Live As If You're Already Dead
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Today, one of the sweetest dogs I ever knew passed on. Just a couple weeks ago, my paternal grandmother died.
I shed tears for the dog, but not my grandmother. I had been much closer with the dog.
The other day, I listened to an interview with Kosta Danaos–author of The Magus of Java–and it also had me thinking about mortality, as he alluded to his feeling that we may soon be facing a mass extinction event, or at least great peril.
It had me think to the old Zen (or Samurai) saying, “live as if you’re already dead.”
I don’t know what it means to anyone else, but I’ll tell you what it means to me.
If I imagine being already dead:
All pettiness falls away.
The things that are most important are not material, but spiritual and relational.
Already being dead, I can play and work with the material world without the gravity it has when one fears death, annihilation, or limitation.
With no fear of death, courage is much easier.
There is no anxiety about how I look or appear to others, and therefore I can say what I mean and be free to express myself as is most true to me.
Vanity falls away, replaced by a celebration and honoring of life, and beauty, in all her myriad forms.
All fear falls away, and thus my values change.
Being already dead, I am in touch with–dwelling in–the sacred, taking profane limitations not so seriously. Seeing them as part of the work of art they are.
Ironically, being already dead, I am more fully alive. As I'm not limited by any of the trappings or illusions of the profane world.
All superficiality drops away. All fear drops away. All pettiness drops away. There is no time for pretense.
Profane time reveals itself as the illusion it is. But an illusion that must be honored within the bounds of profane space.
There is a sweet and subtle joy in connecting with the preciousness of every moment. The preciousness of every little experience.
A wabi sabi. The sweet tenderness of everything in the material world being imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral. Everything coming and going.
But I'm also grounded, centered in the still confidence of immortality, where nothing can be destroyed, only transformed. There is a joy in that. A celebration of life.
I am inspired to make everything better, but not from a place of "I must be better." Simply from a place of, let's make this thing beautiful. Let's honor what it is, and transform it into what it can be.
Let's have it shine with the light of spirit, and immortal love.
The old mystic Gurdjieff famously wrote a piece about living as if every hour was the last hour of one's life (as it very well could be).
There is something similar here to living as if one is already dead, as, when death is approaching, people's values change. They question, what is really important to me? Have I lived my life fully? Am I being the person I wish to be? Are there relationships I would like to repair? What will I do with my precious last breaths?
The contemporary spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, speaks to this also, as he's seen people change when they know their death is approaching. All of a sudden, they are contemplating, what is really valuable to me, changing their attitudes, and living from the realization of the ephemerality of their physical form.
But perhaps we don't have to wait for our impending death.
Perhaps now, in this moment, we can live as if we're already dead. We can remember our true nature in spirit, and bring that into the profane world.
Sacrificing our fears, pettiness, and hostility. Toward other people. Toward limitation. Toward ourselves.
Living in forgiveness. Living in connection with a deeper reality.
Perhaps in embracing the limitations of the moment, and recognizing that they are fleeting, we transcend them, taking a broader view. A more liberated view. A more peaceful and fearless view.
Right now, as sad as the passing of my old dog friend is, I am grateful for every moment we shared together. For the sweet stink of his dog breath. For all of the ways he touched and transformed me. For his pure and limitless love.
And I feel him with me, immortal, liberated, at peace, joyful, radiating that brilliant.
How beautiful this life is, when its limitations are not taken so seriously.
How beautiful, to live as if we are already dead.