortality, the topic of death took on a more permanent presence in my mind. Getting more familiar with philosophy showed me how often they spoke about death back in the day. It was time to make up my mind on the inevitable end and see how I could use it to live a better life. I had to start to learn how to die.
It sounds painful; dying
There are many ways of saying it, but they all boil down to something like this; we must live every day as if it was our last. And that is exactly what it is. It could be our last day. Personally, I find that quite consoling. It puts all our issues into perspective and shows us how absurd they sometimes are. I have thought about the topic of death more as of late and I can confidently say that I am content with my life at the moment. If this were to be my last day, then I could live with that.
The fear of dying is not an unusual one and the fact that we don’t talk about it a lot demonstrates this. When I ask myself where this fear is coming from there are two answers that pop into my head. First is my attachment to life. I am afraid to give it up and I want to cling on to it for as long as I can. The other reason is that it sounds painful; dying. And although I don’t like pain, I have always managed to deal with it. Your fears might be completely different and I’d invite you to share them in the comments.
We are born, we live and then we die
Learning how to die will help us deal with the inevitable fact that we will all face. But where do we start? Let’s start at the beginning, there where it ends. We associate death with the end and we see this as something bad. There is no common ground on what happens after we die, but we can all agree that our current life as we know it won’t continue. This is what makes it so scary; we don’t know for certain what happens. What do we know? We are born, we live whatever time we do and then it ends.
This lesson in our course on how to die brings us to combining the start and the finish line. We don’t know what we were before we were given the Go, but suddenly we are here. Then we race as fast as we can to that same unknown. The more we try to avoid the finish, the more it hits us by surprise. Life is like something pushing us forward even if we try to turn around. This resistance prevents us from running at our very best. Unlike an athlete, we don’t know how long the race is. Therefore, we should live at the top of our ability all the time.
My existence will end
Are you then afraid of the void? Or is it the lack of control? This will be different for everyone, but it is important to ask yourself this question. Why am I afraid to die? Knowing the answer is a crucial step. My fear was focused on not having enough time to do what I want and not leaving anything behind. I also wanted to avoid the pain. This last part is still my preference, but I’ll just have to endure what it has to offer.
I will address ‘not having enough time’ at another moment. Looking at what I would leave behind solved itself by understanding that it wouldn’t really impact me anymore. It would be nice to leave the people close to me with something that can help them. Hopefully, I would have done so by being the best person I can be while I am alive. Since it is my understanding that my existence will end, I have managed to take my focus away from that moment. It is now aimed towards the present. What can I do now to make my life the best for myself and the people around me?
Learn how to die so you can live freely and fully
Learning how to die can take away a lot of anxiety and give you more freedom to live. I have noticed that I am now more open in the decisions I make. I take the responsibility for my life. Which doesn’t mean that I take more risks, because that’s not who I am. But my willingness to do the things I want to do and take those leaps has increased a lot. Facing my mortality has shown me how precious my life is. It has also opened my eyes to the unknown amount of grains of sand that are in the hourglass. The last one might fall at any moment.
There is a lot more to be said on this topic, and I will. But for this reflection, it is good to remember that we must make the best of the life we have now. It will end, there is no negotiating this fact. And once our time comes, we must take our leave. Make sure you are prepared for it and have no regrets of having lived in constant fear of dying. Learn how to die so that you can live a free and full life.
Live carefree of dying
I do realize that it is a sensitive topic and that there are people who think about taking their own lives. If this is your case, then please go to this link and find the suicide hotline in your country. If you can’t find it or just want to have someone to talk to, you can always contact me. Although I am not a professional in this specific field, I do know how to listen. Perhaps reading this made you change your view towards life a bit.
This reflection has helped me better understand my view on dying. It is not evil, it is just something that will happen to all of us. My way of dealing with it is to prepare myself. Philosophy and Stoicism more specifically, have been key in this process. The teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, together with Michel de Montaigne and others, have opened my eyes. With their help, I can live my life carefree of dying. I am learning how to die so I can live my life to the fullest.
8 thoughts on “On Learning How to Die”
Dying is facile and natural in every aspect; living is much less so. Every night when we go to sleep, we will awaken or we will not. If we do, all is well. If we do not, there are two possibilities: there is something beyond, or there is not. If there is something beyond, it’s all good. If there is not, we would never know. Should we then fear to go to sleep?
Thank you for your comment and I see where you’re coming from.
I’ve started looking at waking up or not as not something to worry about. I try to live my best life while I can and when it ends and there is something there, then I’ll deal with it then. We don’t even know if that’s better than what we have now.
We should try and go to sleep with the idea that we’ve lived a good day and what ever happens after is the unknown. Why worry about what we don’t know, while there is enough to think about what we do know.
This was an interesting read. I read philosophy and the stoics myself and I have also written about death in the past. I do agree with you that being aware of our death and accepting it as an inevitable fact can only be helpful in living a more content and meaningful life.
Thank you for sharing this! Although death is not a pleasant topic I did enjoy reading this.
Thank you for your lovely comment, it’s motivating to hear such things. Are the articles on death on your website? It is a difficult topic, you’re right. But it should be made more acceptable to talk about. That’s what I tried to do as well.
Again, thank you for reading my work and leaving a comment!
I think that one can be so consumed with their fear of dying that they fail to truly live. While reading this, it reminds of a recent situation. I had to have surgery for the first time. A very wise dude that I work with asked me what scared me the most about the impending surgery. I replied that I was afraid of not waking up. His response, “Well, you won’t have anything to worry about then.” I have also experienced a near death experience in the past couple of years that has changed my whole perspective on what it means to be alive. But I think our mortality is an intelligent design. Life wouldn’t be as precious if we always have more time. So instead of playing it ultra safe all of the time, people should take calculated risks, go after what they want. Go hard in the paint while you still have a court on which to play.
That’s incredible to read. And that co-worker sounds like a very smart person :).
I love that expression in the end and definitely one to live by.
Amazing to read your experiences and inspiring to live each day to the fullest.
Very interesting indeed.
I wonder if you are in a relationship (or married) because it seems like you have been through a lot and you like to travel and explore a lot. I feel like you have been illuminated and it changed your mind completely, literally 360°.
We need to enjoy and discover and when our time is up we can say yes I have seen and lives life on this planet.
Thank you for your comment. The last few years have been quite turbulent in many different parts of my life. But I can’t complain at all, because it hasn’t been as bad as other people I hear or read about. But we all go through our own things and have to deal with them the best way we can.
Not sure if I can say a 360° turn, but I have had some eye-opening moments. Many of them were more confirmations of something my instincts already told me. But also new things and views.
We do need to enjoy and discover our lives. When it is time to say goodbye at least not t0 have too many regrets in your mind.