Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Maranasati Meditation: Recollections of Death

Many of us consider death to be a morbid topic. We do not wish to contemplate death, either our own or that of a loved one. As humans, we are cursed by the knowledge of our mortality--we already know how this story will end. But a pathological fear of death is unhealthy. An antidote to this fear is to replace some of the uncertainty about mortality with a more conscious awareness of death. This post is brought to you in the name of exposure therapy.  

I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast while driving to West Virginia for work. I thoroughly enjoyed his wide-ranging conversation with author and professor Arthur C. Brooks. Tim is truly a master interviewer. His questions come from deep research and boundless curiosity. He attracts some of the most accomplished guests you could imagine. At about one hour and 29 minutes into this particularly  fascinating interview, Tim asked Arthur, "Could you please describe your death meditation and why you have a death meditation?"   

Arthur's response connected with me. I am working on updating my Estate Plan, so I have a comfort level with the topic of my mortality. I consider myself a Christian, but I have read from a wide range of wisdom traditions and I find value in the sometimes curious paths that other cultures have taken to the same destination. 

Arthur, a Catholic, explains the Theravada Buddhist practice of familiarizing oneself with the truth of their future death through a meditation called Maranasati. The meditation involves the rather macabre technique of contemplating cadavers or photos of cadavers in 9 stages of decomposition ending in dust. They examine the first one and they say, that is me. And then after contemplating they move to the next one and say, that is also me. And what are they doing? They’re familiarizing themselves with the truth of their future such that they can be liberated from any fear of physical death.

Arthur goes on to say that as a Christian, he does not have a fear of death, per se. However, he does have a fear of losing his mind, of somehow not being fully himself. He has students who fear academic failure. Perhaps you have a particular fear that robs you of being fully present. Brooks advocates the Maranasati Meditation technique as a means of confronting all manner of fear. As he says, 

"we won’t be fully alive until we actually face the death that really matters to us." 

Reminding ourselves of our transience helps us truly embrace life. Let me provide a guided script for a form of Maranasati Meditation. This and other scripts like it are available in the references cited below. Practice this a few times without pictures, until you are comfortable with the progression through 9 stages. Then, feel free to adapt the model to your deepest existential fears. 

1     Death is inevitable.  No one is exempt.

Holding this thought in mind, I abide in the breath.

2     Our life span is ever-decreasing.  Each breath brings us closer to death.

Holding this thought in mind, I delve deeply into its truth.

3     Death will indeed come, whether or not we are prepared.

Holding this thought in mind, I enter fully into the body of life.

4     Human life expectancy is uncertain.  Death can come at any time.

Holding this thought in mind, I am attentive to each moment.

5     There are many causes of death – even habits, desires and accidents are precipitants.

Holding this thought in mind, I consider the endless possibilities.

6     The human body is fragile and vulnerable.  Our life hangs by a breath.

Holding this thought in mind, I attend to my inhale and exhale.

7     At the time of death, material resources are of no use to us.

Holding this thought in mind, I invest wholeheartedly in practice.

8     Our loved ones cannot keep us from death.  There is no delaying its advent.

Holding this thought in mind, I exercise non-grasping.

9     Our body cannot help us at the time of death.  It too will be lost at that moment.

Holding this thought in mind, I learn to let go.

I'll close with this quote from Steve Taylor, via his post on The Conversation

"Death is always present, and its transformational power is always accessible to us. Becoming aware of our own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience, which can – paradoxically, it might seem – help us to live authentically and fully, perhaps for the first time in our lives." 

Here's to confronting our fears as a means to living authentically and fully! Please visit the references below for additional context and inspiration. As always, comments and questions are welcome. 

Memento mori: Remember that you will die.


The Tim Ferriss Show with Arthur C. Brooks on YouTube

Tim Ferriss' blog post with Arthur C. Brooks

Arthur C. Brooks Interview Transcript

The nine contemplations on death

Positive Psychology on Maranasati Meditation

Buddhist Inquiry Shining the light of death on life Part I

Buddhist Inquiry Shining the light of death on life Part II

Corpse Meditation a Buddhist Practice

Cadaver Meditation: Anatomy and the Body

Why contemplating death can help you live a happier life

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Do and Be Better


Words of Wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha

Are you addicted to achievement and adventure? Are you afraid of missing out? Does this disposition make you feel anxious, competitive, or insecure in some way? You are not alone! 

There is a cure, and it may surprise you. 

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our calendars, schedules, agendas, and endless To-Do lists that we forget why we are even here on this Earth. We focus on improving our activities, our achievements, our adventures--our "doings"--until we lose our balance. Nothing is ever good enough, and time rolls by ever faster, increasing a sense of separation. 

All the attention we pour into doing things better, faster, and cheaper may come at the expense of deepening and improving the essence of who we are: our values, character, and demeanor.

I am reminded of the phrase, "Peaceful Being and Purposeful Doing" by Steven Lawson, creator of the Monk Manual. Like Warren, Steven suggests that true happiness lies in finding and maintaining the balance between our Being and our Doing. Warren emphasized the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who push us to both do and be better.

We are not just our accomplishments; we are values on display, for whatever precious little time is allotted us. There is nothing wrong with the drive to enhance productivity. Do your best! But don't neglect the personal growth and development that comes from study, introspection, and contemplation. We must also endeavor to be the best possible version of ourselves. 

Contemplation is necessary, but not sufficient. Nothing happens until something moves. The cure I alluded to above lies in helping others. We must get out of our own heads and be of service. Be kind to yourself, and in your dealings with others, be just a little kinder than the situation requires. No drama or negativity, just positive reinforcement and encouragement. No jealousy or hate, just bringing out the absolute best in each other. 

Warren's words of wisdom are a perfect share for Wisdom Wednesday. If you would like to explore this topic deeper, let me know. My mastermind group for publishers exists to develop that sweet spot between being and doing.