From Vol. 5, Issue 3, March 2023
How to think about about death?
Practicing Stoicism || ENDA HARTE
Death is a subject that is often viewed as taboo, but it is something that we all must face at some point. We are fortunate enough to have found wisdom in Stoicism, and other parts of ancient philosophy that can help us deal with our fragile existence and could teach us how to live our lives in a way that is in preparation for death.
So, how can we deal with death? How can we prepare for it and live our lives in a way that is ready for death? Let’s have a look at some techniques, and words of wisdom below.
Death is inevitable
The first thing that we must learn about death, is that it’s inevitable. Everyone and everything in this world will sadly perish one day, including you and me. There are things that we can do to prolong our lives but at the end of the day, there will come a time when we will cease to exist and accept our fate (amor fati). Some of the Stoic philosophers believe that death should not be feared because it is natural, it’s something that we all have to experience in this life.
With a unique way of thinking, we should not waste our lives fearing death because that will only make us miserable. If we instead learn to accept death, in theory at least then we can live more happily and peacefully. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of dying, one thing to try is to start meditating on your mortality by contemplating the people that have died before you. By doing this, you’ll be able to realise how precious, and valuable life is.
This falls under the ancient practice of Premeditatio Malorum (the premeditation of evils). Whereby imagining that something bad has happened to you before it dawns on your doorstep can aid in taking the sting out of said event. It’s a way for us to prepare ourselves emotionally and mentally for unexpected events, such as death.
Using this technique can be beneficial in several ways. It can help you prepare for the worst, and make positive changes in your life so that you don’t fall into bad habits. It can even be used as a form of therapy, to help us work through any issues that may be causing you to show concern in the first place.
However, like with everything in life, there are some things we should keep in mind when using this technique. For example, it’s important to not get too wrapped up in what could go wrong and forget about all the good things going on in our lives, as well as the things that would happen if nothing happened at all.
Preparing for death
The second thing we must learn about death is how to prepare for it. The key here is to live our lives in a way that is accepting of death. With this in mind you should not be afraid of dying, instead, you should focus on living each day as if it’s your last. By doing this, you will have no regrets and will have lived your life in the best way possible. We’ve come to know all the mantras and clichéd sayings based on this statement, although there is one which I find particularly potent.
Memento Mori, a topic I’ve covered at length, is an ancient exercise dating back to Roman times, meaning “remember you are mortal”: or indeed “remember you will die”. It can be an effective way to practise death contemplation subtly in our daily lives. It has become quite the popular technique for feeling more grateful for what you have, and to appreciate life a little more.
You can practise this by taking a moment every day to reflect on death and your own mortality. This can be done through meditation, writing in a journal, or having items on your person. It’s crucial not to focus too much energy on these thoughts, for instance a fleeting glance at a painting in my office is enough to motivate me.
You must live
Now to the flip side of sounding quite morbid. The last thing we should learn about death is how it can help us live our best life. We should not let death define who we are as individuals because life goes on. It’s important to live your life with meaning and purpose, and the only way to do this is by cultivating a strong character through the practice of living well, and with good intention in what you do.
Memento Vivere (remember to live) is another turn of phrase which is used to remember that life must be lived and not just endured. It’s also a way for us to remind ourselves each day what is important, who we are, and where we stand in the world. Remembering that we only have one chance at life should help us focus on being engaged, present, and aware of our natural surroundings.
Enda Harte is a music management consultant living in Sweden. He writes about Stoic ethics and history online.