“Human beings face two causes of death: untimely death and death due to exhaustion of their natural life span. Untimely death can be averted through the methods taught for prolonging life. However, when the cause of death is the exhaustion of the natural life span, you are like a lamp which has run out of oil. There is no way of averting death by cheating it; you have to get ready to go. – Padmasambhava
I know! Death is probably the last thing you want to hear or think about. But honestly, accepting impermanence and death is the best way to learn to live fully in each precious moment given to us. That doesn’t mean dying will be easy, but it could be easier.
The ability to meet death with an open heart depends, however, upon letting go of all your attachments.
Yes, every single one! You have to let go of everything when you die. Your possessions, your relationships, your work, and your body all get left behind no matter how deeply you cherish them now.
Can you imagine that?
In one sense, I can’t. I can’t envision that final letting go of everything dear to me, knowing none of it will ever be seen, heard, touched, or tasted again.
Just like most people, I’m embroiled in all the comings and goings of my daily life. Even though I know better, I sometimes take it all to be so real, important, and lasting. But I know it’s not. I believe this delusion pervades humanity and leads to so much unnecessary suffering and distress. This is not the way to find peace, contentment, or ease.
Instead of shrinking from impermanence, maybe embracing it as the natural cycle of life would bring more ease. [Click to Tweet]
How can we do this? How can we get accustomed to impermanence and let go of the long string of attachments that keep us tightly earthbound?
Let’s examine some of the common attachments – to this life, this body, our possessions, and our relationships – and consider how we might be able to lighten them bit by bit.
Softening the Fear of Death
Perhaps, first and foremost, we have to come to terms with our fear of death, which represents our attachment to this life. I believe – in one part of my being – that death is simply the shedding of this body and a doorway into the next realm. But, this hasn’t yet fully penetrated my psyche nor completely erased my fear.
I know it’s a matter of retraining my mind to see myself as spirit or subtle consciousness that continues on and on. So now, when I reflect on death, I try to consider it positively, as an opportunity to be free of the constraints of the body and to recognize the essence of my mind.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly. – Richard Bach
If you fear death, how can you re-frame your view in a positive way?
It may sound counter-intuitive, but remembering impermanence each day can infuse your life with gratitude, help you to get your priorities straight, and ensure that you’re seeing reality as it is. Remembering impermanence is another way to diffuse your fear of death.
When you wake up in the morning, think of what a miracle it is to be alive. Did you know that neurotransmitters speed along at hundreds of miles per hour? That’s one example of the beautiful complexity of the body, an extraordinary gift that works endlessly for you each and every day.
And, that’s just for a start! Just take a look around you and I think you’ll find another miracle or two.
Take time to reflect on impermanence each day by observing the signs of change all around you: birth, death, night dawning into day, the movement of the seasons, the constantly changing circumstances at home, at work, or in your town. These types of transitory phenomena exemplify gross impermanence. They can remind you that life moves on so there’s no time to waste. Reflect on this often, not once in a blue moon.
On a subtle level, molecules and their parts constantly move about even in the structures we consider so solid like tables, rocks, and walls.
“Every subatomic interaction consists of the annihilation of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles. The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing to mass. Transient forms sparkle in and out of existence, creating a never-ending, forever newly created reality.” – Gary Zukav
When you go to sleep at night, be grateful once again. Then, like the great spiritual masters of the past, turn your cup over each evening – literally or metaphorically – as a sign that tomorrow is uncertain and you’re aware of that.
Letting Go of Your Possessions
If you cling to your possessions now, think of what it will be like when you come close to death. Will you be ready to let go of your house, your car, and your pretty clothes? Or will you be obsessed about what will happen to them?
You need to take care of yourself on the material plane, but how far must you go? Yes, it’s more expensive to live and even die in this modern world. But you don’t need a 5 or 6 figure income; that’s usually just ego in disguise. All the excess money and possessions probably won’t matter much as you’re laying on your deathbed reflecting on your life.
That’s when enduring love will be your most important aid, serving as a cloak that protects and nourishes you as you say good-bye and move from this life into whatever might be next.
Strive for simplicity if you wish to live and die with more ease. Practice giving away your possessions and make donations whenever you can. If you need help to accomplish this, read Be More with Less.
Reducing Attachment to Your Body
Please take care of your body, but don’t get fanatical about it. Although the body can be a vehicle for profound transformation, it’s still the subtle awareness that continues on after death. Even though we work with body movement, my Tai Chi teacher always reminds us that the mind is the emperor and the body its subject.
Most of us immediately identify with the body as “me,” but is that really so? The “body scan” is one method that can help you realize that your presumably solid constitution is none other than constantly changing sensations and madly moving molecules. When you take a look, there’s no permanent “you” to be found.
Sit quietly and slowly scan your body like a photocopier from head to toe. Notice each sensation as you gradually move from one spot to the next. They’re ever-changing, aren’t they, not a permanent or fixed state of affairs. The more you lightly scan your body, the more you’ll come to sense its changeability. Eventually, you’ll stop believing it’s the permanent you. Read more about the body scan: Be Still, Be Well: A Simple Practice of Mindfulness.
As the great spiritual master Milarepa said,
“This thing called ‘corpse’ we dread so much is living with us here and now.”
If you’re not your body, what are you then? That’s an excellent question for contemplation.
Love Fully Right Now
Although I’ve written many articles on love and attachment and the cosmic joke about love -and I believe these ideas – I’m still human just like you. I don’t want to be separated from my husband, family, or friends. But, I know it’s inevitable.
One of the best ways to reduce attachment to those in your intimate circle is to love as fully as you can in every moment. Then, you’re more likely to feel complete and without regrets when the time comes to let go.
As the eminent 19th century spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche recommended, consciously avoid anger, quarrels, and harsh words in your relationships. Since we never know how much time we have left to be together, don’t squander it in fights. Instead, put all your heart into being affectionate, loving, and attentive knowing any minute could be your last time with one another.
What could be a more fulfilling practice than to love?
Let Go of Thoughts and Emotions Too
We hang onto thoughts and emotions as if they constituted reality. But, in fact, they just bring you suffering and distress if you repeat them endlessly in your head.
Don’t suppress thoughts or emotions either. That will just lead to an unhealthy state in body, mind, and soul. Instead, let them rise to the surface, where they can be healed with awareness and love. Allow them to come and go, recognizing they’re not the real you.
Letting go of thoughts and emotions will become easier when you understand their fundamental unreality. This will help prepare your mind to peacefully move from this existence to the next. If you don’t ready yourself for that climatic moment by working with your mind now, you might get stuck in a hubbub of emotional intensity just when it matters the most. That will only make you suffer more instead of helping you let go.
In fact, some people become more attached as they near death. They linger in discomfort and fear, clinging to this life with tightly clenched fists. Is that how you want to be?
This is why it’s so important to start getting ready for death now. Letting go doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process you must initiate consciously. It’s a practice you must institute regularly.
This doesn’t mean dying is necessarily easy. But if you would like to meet death with more perspective and more grace and also live with more contentment in the present, start loosening some of your attachments now. For most of us, learning to let go is a life long journey so it’s never too soon to begin.
What are your thoughts about attachment and letting go? I would love to hear.
P. S. Too much stress? Check out my self-paced e-course: Living with Ease, the Mindful Way to Stress. The course offers a complete roadmap for dissolving stress and ensuring it doesn’t overwhelm you again.
Thank you for reading! If you have a moment to share on social media so others can benefit, I would be deeply grateful. May you be well, happy, and safe. With love, Sandra