This blog series consists of three articles:
#1 – The Root of Fear of Death
#2 – Turn Unhealthy Fear into Healthy Fear through Meditation
#3 – Asana & Meditation to Overcome Fear of Death
#2 – Turn Unhealthy Fear into Healthy Fear through Meditation
In the previous blog I introduced the concept of healthy and unhealthy fears. Today I will share more about how you can practically do that as we can go about this in a few ways. Firstly we can meditate on the reality of nature (prakriti, or everything that is manifested in this world) and its relation to the universal spirit (purusha). Doing that you might get a grasp of the idea that our bodies and mind is just a temporary form that after our physical death will dissolve in something higher/bigger/beyond our current ability of perceiving. This is what (Buddhist) practitioners try to understand when they say that they are studying ’emptiness’. Anyway this is obviously not an easy realisation to make and might cause a whole lot of resistance. So another way of going about dealing with fear of death, and fears generally, is to make the fear healthy. Rather then fearing death (which is inevitable – at least our physical bodies will dissolve at some point), accept the fact that you will die and make sure that you are prepared for death. For somebody on a spiritual path that might mean to use as much effort as possible to realise our ‘true nature’ and to prevent dying with an uncontrolled mind. Preparing for death could also imply going through processes such as forgiving and asking for forgiveness. Whatever feels good for you to do, go for it, and realize that you have turned the fear (of death in this case) into a useful process.
Another example of turning fear around: fear of rejection usually comes from the need of wanting people to like us. All the time. Maybe you can change this into start liking everybody else first! This makes that you are not constantly busy with yourself but you are reaching out rather. Another obvious ‘anti-dote’ is to simply not care what other people think of you, by truly accepting and loving yourself, even your sloppiness and laziness and physical imperfections. You can see how you can apply this ‘trick’ to any fear.
The mere fact that we can turn a fear around anyway means that all labelling comes from our own mind. Something that some wise men, uhm.. the Buddha himself understood ages ago:
‘Buddha, the Able one says:
This all fears,
And all infinite sufferings,
Arise from the mind’
‘… it is not possible
To control all external events;
But if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things.’
(from A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life)
Meditation on Death
Many of us do acknowledge the fact that we will die but still do not fully ‘live’ that fact. We live life as if we will never die actually! Without the full understanding and acceptation that we will die we will not make steps in our life to die ‘prepared’. Also, would it be beautiful if you can prepare yourself right now! Do not wait till you are laying on your death bed, but just do it now. Also remember that we don’t know when we will die. It might all be over tomorrow! So the earlier you prepare yourself, the better.
Here is another detailed instruction of a meditation on death that i would like to share with you, as it helps you going through a process of dying. Your mind and body will really feel as if they have died. It is very powerful, especially if you go through all the steps as suggested. You will notice that as you come back out of the meditation you have a much stronger motivation to live your life with dedication and direction.
Please, read the instructions carefully and then practice on your own. What I suggest you to do is to record the instructions with your phone and then play it for yourself while you can do the meditation, so you don’t actually have to remember the instructions.
Stages of the meditation on death
Broadly there are two steps stages:
(1) First you will relax yourself completely
(2) You’ll imagine (visualize step by step ) that you are dying. And this very process will take you to the witness – to the Self within you.
The best time for this technique is early morning or at late evening. If done early morning it’ll help insure a good serene day and a late evening session will be a good preamble to a restful night’s sleep. This technique is extremely beneficial for working people, students and all those having a predominantly mental /sedentary occupation. This meditation technique will rejuvenate you and restore all your lost mental and physical energy
This death meditation technique will not take more than half an hour. Once you start doing it, you will realize that an investment of 30 minutes on this meditation technique is one of the most valuable investment of time you can ever make. The benefit of this 30 minute technique will amaze you.
Instructions Stage 1 – Relaxation
1. Lie flat on your back, using a rug or folded blanket to protect yourself from the cold floor/ board. Close your eyes. You may not feel very comfortable when you first try lying like this. The floor will feel too hard and you may find yourself tempted to shift position. But this you must not do, for in order to relax muscle by muscle, it is important to lie still. Make sure that you are lying comfortably with your weight fairly evenly distributed on the floor.
2. Once settled, take a few deep breaths slowly. Observe the inhalation and exhalation process while breathing, then allow yourself to breath normally again.
3. Now, you must be aware that our body is consist of 6 basic external part – two legs, two hands, one ‘neck & head’ portion and the remaining torso. What you have to do now is to relax these six parts one by one: start taking a deep breath and while you inhale, stretch one of your leg. Stretch it hard, making all the muscle along the way contract. You will observe that while you stretch, the muscles quite far removed from the area with which you are experimenting contract in sympathy. When the air you are inhaling reaches inside the deepest point in your body, take a momentary pause. Hold the stretch at that moment. Then slowly start exhaling the air and ( simultaneously ) release the stretch. Let go every muscle that you stretch while inhalation.
4. One you completely relax all these 6 external part of your body this way, apply this process of relaxation to the entire body in one go.
Keep lying in the relaxed position for a few moments. Keep breathing at your normal pace. Now imagine.. that you are dying. The more you imagine the feeling of dying the more effective the meditation will be, so fully go for it! Do you know what happens when the body starts dying ? Slowly -slowly all body parts starts loosing their vitality and energy. All the internal as well as external organs comes in a state of relaxed trance. The whole metabolism of body gets slowed down. Each and every cell of our body starts reducing its activity slowly. The vital consciousness starts shrinking from every parts of body. Imagine that all the muscles of your body, with all of their tissues and cells, all arteries and veins of the body are losing their strength and vitality. Imagine that your limbs are loosing their strength, vitality, warmth and energy. slowly move your attention from the lowest parts of your body to the higher parts and imagine (as vividly as possible) that in whichever region of your body you are moving your attention that particular region is dying.
All internal organs of your body like kidney, liver, intestines, stomach, lungs and hearts etc all of them are slowing down their activities. Slowly slowly the whole metabolism of your body is coming to a halt. Everything that constitutes your body is dying. Take your attention to the top of your head thus relaxing every organ in the way. Till now you have completely relaxed your body. From now onward we will start the second stage of this meditation.
Instructions Stage 2 – Visualization of Death
All of us have consciousness inside us. Though we don’t know the nature of this consciousness, yet we all felt its presence. Now you have to imagine that this consciousness in you is shrinking.
Imagine that this consciousness is a kind of energy in you. Imagine that this energy (consciousness) is shrinking form every apart of the body and concentrating around the area of your heart.
Imagine that from every part of your body – from your legs, hands, head, brain, lower and upper abdomen, kidneys, lever, intestines and all little & big muscles and bones- from almost everywhere the consciousness is moving towards your heart and thus very part of your body is slowly becoming consciousless. This way you will concentrate the entire consciousness of your body around your heart. This process will take you into a deep state of physical relaxation.
Now remove all thoughts from your mind. Since physically you have become completely inert, now its time to make your mind quiet by making it free from all thoughts. Do as follows:
1. As you are imaging the process of dying. Just believe firmly that you are dying really and say to yourself- ” Yes! I am dying here and now. There are many unfulfilled desires, many dreams to realize, many responsibilities to be taken care of. However, all these desires, dreams and responsibilities are loosing their relevance in this moment of dearth. Really visualize that all desires, emotions, dreams, and responsibilities which you would like to fulfil had you got a chance to live further and says to yourself – “No matter how important they are for me, Since I am dying, nothing matters.”
2. At this moment everything is loosing its relevance for you. You are dying. From now onwards there will be no future, there will be no past for you. You, as a human being, are ending your innings on earth.
3. Do you know what will happen when you really imagine and visualize the above? All thoughts will start disappearing from your mind. It is a very interesting fact that all thoughts have their existence in your mind because you exists. When you will be no more, there will be no thoughts. As you intensely imagine that you are dying in the present moment, all thoughts will start disappearing from your mind.
4. The center of all our emotions (like love, kindness, hate , lust, anger, generosity, compassion etc ) is our heart. As you have centered your consciousness around your heart, imagine that your consciousness (which is centered around the heart ) and all your emotions are mingling with each other and slowly coming out of your heart. Just imagine that your whole consciousness along with all kind of good and bad emotions which you thoughts are present in you, have moved out of your body. Imagine firmly that all emotions are leaving your body. Soon you will find all sort of emotions purge out from body. The consciousness will also move out of your body.
After making your body completely relaxed, making you mind almost completely free from all thoughts and removing all your emotions and consciousness from your heart, here is the third and the final stage of this imaginative meditation.
Now you will merge your body with the universe. It is a very ancient religious belief that our body (and the entire universe as well) is made up of five elements. These basic elements are -,Water, Air, Fire, Earth and Space. Imagine that your body is again disintegrating into 5 basic elements of water, air, fire, earth and space and these elements of your body are merging with the universe.
Imagine that all the water in your body is coming out of the body and is merging with a huge ocean. The water element of your body is again returning to its source -the water element of universe. Visualize it really. Then imagine that all the air in your body is coming out of your body and is merging with the air on the atmosphere. The air element going back to its source – the air element of universe. Now imagine that a huge ball of cosmic fire has surrounded you. Imagine that all the warmth and fire which is inside you is coming out of your body and is merging with this cosmic fire ball. After merging the three elements of water, air and fire into their original sources, imagine that the remaining portion of your body which is the earth element is merging into the earth element of universe. The earth on which you are lying and the earth of which you are made up of , both are merging into each other. By now every part of your physical body has merged into 4 basic element. Everything in this universe occupy some space. Your body has also occupied some space in this world. Now after merging your physical body into water, air , fire and earth, imagine that whatever be the little space your body has occupied in this universe, that particular space is again merging with the infinite space. Imagine and visualize it intensely.
Now remain in this position. Keep laying silently. You have died. Your body has again merged into 5 elements. Your thoughts have gone. Your consciousness has gone. Your emotions have gone. Everything in existence that constitute you – your body, your mind, your emotions, your thoughts – all have gone. Is there anything that is still there. Feel its presence. Yes still there is something which has not gone. Still you are there silently watching all the so called ‘aspects of your being’- the body, mind thoughts and emotions going into oblivion. What is that which has remained ? It is nothing but your self – your true identity. It is this witness who was watching your death. Not your death, the death of your body and mind. It is the self that remains even after everything goes. The silent watcher that watches everything that comes and goes. This self is your true identity, the real you. All meditations techniques are the process to know this self.
Keep laying in this position for some time (10-25 minutes). Now you have to end this meditation session. Please do not make haste. Remember that there’s a skill to leaving meditation. You should not just jump right out. Meditation is just like climbing a ladder up to the second story of a building: step-by-step-by-step, rung-by-rung, slowly up to the top of ladder. So as soon as you get to the second story, don’t jump out the window. Think of how much effort went into getting yourself centered. Don’t throw it away.
The process of ending this meditation is the exact reverse of what you have done till now and it also involves imagination.
Imagine that your body is again appearing from the universe. Up to now you imagined that you are dying. Now imagine that you are taking re-birth. Imagine that life forces are again starting functioning in you. All the five basic elements of space, earth fire, air and water are again coming from the universe and integrating with each other to form your body. Imagine that all the emotions that have moved out of your body from the heart, are again entering into the heart. Imagine that your thought process has again started functioning. The brain has become fully active. Imagine the consciousness is again coming into your body through your heart and is again spreading itself in all parts of your body. Every part of your body is again brimming with consciousness. Imagine that slowly all your body parts are becoming active, gaining strength and vitality. The whole metabolism of body that has come to a halt has again started with full flow. All external as well as internal organs have started working to their fullest.
Visualize every organ of your body and imagine that it is activating again getting strength and vitality. Now slowly open your eyes and wake up. Sit easily and take some deep breath. You have completed the death meditation.
Do this meditation daily and soon you will start knowing your true identity (self) in detail. This meditation has the dual benefits of deep relaxation and deep meditation. This meditation will not only renew your body and give you a new vigor, but it also make you aware of the process of death. You will be able to understood about the immortal aspect of your being. Moreover, once realizing about your own self, your perception about others will also change.
Here’s a summary of the steps in this meditation:
(1) Lie down straight and relax your body
(2) Imagine you are dying by removing your thoughts, emotions and consciousness.
(3) Disintegrate your body into five basic elements and merge them into universe .
(4) Be a witness and realize the presence of self in you.
(5) End the meditation by reversing the process of (3), (2) & (1)