Remember death every day
September 24, 2018
One must remember death every day. Always keep it in front of your eyes. This is a fundamental stage on the spiritual path, according to an old Orthodox tradition.
Thousands of wise people have believed in this for two thousand years. Why would they? And what does it actually mean, to remember one’s death? What should one do, when one does?
The Orthodox monks are advised to remember death daily, lest they get too preoccupied with the physical life. They reckon that by the remembrance of death, one can focus on eternal life and act accordingly. By forgetting that physical death is imminent, spiritual death becomes the only other option. This is a philosophy that should be applied to everyone’s life. All too often, people engage in very vile acts like murder, genocide, among others, forgetting that the same thing the death they have caused their fellow man awaits them too. These acts are usually done to satisfy a particular physical need. If such people were to pause for a minute before acting and appreciate the fact that they will die someday as well, and that after death they will be judged based on their actions in the physical life, they might reckon that it’s not worth it. The doctrine is intended to help people think before they act – to remember always that choices have consequences. In the Orthodox members’ case, sins will be paid with eternal damnation in the afterlife, while virtuous acts will be paid with eternal peace and happiness. If everyone were to remember death every moment of their lives, the golden rule would be applied all the time. People would do unto others as they would want others to do unto them.
In Phaedo, Socrates declares during his last dialogue with Plato: "Those who truly grasp philosophy pursue the study of nothing else but dying and being dead.", this is perhaps one of the first recorded instances of Memento Nori, or in English, the reminder of death. Death is the one true ruler of the Human psyche and civilization; our existence and reality are at its unpredictable mercy, so any search for truth has to consider death’s magnitude as a defining principle.
From Nihilism to organized religions, death always has a vital role in a belief system, for its reminder helps us have a clear vision of our principle, whatever may that be. For example: To Stoics, death is a motivation, a reminder to focus on mastering our beliefs and emotions. To Christians, it is a reminder not to sin and live life according to God’s wishes.
When not judged as morbid, the Memento Nori helps us see clearly and live according to our beliefs. To remember one’s death is to keep the delicacy of life in mind, and even the fear of death itself can be fixed by dwelling on it, as when faced with finality, one realizes there is no point in contesting what cannot be changed.
Death is a constant with life. It is an inevitable truth and reality that we as humans cannot get out of or run from. We are scared of this certainty and tend to not face it head on, but it is still an important fact that we must face, we are going to die, and the people around us are going to die, it’s a natural phenomenon. The reason people believed that we need and must remember death everyday is twofold. Firstly, death is an idea that most people want to disregard and avoid at all costs. Our ego plays a large role in this, in that we as humans live for a long time and often “cheat death” letting our ego get too big and better of ourselves. Hence why we need this reminder, to keep us grounded and to look at life how it really is, not how we want to see it. A simple example of this can be seen during times of conflict or war, especially during victories, where people may feel as if they have cheated death and are immortal. Having this reminder that death is around us and is a fact of life is a needed truth that these people need to hear to keep them not only grateful but keeping them grounded and thinking straight for the next conflict they might face, so they don’t make decisions that they shouldn’t because they believe they can cheat death. The second reason that people need to remember death is simple. To keep us living life to the fullest. Knowing that death is around us and could come at any time is a strong reminder that one must live life as completely as possible as to not waste what time they have left and make the most of what they have been given. It was said that during the past people would often bring skeletons of dead people when they went drinking in order to live by the motto that “we could die at any time, so live life”. It is a simple yet factual ideology that is important for not only people in the past, but people in the present to think about as well. I feel that when someone hears this saying or is reminded of death, that we take it in a positive light, as to start living life, and not wait for death.
you offer two clear suggestions, equally well explained and justified. Just be careful with some terms you use – for instance, ‘ideology’, which has political doctrine associations. In this case, I believe you mean to say ‘theory’, ‘view’, or ‘opinion’.
Also important – to organise your comment in a way that helps identify its logical structure. The easiest way to do this is by splitting it into several paragraphs – one for each idea. And you should add a final paragraph at the end, with your conclusions.
Otherwise, well done.
To remember someone that we love is dead is very important. Death is an essential event that anyone should know about, because just like anything else in this word life has an end, and the end is the death. I think that death is one of the best motivations that human have because no one knows when is his/her death unless they commit suicide, so knowing that anybody can die at any time or any point of life gives more motivation to live the best life that we can live and it gives an extreme opportunity to live life to the fullest and it gives a motivation to live every day as if it’s the last day, what I mean by this is that people should not get sad or angry about anything, because what if the day that we woke up feeling so mad at someone or at ourselves and it ends up being the last day that we saw that person or its last day we woke up? would we ever want to wake up feeling that way if we knew that, that day was the last time we wake up in the morning? would we be happy that we lived our last morning that way? So yeah, I guess no one would like to have a bad morning in his/her last morning.
Death doesn’t only give people a motivation to just live life to the fullest, but it also motivates as to be thankful for the special people in our lives and makes us appreciate who we have in our lives more. this point takes me to the next part of this blog f remembering the people that we lost, or the people who had died. I think that to remember someone that we love is dead is important because like this we don’t hold back our prayers on him/her and wish them to be in better places, and of course, if the person was a believer and follow any religion, we pray religious prayers. Also, remembering one’s death makes a person realise and believe that it happens, and death exists, as a believer in both god and death and someone who follow Islam as a religion remembering some people who I knew in the past have died makes me pray for myself to have better end and if that person suffered before death I wish for myself not to suffer, or when I visit their graves in the cemetery I remember that one day I will be sleeping next to them and then I will remind people of death as well. I think that as much as death is a motivation it’s as much an obstruction because there are a lot of people that are scared of death and just thinking about it makes them scared, so they don’t appreciate the present and what they are living at this very moment and they think about the future a lot and the end.
In conclusion, being aware of death is a good thing because it makes as motivated to live what we want and to maintain our goals before the end but at the same time the awareness of death can be an obsession and can lead people to end their lives by themselves, and this is absolutely what people shouldn’t be doing because thinking about or being aware of death has limits as well.
your reflection is deep at several levels. From an existential viewpoint, you’re right in saying that the unpredictability of death gives us extra motivation to live – and to live well. You could develop this argument, by reflecting on what it means to live well – or "to the fullest".
Your second argument, about the cultural / religious role of remembrance is also significant, because it speaks to so many people from different backgrounds. And it is worth noting that this can actually connect people from across religions that might otherwise seem mutually exclusive.
Your final thought, about the importance of appreciating the present, brings you back to the start. Perhaps you could develop that, in a new (enriched) way.
I feel as though the idea is to remember that we will die. Obviously we are unable to remember our own death, as it hasn’t happened. I think the point being made is that eventually each person does die and it’s important to remember this because it can affect the way in which we live our lives. We are given a finite amount of time and to maximize our potential we have to make the most of that time. If we think that we have eternity to accomplish something, we are mistaken. I would say that if you are "remembering your death" then you should take it as a constant reminder that you will certainly die at some point. You don’t know how or when, so with that said, you should maximize your potential. I also see it as humbling in a way. You may perhaps think highly of yourself, but in the end, you could be at death’s doorstep and never know. It puts into perspective that idea that you are human and will eventually be buried just like every one else.
I have to admit, this coincides with my reading of it. Out of several possible interpretations, this one seems more meaningful and deep.
The article above comments on "death" and how it is viewed traditionally. Death is something that we all will face at some point in our lives, maybe unwillingly, could be due to our own choice or just simply because of a classical biological process, however all those factors do not change the fact that what is death is actually unknown, or should i say what happens after death, therefore we can make a conclusion that death is something greater than a classical human being approach to things. Here we look at a traditional view on death. Why did they believe it for so long? at least because the influence of religion was so much heavier than now, and people had to believe in what they saw and take it into account. To remember ones death means to not forget about those around you who died and to keep those prayers with them, just like people remember Jesus death, because when we remember them promptly, it could be argued that it doesnt let us move on and free us. From this assumption, in my opinion one should pay tribute or some sort of respect towards death of other, but one should not just close in that thought of death, because that would stop him or her from exploring and discovering the real meaning of life
there are several interesting suggestions in your reflection. One is about people having believed in what you call "the traditional view of death" for a long time – possibly because of the influence of religion. That is a rich suggestion. But what does it mean? Are you saying that in the past, more than now, most people (from different cultures and backgrounds) viewed death in a similar way? That’s fascinating. How would that work, especially given that in the past, people from across cultures and continents interacted less with each other – so would their beliefs be similar in an organic way? Does religion have that impact?
Secondly, you mention the importance of honouring the dead, as an answer to the main question. I respect that point. Although it is not clear how that might pose a danger for the individual to "close in that thought of death"; this needs unpacking further.
What about other possible answers? Could the question suggest that each of us, as individuals, might do something, during our lives, to prepare for our own death? Some philosophers took this very seriously. We’ll talk about the Stoics in class, for instance. And there are religions, where this preparation is essential to a person’s spiritual development. Any thoughts on this?
“In the midst of death, we are in life”. We often take our life for granted even though it truly is so fragile and could be taken from us in a matter of seconds. The thought of the inevitability of death can be freeing for some and terrifying for others. Simply being aware of this reality can lead us to a pathway filled with a drive to seize the day and to be positive, grateful and hard working to make the most out of our short but precious adventure on the blue planet.
Our life, in the presence of the death of a loved one can seem meaningless and filled with darkness and despair. However, the fact that it doesn’t last forever is what makes it so special. As far as we know, when it’s over…then it’s gone and it is up to us to not focus on the melancholy of it, but the beauty of how significant one’s spec of dust of a life can be for one’s self in a vast and expanding universe.
Death should be remembered everyday as a reminder that we should always be living our lives to their fullest potentials. This remembrance can also be seen as motivation to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish now before death comes. I think that Camus would agree that we should remember death everyday since he admires that Sisyphus puts his whole being into moving the stone instead of putting in little effort because it is hard. Also, Camus makes the point that there is no good without bad with the example of Sisyphus because the bad is that he must keep pushing the stone over and over again, but in doing that activity, he finds joy and is content. The bad part of remembering death everyday is that death is sad and we do not want it to come, but remembering it brings joy because we do the things that make us happy in order to be content when death does come. Lastly, Seneca would also agree with this philosophy because he believed that you should live your life doing the things that make you happy no matter what instead of basing your actions on whether they please others. If death is always in the back of your mind, you will stop worrying about what others think and do the things that make you happy so you are content with your life when you are ultimately alone when death comes.
I am not entirely sure why, but while reading this post I thought of the recent Bansky’s auction ‘performance’ at Sotheby’s last week. The artist brought to auction one of his most iconic pieces (The girl with the balloon) that got sold for £1.4 million. However, the moment the hammer hit the podium the art piece started shredding, The result is that the art dealer who purchased Banksy’s piece is now left with a ‘worthless’ amount of cheap paper. I associate this Banksy’s artistic performance to the idea of human life itself. We value our lives so much; we will be willing to give anything for it, however, we often forget how fragile and temporary it is. If we remember every day of our death, then we will most likely live life. Differently, we would probably fall less into a routine behind the false conviction of living reality to its fullest. However, I want to establish a parallelism between life and art. Would have the buyer pay £1.4 million for an art piece despite its temporary importance, if they knew such piece was to self-destruct in a matter of minutes?
this is a profound and original analogy — between life and art. And you do well to explain it in more than one sentence. The recent episode at the auction gives you a really nice metaphor — of life as an artwork, which we value and perhaps overvalue, sometimes? This is a truly insightful analogy. I wish you had taken it further, using it to explore the topic of death. You could discuss, for instance, what happens when we die, in terms of the metaphor. Do we get entirely shredded? Or is there anything left of us — anything valuable? What would that be? You seam to suggest not much of value remains, since you talk of it in terms of "a ‘worthless’ amount of cheap paper". But you don’t explain it further. What does the fact that you put ‘worthless’ in inverted commas mean, does it indicate an irony, or something else? Do you mean that there is some value in that shredded paper? And what would that be, in terms of our life, of our self? Would you consider, for instance, the possibility of a soul that lives on, after our death? Would it be like saying that the spirit of an artwork endures, even after the material piece is destroyed? Is there anything like a spirit of Bansky’s art, left in those shredded pieces? Or is it entirely gone? Take the metaphor as far as you can, use it to finish your claim, to build a full line of reasoning on the topic.
I think that the main difference between art and life, as far as this metaphor suggests, is that an artwork or any other object more in general, does not die since it is not organic matter. Sure, objects can change status, they can go from being assembled like a piece of paper to get shredded into a million pieces. However, the performance at Sotheby’s does not seem to suggest that the art piece values lost any of its monetary worth when undergoing this transformation. However, we are human beings and we are composed of organic matter, we enjoy a limited lifespan and I find fascinating how we produce and invest in objects, that will most certainly outlive us, only because matter can never be completely destroyed. It is probably all a matter of power and control if we purchase something, we feel entitled to own it, achieving a sense of personal realization. However, human life is much more ephemeral than everything we own. I do not necessarily believe in life after death. I think one’s higher inspiration is to leave a legacy behind, something to be remembered for. Art is just a tool to achieve that. By binding your name and identity to an object that will survive for thousands of years (think of pieces like the MonaLisa or Caravaggio) we live the fantasy that the said piece will be our way to be remembered and live on in people’s memory. For sure artists leave some of their soul in what they produce. The process of creation is often introspective and carries a lot of emotion and insights, however, such emotional worth is not passed on to the buyer once the artwork is purchased. It is not the artwork itself that has value other than for its artist, but rather it is the value that we give to it that defines it. What I am trying to say is that, within the art world, monetary value is completely relative. Unless specific works are crafted from very expensive materials, there is no one work that can be said more worthy than another. It is all other factors such as the artist’s fame, or the piece reproducibility that increase its value. Transferring back this idea to our existence I do not necessarily believe in the idea of an afterlife, I also discard the idea that some lives are more important than others (even if some might have achieved higher ambitions in life). However, I do believe that we need to be surrounded by objects and possessions that can reassure us of our actual worth, making us live under the illusion that our legacy will be carried on by the wealth we were able to achieve, since all those material things are objects, therefore they will long outlive us.
Impending death equals infinite possibilities and inevitability. It is coming for all of us. Remembering it on a daily basis might make us resilient to the fear that it brings with it. When we remember the fact that death can sneak up on us at any moment, we are getting used to this otherwise horrifying idea. Personally, believing this makes me want to live each day to the fullest. Who knows where and in what condition we will be in tomorrow or in a few hours?
To remember one’s death might mean different things. Imagining how it might happen and its aftermath. It’s a downward spiral from that point on, really. My motto is-think about the possibility of death and then move on to live your life. That way, you might get used to the idea and actually be able to stomach it when it comes.
you seem to enjoy opening paths of thought, and leaving them open for the others to explore. This can be attractive, but sometimes it is important to walk a bit further down some of those paths, together with your reader; otherwise, they might get lonely and leave you, before discovering the opportunities you’re hinting at. For instance, you talk about the ‘infinite possibilities and inevitability’ of death; whilst the latter (inevitability) is self-explanatory, the ‘infinite possibilities’ are not. What do you mean, what might these be? What infinite options are there, waiting for us, when we die? It would be interesting to explain this. But instead, you move on to talk about something else — the fact that thinking about death might help us fear it less. And onto another idea — that, since death is inevitable, we should live life to the fullest. This again is more intuitive – and indeed, a common belief (proven by the fact that everybody who has posted a comment on this blog mentions it). So it would be more important to explore the rather unique insight you have — which is the first one, about the infinite possibilities opened up at death — rather than continue to discuss the more common one, about moving on to live one’s life.
And it would also be interesting to hear your thoughts on the other questions: why would some wise people believe in the importance of remembering death, and what — concretely — does such a practice mean, what does it entail?
Death isn’t something that should be feared, but something to be remembered. It is something all of us encounter throughout our lives; some do more than others, but whether you like it or not, it will eventually catch up with all of us. It might seem like we have the whole infinity ahead, but in reality the 50, 60 or even 70 years that we have until our "end" seem so small and insignificant in a bigger picture. "One must remember death everyday" has a different meaning for all of us, but to me, it means recognising that we don’t have a million years ahead of us. Every person has a very limited time here, and while we are here, we should make the most of it: living everyday to the fullest, reaching the craziest goals, dreaming big and using every opportunity that comes along the way. Because when death crawls to you unexpectedly, you should be able to leave with no regrets.
this is a good attempt at answering one of the three questions — what does it mean, to remember death every day? You suggest it could be a reminder of our finitude, which is important to reflect on. A sort of putting things into perspective, as it were.
You also suggest that such a reminder should motivate us to live life to the fullest and with no regrets. Which — if argued more — could become an answer to the question about what we should do, once we remember death. But you don’t develop this line of argument, so the question is left unanswered.
And you don’t attempt at all the last question — about why would wise people in the old monastic tradition believe in this. Why them, more than others?
Death is the only thing we are certain about in our lives. It is certain. We all know it is going to happen. Even though we know it will happen, when is the question. No one ever knows when they will pass away. Even though death is a certain thing, the day it will happen is uncertain. I found a quote on social media the other that was talking about how every year we pass our death day. There are couple important dates year around such as our birthday, new years, Christmas and others but the date of our death will be important to the people we are close to but this date is unknown for now, but each year we pass it. It becomes an important date because it is a day when people who loved us are goig to remember us extra.
that is an interesting thought — how every year we pass our death date, without knowing that it would one day become a significant date for those around us (presumably). But what about the questions in the text — about what it actually means to think about death, what we should do as a consequence of that meditation, and why would wise people believe that any of this is important?
You start by declaring the certainty of death. But you don’t discuss what that certainty actually means. Different people believe different things about what it is to be a person (alive, that is); some say it is to have a body and a mind, or a soul, others believe in the precedence of the soul over matter, whilst others (such as Buddhists, for example) deny the existence of the self altogether. Consequently, these people will have different views on what death is. You could discuss such differences and their impact on the ‘certainty’ you refer to. And that could help you answer some (or all) of the questions.
Death, unlike life, is often a neglected and almost taboo subject amongst conversation. Ironically, however, when one is in constant fear of death, they are unable to live. As death is inevitable, I feel as though if people were to meditate more often on the topic of death, as in my own personal experience, they would begin to realize that it is a natural occurrence then that has been happening since creation of life as we know it. Therefore, also realizing, that it shouldn’t be dwelled upon, and that our death is just as insignificant as our life. As we are unaware of what comes after death but only hold personal perceptions it is important that we must make the most of our life. I realize how it could also turn the other way in which because our life becomes insignificance that it does not matter what we do it in, I personally and would like to think that others would agree, that we should live life to the fullest. If we contemplate on death constantly, and live each day like it is our last, we would bring more meaning to each second of our lives, which is vital as time is a priceless but not timeless gift.
try to put some order in your claims. (Using separate paragraphs might help). On the one hand, you’re saying that meditating on the topic of death is important – as you have realised from your personal experience. This would be an interesting claim to develop and substantiate with more arguments.
Then, you move on to say that one should not dwell on this topic, because it is insignificant. This could be seen as contradictory to your first claim. Or, it could mean that, whilst we should reflect on it (regularly?), we should not obsess about it. These two claims may not be mutually exclusive, as long as you explain the nuanced differences.
Finally, you make a claim about life itself as something insignificant — which again, could be seen to contradict your previous claim (about the importance of making the most of it, while it lasts).
At the end, you try to reconcile these various points, by saying that living each day to the fullest, we could find more meaning in life — which, again, would not have to contradict the proposal regarding the role of meditation on death. But these links would have to be established — with arguments. I’m only just guessing. Make sure to clarify and finish your line of reasoning.
Death, as we all know, is a guarantee at one point or another. However, it does not mean that it is something that has to weigh us down. Instead, as the Orthodox belief suggests, we should allow the finite amount of time in our lives to motivate us into living every day with a sense of purpose. On a smaller scale, I am at Regent’s for 90 days. The number is predetermined and final, which means that every day in London needs to be lived with a purpose so that I get the most out of the experience. To remember one’s death is to be mindful of the end; to allow that to fuel your ambition.
this is a good attempt at answering the last of the three questions — what should one do, when one remembers death? You’re arguing that one should focus even more on living life to the fullest. The logic in that is clear.
What about the other two questions — why would those wise men (and women) from the monastic tradition believe in this? And what does it actually mean to remember death, or to keep it ‘in front of your eyes’ all the time?
The three questions overlap to a certain extent, but each of them also asks something distinct. It’s important to practice critical thinking on nuanced topics and questions.