We live in the most bourgeois times in history.
Our minds are mostly free of death and suffering.
Now, when we want a hamburger, we just go to McDonald’s.
Our ancestors would, instead, grab their gun, some cartridges and head out to the fields. The cow that they had very likely helped birth and raise, they then had to put a rifle to the temple of their skull, painting the prairie grasses red. Then, they would spend the time gutting and fileting them.
Now, when we have a mortally sick cat or dog, we bring them to the vet and they are gently put to sleep.
Like the cow, our ancestors had to take that animal they may have deeply loved “out back” to shoot and bury it, or in other cases, drown in the river or lake.
Now, when we have a grandparent who is exceptionally old (or not — maybe they’ve just got Alzheimer’s), they get stuck in a home.
Our ancestors lived around them, caring for them until their dying breaths, nostrils filled with the smell of old age and the looming death hanging over them.
We are so, so soft about death and dying, now. There is such a wide gap and disconnect between our lives and our grasping of mortality that when we are really faced with it, we can scarcely process it.
We live in an era of fear.
While we absolutely need to be grateful to live in such advanced times where meat is at the store, our pets lead long, healthy lives, and our grandparents can often see 100 in luxurious care, we, too, need to take the time each day to think on death.
In taking the time to meditate on death, we show respect to its power and capricious nature. One, sunny moment in a car ride with our family, laughing and carrying on could quickly be our final moments.
Taking this time to think deeply on death and dying herds in our sense of time.
It pulls us out of the wastefulness that is our past — scars, failures, and shames.
It blocks us from getting too far out into the future — aspirations, wishing, and hoping.
Death meditation brings us into immediacy. It corrals our minds into the now.
Follow for daily philosophical meditations.
These are distillations from my coming book “YouDaimonia: the Ancient Philosophy of Human Flourishing.”