Being mindful of death in an unflinching and confident way will raise the quality of your life. Many people pay lip service to this idea while at the same time buying into the thoroughly modern concept of ‘safety’. Can we defeat death by shunning it and using creative language to deny it is a part of life? Would the ancient Greeks and Romans feel the same way we do about it?
The last 3,000 or so years have seen a stark change in the view of death by the public, and not for the better. We live longer and healthier lives than people did in the past, but we also seem to be more fearful of death. Are these two concepts inevitably linked? Is the calm acceptance of death when the average human lives to 30 years inevitable, just as is fearing death when the average life span is 83? That question I cannot answer just yet (stay tuned), but I can show that our views on death and dying have taken on an unhealthy turn in the last century or so.
The Toltec indians had an interesting view of death:
“The Toltecs say that the Angel of Death always walks with you, behind your left shoulder. She is the most powerful guide to a joyful and creative life on the Toltec path. She is there to remind the warrior that everything in life is temporary. In the Toltec tradition, the Angel of Death is the source of all your possessions. She owns everything that you have—your car, your home, job, relationships, money, youth, even your body and life itself.Even though the Angel of Death is a powerful and precious guide to the Toltec Warrior, she is also the most feared. The Angel of Death has lent you everything you possess, and when she is ready, she will ask for it back. For the common man, death represents the ultimate loss of these closely held identities, and thus the ultimate fear—annihilation. The spiritual warrior knows that the Angel is always there, and he cannot control when she will take something from him.
The spiritual warrior lives in gratitude for everything the Angel has lent him, rather than in fear of losing it. The biggest surrender on the Toltec path is letting go of the illusion that you own or can control any of your possessions– including your life. The Angel of Death is always with you, inviting you to live in the present, to love freely, to live the life you want to live. She reminds you that this life is temporary, and you will die—it could be this moment or any time. You can be ready by surrendering to her what is already hers, and live in absolute gratitude for her abundant generosity.
That is the life of the Toltec warrior. That is personal freedom. When the warrior embraces the Angel of Death in complete surrender and gratitude, she becomes the Angel of Life. When you surrender to her, you are free to live your life to the fullest expression of who your are. The Angel of Life becomes your guide to Life, in all of its abundance and wonder.
The problem today seems to be that we have grown too smart for our own good, to maximize which would be to cherish life and accept death, instead of fearing death and have that fear discolor our lives as we live day by day, in fear. A coward, they say, dies a thousand times, a brave man only once. Literature has many shining examples of the more exemplary and stoic approach, of a character that lives with the acceptance of death that allows him or her to live fully and without fear. Hamlet praises the memory of Yorick instead of bursting into tears. More recently, the film Breaker Morant featuring the character of Harry Morant, played by the wonderful Edward Woodward, had an interesting storyline that is very similar to that faced by Socrates – a death sentence that could be avoided, but is not. Lt. Morant is condemned to die for the crime of executing prisoners in the South African Boer Wars, but as a beloved commander, his men offer him the chance to escape, of looking the other way. In a poignant scene Morant actually explains it best himself: At 1:09:00