The purpose of death
The nature of life after death
How we can prepare for death
How we can assist the dying
All beings tremble before danger. All fear death. All love life. Gautama Buddha
One of the best ways to heal our fear of death is to spend time with the dying. If you don't have a friend or family member who is dying, you can train as a volunteer with Hospice and assist with a dying patient for several hours a week. It's enough simply to be with them, respond to their needs, listen to their experiences and observe your own reactions. You'll know something has shifted when you're no longer running away from death by avoiding the subject, or trying to put a positive spin on the situation. Or when you can feel both the pain of personal loss and the exquisite beauty of this life passage, which is shared by every living being.
After the death, if you have the opportunity, just sit quietly with the body and feel the silence in the room. During the first few hours after death, we can sense that our friend is still very much alive and present in the room. And then, at some point, we can sense that they've gone and what remains is just a dead body. This experience is palpable and makes a deep impression on the mind. For reasons not fully understand, our fear of death has become lighter and more transparent. Some deep tension within us has been released.
For centuries, contemplation of death and the impermanence of life has played an important role in every spiritual tradition. The great sage Ramana Maharshi underwent a radical spiritual transformation, triggered by a sudden and involuntary contemplation of death. Plato maintained that true philosophical inquiry is actually a rehearsal for death. To this day, Christian mystics and monks contemplate death as part of their formal spiritual practice. Books are filled with accounts of spiritual transformations following near death experiences. What is it about facing death that has this effect on the mind?
When we contemplate death, the question naturally arises: Who or what dies? We know the body dies. But am I the body? Do I die? If we continue along this line of inquiry, we may stumble upon something inside of us that we know is deathless. We don't know how we know. We just know. This is the great paradox of life and death. We experience ourselves as bodies, and yet we know intuitively that we're something more. Just being in the presence of someone dying can put us face to face with the mystery and beauty of this paradox.