There may be nothing extra sure in life than the knowledge of dying. It is the good equalizer of the world, and it’s blind – irrespective of if an individual is wealthy or poor, wholesome or unhealthy, good or dangerous, sensible or ignorant, any sentient being that experiences life should additionally expertise dying. It behooves anybody who needs to enhance themself to be aware of dying and one’s mortality.
Does That Appear Somber?
It would not should be if in case you have the best mindset. You may select to stay in relative consolation, keep away from most dangers of hurt, assume the story is unheroically about you, and arrive on dying’s shore comparatively secure and intact, unmarred by the labor of nice pursuits in service to a trigger better than your existence.
On the similar time, you might be experiencing the burden of remorse for by no means figuring out the true extent of your capabilities.
Alternatively, you may select to go away behind a legacy outlined by a life lived with deep goal, that means, ethical character, convictions, compassion, and braveness, sturdy sufficient to encourage folks lengthy after your flesh and bones return to mud and particulate silence.
Innumerable folks all through human historical past have mirrored on dying as a approach to expertise life and stay it to their fullest potential. The observe has had many names in lots of languages over the millennia, however as of late it is most sometimes called Memento Mori.
A Transient Historical past of Memento Mori
Memento Mori interprets to, “Bear in mind, you have to die.” The observe has a really lengthy historical past that crosses cultures, continents, religions, and philosophies: from the traditional philosophers of Greece to Roman generals, Buddhist monks to Islamic Sufis – meditation on dying allowed all of them to pursue life.
In Plato’s Phaedo, the good thinker Socrates states earlier than he’s about to die:
“…he who has lived as a real thinker has purpose to be of fine cheer when he’s about to die, and that after dying he could hope to obtain the best good within the different world…For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is prone to be misunderstood by different males; they don’t understand that he’s ever pursuing dying and dying…”
The instance that Socrates set throughout his life and earlier than his execution would depart an enduring legacy on the whole thing of Western civilization and result in the beginning of many various colleges of philosophy.
One college particularly – Stoicism – changing into well-known as a sensible college of philosophy that pressured the significance of considering dying. The surviving writings of the traditional Stoics are stuffed with admonitions to recollect dying and the three most well-known Stoics:
The slave, Epictetus The Roman statesman, Seneca The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius
All have one thing to say about dying.
“All that you simply see will quickly perish; those that witness this perishing will quickly perish themselves. Die in excessive outdated age or die earlier than your time – it would all be the identical.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.33
“Maintain the prospect of dying, exile and all such obvious tragedies earlier than you every single day – particularly dying – and you’ll by no means have an abject thought, or need something to extra.”
– Epictetus, Enchiridion, 21
“I am endeavoring to stay every single day as if it have been an entire life. I don’t certainly snatch it up as if it have been my final; I do regard it, nevertheless, as if it’d even be my final. The current letter is written to you with this in thoughts as if dying have been about to name me away within the very act of writing. I’m able to depart, and I shall get pleasure from life simply because I’m not over-anxious as to the longer term date of my departure.”
– Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter 61
The traditional Romans additionally practiced the contemplation of dying, Memento Mori being a Latin phrase.
Memento Mori comes from a Roman custom during which a basic would participate in a triumphal procession by way of the town, upon returning to Rome after a major victory. To be the topic of such a march was an ideal honor and the need of many formidable troopers.
Because the triumphant basic was carried by way of the town in his horse-drawn chariot to the good applause and reward of the folks of Rome, a slave would stand behind him, holding a crown over his head and whispering, “Respice publish te. Hominem te memento. Memento mori!”
“Look behind you. Bear in mind you might be mortal. Bear in mind you have to die!”
This custom was a possibility for the final to throw a grand celebration, and it allowed him some self-promotion, which might turn out to be useful ought to he resolve to run for political workplace sometime. It is a bit robust working for workplace when no person’s heard of you, in any case.
The aim of the slave whispering in his ear was to maintain the final’s ego and perspective in test all through your entire celebration, lest he forgets himself and does one thing disgraceful and offensive to the gods.
A number of hundred years later, through the late Center Ages, Memento Mori had developed into an artwork fashion often known as Danse Macabre or the Dance of Dying.
At this level in historical past, Europe had simply been devastated by the Black Dying pandemic, with probably the most fatalities ever recorded in human historical past; dying was on everybody’s thoughts.
The Danse Macabre was a meditation on the universality of dying: irrespective of how wealthy or how poor one is, dying comes for us all.
The artwork would often function a personification of dying (a skeleton or corpse) main folks from totally different stations in life – usually a pope, king, emperor, laborer, and youngster – in a dance to their graves.
Within the 17th century, Dutch artists used a method of nonetheless life portray often known as vanitas artwork (from the primary chapter of Ecclesiastes, “All is self-importance.”) as a Memento Mori. The paintings would function skulls, rotting fruit, candles, hourglasses, useless and wilted flowers, and extra atop tables as highly effective imagery to remind the viewer of dying.
By the 19th century, Memento Mori had moved from work to jewellery, with folks from all walks of life carrying rings that includes skulls, coffins, the phrase “Memento Mori,” or a mix of the three as a relentless reminder of the wearer’s mortality.
Although not almost as prevalent within the minds of the final populace because it as soon as was, Memento Mori is having a contemporary resurgence. Individuals are shopping for Memento Mori medallions to hold with them of their pockets as a relentless reminder that they’ll someday die.
Such well-known figures as Tim Ferriss, Casey Neistat, and extra carry a Memento Mori medallion with them, and even Memento Mori rings are making a comeback.
I am part of this contemporary resurgence.
Memento Mori and The Twelve Labors Undertaking
Memento Mori is the device that I exploit to beat the challenges in my life and discover the inspiration to push by way of any impediment that I see earlier than me.
After I tackle bodily challenges as a part of my Twelve Labors Undertaking, Memento Mori is what retains me grounded, targeted on the current, and aware of what actually issues in a universe that appears to be unraveling.
In 2016, for my fifth labor, I set out alone within the barren wilderness of the northern Mojave Desert to lift consciousness of veteran suicide by pulling a 2.5-ton pickup truck throughout Dying Valley.
With a panorama as stunning as it’s bleak, my solely companions all through the 22-mile problem have been stones sculpted over the millennia by the desert wind and rain, dunes that mirrored the solar’s blinding mild, the searing warmth that burns something that enters the Valley, and my ideas.
Every mile that I pulled the truck by way of the desert represented one of many 22 lives which can be misplaced every day to veteran suicide.
With each step I took and each inch of floor that I gained, Dying Valley would strive a bit of more durable to persuade me to take off the chest harness and stop the problem; it solely ever acquired hotter and drier because the journey progressed.
Naturally, the solitude that I skilled through the problem pressured me to confront the worst of myself – my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, and the whole lot I had ever come to remorse in my life.
I’d take a step and listen to a voice, “Quit! There isn’t a disgrace in quitting.”
I’d take one other step and inform myself, “Memento Mori! Bear in mind, you have to die! Bear in mind why you might be right here!”
Reflecting on my mortality and the reminiscence of those that we have misplaced to suicide fortified my steps and made the seemingly inconceivable, doable.
The dichotomy between dying and the current second turned extra obvious than ever, opening my view to views and insights that by no means earlier than occurred to me.
It was the catalyst I wanted to regain my momentum and embrace my destiny second by second with a full coronary heart and unyielding resolve.
Being alone in Dying Valley with a 2.5-ton pickup truck strapped to your again is a surefire approach to come head to head together with your mortality, and the observe of Memento Mori is what allowed me to remain targeted on a objective that was greater than myself. I wasn’t striving for recognition once I hauled a truck throughout the desert.
I needed to lift the attention of an alarming drawback that is plaguing veterans. Whether or not or not I accomplished the labor or another person did was irrelevant, as long as folks have been made conscious of the trigger that spurred the problem.
I might have died at any level throughout my trek by way of the desert – I might die at any second, actually – the popularity, the accolades, it might all be meaningless to me after that.
The trigger, nevertheless, would live-on.
“On fame. Have a look at their minds, the character of their thought and what they search or keep away from. And see how, simply as drifting sands always overlay the earlier sand, so in our lives what we as soon as did could be very shortly coated over by subsequent layers.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.34
How Memento Mori can Spur motion
Memento Mori is not only a device to encourage your self to pull a truck by way of a hellish panorama – it may possibly additionally act as a catalyst for motivation and productiveness every single day.
Procrastination is a problem that most individuals face every day, and I am no exception. Why trouble getting off the bed each morning to face an uncomfortable world when consolation might be discovered already beneath the blankets? Why trouble doing something in any respect?
What sort of life would that be?
“So it’s: we aren’t given a brief life however we make it quick, and we aren’t ill-supplied however wasteful of it.”
– Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Seneca knew that we so usually waste life clinging to idleness and comforts that solely serve to distract us from fulfilling our highest potential.
A life lived in pursuit of consolation whereas laying aside our obligation is a life spent losing the finite period of time we’ve got. Discover consolation within the uncomfortable, and keep in mind you have to die: why waste your time on trivia when your time is brief?
If you wish to meet particular health targets, Memento Mori is the motivator you must get to the gymnasium (or maybe your property gymnasium for now) and attain these targets.
If you get up within the morning, set an affirmation for your self that you’ll do what you must do to fulfill your targets, whatever the obstacles you could face.
Remind your self of your mortality and that you’d somewhat not spend the dear time you’ve gotten left watching tv or sleeping.
That is what I inform myself every day earlier than I practice, and it is what you may say to your self, too.
In case your objective is to have a more healthy weight-reduction plan, Memento Mori may help you to develop more healthy consuming and consuming habits. Life is brief – would you like your ultimate moments spent in a drunken haze? I doubt it.
Positive, we’re all fated to die someday, however that does not imply that we should always use each second we’ve got in hedonistic pursuits. The cake is nice, however ought to we eat it for each meal? In fact not.
Overindulgence in unhealthy consuming and consuming will solely convey dying quicker, whereas wholesome habits will serve to maintain life lengthy and show you how to attain your fullest potential.
A wholesome physique makes for a wholesome thoughts, in any case.
Memento Mori and World Occasions
The world is at the moment experiencing turbulence that hasn’t been felt in a very long time. Local weather change is inflicting extremes in climate situations which have led to intense droughts, huge forest and bush fires, and hurricanes, the like of which humanity has not seen since biblical instances.
We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with COVID-19 spreading by way of cities harking back to the Black Plague of the medieval interval. Governments are utilizing the concern and distraction attributable to the pandemic to push agendas on each ends of the political spectrum.
American regulation enforcement is beneath magnified scrutiny because of instances the place extreme makes use of of drive and lack of human decency resulted in undue dying. These items are occurring inside an environment of violent riots and peaceable protests in opposition to racial injustice and police brutality.
Some social points are being conflated with broader ones to embolden actions and assaults in opposition to sure teams. In distinction, different essential points are being drowned out by a deafening silence solely for his or her lack of utility or mere comfort throughout the widespread narrative.
As an American with deep love and hope for this nation, who additionally occurs to be an individual of shade, allow us to tread by way of these troubled waters collectively.
I imagine that the best adversary to justice and inequality for all persons are the unacknowledged unions between indifference and management, ignorance and energy, and apathy and concern.
Within the phrases of the American novelist and activist, James Baldwin:
“Not the whole lot that’s confronted might be modified, however nothing might be modified till it’s confronted.”
We will need to have the braveness to battle and disintegrate these shadow alliances as we speak and hereafter, lengthy after the media strikes on from it, and it’s not trending.
As Og Mandino as soon as wrote:
“Tomorrow is just discovered within the calendar of fools.”
Memento Mori, as a observe throughout this difficult time in historical past, permits us to face our fears, flaws, and failures individually and as a rustic. These occasions compel purposeful motion with a way of urgency, not from a spot of hate or vengeance, however from a spot of empathy and compassion beneath the premise that today, this hour, this second is all we’ve got.
Tomorrow is just not a promise however a mere thought—an assumption of an unsure future time and place arising within the current.
These actions embody defending folks’s proper to criticize our nation’s shortcomings and peacefully protest them whereas supporting the constitutional ideas upon which America stands—all throughout the similar breath of ardour and wholehearted conviction.
We’re all dying from a power situation known as life. In fact, each second, we lose to laziness, procrastination, or indifference endlessly belongs to dying.
Each alternative to do good on the planet, no matter an individual’s race, politics, faith, or social class, turns into a present after we embrace the truth that each human on earth will someday expertise the identical lack of family members and struggling such as you.
It is sensible to be variety to each individual we encounter throughout these complicated instances after we remind ourselves that dying is the ultimate arbiter.
Out of the 4 Stoic virtues of knowledge, braveness, temperance, and justice, Marcus Aurelius felt that justice was an important of all of them.
“And a dedication to justice in your individual acts. Which implies: thought and motion ensuing within the widespread good. What you have been born to do.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31
When confronted with a sort of turmoil that we’ve not seen for generations, Memento Mori might be the information that helps us navigate by way of the current local weather.
Each time you watch present occasions on the information or witness injustice occurring in entrance of you, you’ve gotten a alternative between motion or inaction.
Reflection on our mortality can enable us to see the larger image, face injustice like a real Stoic, and current options based mostly on purpose and sound judgment.
We should die, it is true, however should we die having finished nothing for the advantage of the better good? No. Our lives have that means after we stay based on our ideas and rise up for what is true and good on the planet.
Dying involves everybody, that is for positive – there is no level in worrying about when or the way it will come when probably the most unsure a part of life is how we select to stay it.
In spite of everything, dying is just the top beneath the presumption that the story is solely about you. Our good deeds and power of character are immortal, standing as dwelling monuments in these we encourage—extra highly effective than mere phrases on a tombstone can ever be.
There is a Greek proverb that I really feel superbly exemplifies the purpose I’m making an attempt to make:
“A society grows nice when outdated males plant timber whose shade they know they shall by no means sit in.”
Perhaps we’re not all outdated but, but when we would like our society to develop, then we should plant the seeds of justice and love in order that future generations can benefit from the shade of those timber.
Doing so is a alternative that we should make, totally aware of the truth that dying involves us all ultimately, however the penalties of our selections stay on on the planet and have an effect on the generations that comply with.
“You might go away this life at any second; have this risk in your thoughts in all that you simply do or say or assume.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.11
Taking the recommendation of Marcus Aurelius, we will let the inevitability of our demise inform our lifestyle. With each single alternative we make and each single motion we take, we will view it in mild of our dying earlier than we make that alternative or take that motion. Ask your self these questions:
“Do I need to be remembered as the one who turned away from injustice?”
“Am I okay with being the reason for inequality and struggling?”
“Do I really really feel detached to the plight of the oppressed?”
When society lacks correct management, you have to be taught to look to your ideas to steer your self.
Residing based on your ideas could trigger you to face alone in opposition to a crowd; it may possibly result in concern and doubt, and can nearly actually convey the stress down on you from particular person members of society – however you have to stand resolute.
If you cannot stand agency in your convictions whereas making an attempt to enhance society and crumple on the first signal of pushback or be a part of the gang when it acts in opposition to your ideas, then you have not stood for something in any respect. In chapter 24 of the Enchiridion, Epictetus has the next to say about benefitting communities:
“Properly, what’s going to my career locally be?’ No matter place you might be geared up to fill, as long as you protect the person of belief and integrity. In the event you lose that in your zeal to be a public benefactor, what use ultimately will you be to the group after getting been rendered shameless and corrupt?”
To that finish, we should stand as much as human indecency within the type of violence and rioting.
What would you hear if you happen to went round your group and informed folks that you simply robbed their companies for his or her profit and destroyed their properties to guard their rights? It is unlikely that you’d face gratitude from victims of violence and theft, do not you assume?
Memento Mori might be the catalyst for motion, nevertheless it will also be the catalyst for restraint. Use it to remind your self of what kind of conduct you need folks to recollect. Simply as you may ask your self questions that will help you take motion, it’s also possible to ask questions that promote restraint:
“Do I need to be remembered as the one who destroyed somebody’s livelihood?”
“Am I prepared to sacrifice my convictions simply to fulfill the mob’s lust for violence?”
“Will this assist my case or damage it?”
Memento Mori would be the information that reminds you that there’s at all times a much bigger image and that it’s not at all times sensible to behave, simply as it’s not at all times sensible to stay inactive. Epictetus in chapter 33 of the Enchiridion as soon as once more admonishes us to be agency in our convictions:
“Choose the kind of individual you need to be and follow it, whether or not alone or in firm.”
When you’ve gotten determined who you need to be, Memento Mori will show you how to to stay to it, reminding you when to behave and when to not.
It takes braveness and sacrifice to do one thing for a trigger better than your self, however you will not lose your self to the baser instincts of the ego as long as you keep in mind this:
“Look behind you. Bear in mind you might be mortal. Bear in mind you have to die!”