Befriending Death

You may be thinking “Why would anyone want to be friends with death?” Which is a very reasonable, human thought to have. For most of us, making friends is easy. But how about making friends with the uncomfortable feelings and moments in life?

I re-read a beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hahn yesterday, it’s titled Please Call Me By My True Names. It is a beautiful poem about compassion. Thich Nhat Hahn states beautifully in this poem:

“Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.“

I absolutely love that piece of the poem because it reminds me that there is no separation between joy and pain. The only line that lies between the two is from our own drawing, our own human condition to isolate the two. So what would be like if we welcomed our joy and our pain together? My good friend and teacher Frank Ostaseski suggests “Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing”

When a baby is born, we are so eager to welcome life. It’s almost an automatic response to drop everything to welcome the birth. New life is constantly forming around us, in the the spring flower blossoming, a new sunrise, and the birth of a baby. For us humans, life is joy.

So what happens when we receive the opposite call that a loved one is dying? Do we drop everything to welcome death? Of course most of us don’t, often because we get paralyzed in our  fears and uncomfortable emotions around death. Just as birth continues its beautiful cycle every 4.4 seconds on average, a new death occurs every 1.8 seconds. Here is a little visual, illustrating the world births and deaths happening each second: Visualizing World Births & Deaths In Real Time.

The important question I ask is, if birth and death are happening simultaneously together then is the separation perhaps an illusion we have created? In the American culture we continually view birth as joy and death as pain. The reality is birth can include pain, just as death can possess joy. So how do we work with this?

My solution is a pretty simple one, and yes, it can be quite uncomfortable. Befriend death. Sit with your emotions that arise around death, welcome everything and push away nothing. Be with it all. If you practice this enough, you will begin to understand in the core of your being that joy and pain are one, just as life and death are one.

So what’s your motivation to do this? Well the most obvious, we will all be touched by death and we will all die. So why not begin to shift our cultural consciousness on death now? I’m not by any means glorifying death or ignoring the sadness associated with it, however I am it’s ambassador. My friend once called me an ambassador for joy, which I am now applying to death.

Death is the unknown, so it will inevitably be looked upon as scary. I am not here asking you to melt away all of your fears around it, that is an unreasonable request. But I am here to ask if you can befriend your fears and let them transform you. Because trust me, they will.