There is nothing safer in life than the certainty of death. It is the great balance of the world and it is blind – whether a person is rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, wise or ignorant, Every living being that experiences life must also experience death. Anyone who wants to improve must be aware of death and mortality.
Does that seem bleak?
It doesn't have to be if you have the right attitude. You can choose to live relatively comfortably, avoid most of the risk of injury, assume that the story is about heroes, and arrive relatively safe and intact on the banks of death without having to work hard to serve a cause to be greater than your existence.
At the same time, you experience the burden of regret never knowing the true extent of your skills.
On the other hand, you can choose to leave a legacy that is shaped by a life that is lived with deep purpose, meaning, moral character, beliefs, compassion and courage, and is strong enough to inspire people for a long time after your flesh and bones have returned to dust and particles silence.
Countless people in human history have thought about death in order to experience life and live it to the fullest. The practice has had many names in many languages over the millennia, but nowadays it is mostly referred to as Memento Mori.
A short story from Memento Mori
Memento Mori translates: "Remember you have to die"Practice has a very long history that crosses cultures, continents, religions and philosophies: from the ancient philosophers of Greece to Roman generals, Buddhist monks to Islamic Sufis – meditation on death made it possible for everyone to pursue life.
In Plato's Phaedo, the great philosopher Socrates says before he dies:
"… who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be in good spirits when he is about to die and that after death he can hope to receive the greatest good in the other world … Because I think that for a true student of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men. They don't notice that he ever pursues death and dies … "
The example that Socrates gave during his life and before his execution would leave a lasting legacy throughout western civilization and would result in the birth of many different schools of philosophy.
One school in particular – Stoicism – became known as a practical school of philosophy that emphasized the importance of thinking about death. The extant writings of the old Stoics are full of exhortations to remember death and the three most famous Stoics:
The Slave, Epictetus The Roman Statesman, Seneca The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius
Everyone has something to say about death.
"Everything you see will soon perish. Those who witness this doom will soon perish themselves. Die in extreme old age or die before your time – everything will be the same. "
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.33
"Keep the prospect of death, exile, and all these obvious tragedies in front of you every day – especially death – and you will never have a bad thought or wish for anything too much."
– Epictetus, Enchiridion, 21
"I I try to live every day as if it was a complete life. I don't snap it up like it's my last; However, I consider it as if it could even be my last. In this sense, the present letter is written to you as if death would call me up as soon as I wrote it. I am ready to go and I will enjoy life just because I am not worried about the future date of my departure. "
– Seneca, letters from a Stoic, letter 61
The ancient Romans also practiced contemplation of death, where Memento Mori was a Latin phrase.
Memento Mori comes from a Roman tradition in which a general would take part in a triumphal march through the city after returning to Rome after a significant victory. To be the subject of such a march was a great honor and the wish of many ambitious soldiers.
When the triumphant general was carried through the city in his horse-drawn carriage to the great applause and praise of the people of Rome, a slave would stand behind him, holding a crown over his head and whispering: "Answer post te. Hominem souvenir. Remember death! "
"Look behind you. Remember you are mortal. Remember you have to die!"
This tradition was an opportunity for the general to hold a big celebration, and it enabled him to advertise himself, which could be useful if he were to apply for political office one day. It is a bit difficult to run for office when after all, none of you have heard.
The purpose of the slave whispering in his ear was to keep the general's ego and perspective at bay throughout the celebrationso that he does not forget himself and does something shameful and insulting to the gods.
A few hundred years later, in the late Middle Ages, Memento Mori had developed into an art style known as Danse Macabre or the Dance of Death.
At this point in history Europe had just been devastated by the Black Death pandemic, with the most deaths ever recorded in human history. Everyone was talking about death.
The Danse Macabre was a meditation on the universality of death:: No matter how rich or how poor you are, death comes for all of us.
Art usually shows a personification of death (a skeleton or a corpse) leading people from different stages in life – typically the Pope, King, Emperor, worker and child – to their graves in a dance.
In the 17th century, Dutch artists used a style of still life painting known as Vanitas art (from the first chapter of Preacher, "Everything is vanity") as Memento Mori. The artwork showed skulls, rotting fruit, candles, hourglasses, dead and withered flowers and more on tables as powerful images to remind the viewer of death.
By the 19th century, Memento Mori had gone from painting to jewelryPeople from all walks of life wear rings with skulls, coffins, "Memento Mori" or a combination of the three as a constant reminder of the wearer's mortality.
Although not nearly as widespread in the minds of the general population as it used to be, Memento Mori is experiencing a modern revival. People buy Memento Mori medallions to carry in their pockets, constantly reminding them that one day they will die.
Well-known personalities like Tim Ferriss, Casey Neistat and others wear a Memento Mori medallion, and even Memento Mori rings are making a comeback.
I am part of this modern revival.
Memento Mori and The Twelve Labors Project
Memento Mori is the tool I use to overcome the challenges of my life and find the inspiration to overcome every obstacle I see in front of me.
When I face physical challenges as part of my Twelve Laboratory project, Memento Mori is what keeps me on the ground, focuses on the present, and makes me aware of what's really important in a universe that seems to be unraveling.
In 2016, for my fifth job, I went alone into the barren wilderness of the northern Mojave Desert to alert veterans to suicide by pulling a 2.5 ton pickup truck through Death Valley.
With such a beautiful and bleak landscape, my only companions during the 22-mile challenge were stones shaped by the desert wind and rain over the millennia, dunes reflecting the blinding light of the sun, the scorching heat that burns everything, what gets into the valley and my thoughts.
Every mile I drove across the desert was one of the 22 lives lost every day from veteran suicide.
With every step I took and every inch of soil I won, Death Valley tried a little more to convince me to remove the chest strap and complete the challenge. It got hotter and drier as the trip progressed.
The loneliness that I experienced during the challenge naturally forced me to face the worst of myself – my doubts, my fears, my insecurities and everything I had ever regretted in my life.
I took a step and heard a voice: "Give up! It's no shame to stop. "
I would take another step and say to myself: “Memento Mori! Remember you must die! Remember why you are here! "
Thinking about my mortality and remembering those we lost through suicide reinforced my steps and made the seemingly impossible possible.
The dichotomy between death and the present moment became more obvious than ever and opened my eyes to perspectives and insights that had never occurred to me.
It was the catalyst I needed to regain my momentum and accept my destiny from moment to moment with all my heart and relentless determination.
Just being in Death Valley with a 2.5 ton pickup on your back is a surefire way to face your mortality Memento Mori's practice allowed me to focus on a goal that was bigger than me. I didn't seek recognition when I was dragging a truck through the desert.
I wanted to raise awareness of an alarming problem that troubles veterans. Whether I finished the job or someone else was irrelevant as long as people were made aware of the cause that spurred the challenge.
I could have died at any time during my hike through the desert – I could really die at any moment – the recognition, the awards, after that everything would be meaningless to me.
However, the cause would live on.
"For fame. Look at their thoughts, the way they think and what they're looking for or avoid. And see how, like drifting sand, constantly overlays the previous sand, what we did in our lives is very quickly covered by subsequent layers. "
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.34
How Memento Mori can track action
Memento Mori is not just a tool to motivate yourself to pull a truck through a hellish landscape – It can also act as a catalyst for motivation and productivity every day.
Delay is a challenge most people face every day, and I'm no exception. Why get out of bed every morning to face an uncomfortable world when you can already find comfort under the covers? Why do anything at all??
What kind of life would that be?
"It is like this: we do not have a short life, but we make it short and we are not poorly cared for, but wasteful."
– Seneca, On the shortness of life
Seneca knew that we so often waste lives holding on to idleness and comfort that only distract us from realizing our highest potential.
A life lived in search of comfort as we postpone our duty is a life in which we waste the limited time we have. Find comfort in the uncomfortable and remember that you have to die: why waste your time on trifles when your time is short?
If you want to achieve certain fitness goals, Memento Mori is the motivator you need to get to the gym (or for now your home gym) and achieve those goals.
When you wake up in the morning, confirm to yourself that you will do anything to achieve your goals, regardless of the obstacles you may face.
Remember your mortality and that you would rather not spend the precious time you have left watching TV or sleeping.
I tell myself that every day before I exercise, and you can tell yourself that too.
If you want to eat healthier, Memento Mori can help you develop healthier eating and drinking habits. Life is short – do you want to spend your last moments in a drunken haze?? I doubt that.
Sure, we're all destined to die someday, but that doesn't mean we should use every moment we have for hedonistic activities. The cake is good, but should we eat it with every meal? Of course not.
Excessive consumption of unhealthy food and drink only leads to death more quickly, while healthy habits help to last a lifetime and reach your full potential.
After all, a healthy body ensures a healthy mind.
Memento Mori and world events
The world is currently experiencing turbulence that has not been felt for a long time. Climate change causes extreme weather conditions, which have led to intense droughts, massive forest and bush fires and hurricanes. Mankind has never seen anything similar since biblical times.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic where COVID-19 is spreading in cities reminiscent of the Black Plague of the Middle Ages. Governments are using the pandemic's fear and distraction to push agendas at both ends of the political spectrum.
US law enforcement agencies are being investigated for cases where excessive violence and lack of human decency have resulted in inappropriate death. These things happen in an atmosphere of violent unrest and peaceful protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
Some social problems are conflicted with broader issues to encourage movements and attacks against certain groups. In contrast, other important topics are drowned out by a deafening silence only because of their lack of utility or sheer convenience within the popular narrative.
As Americans with deep love and hope for this country, which happens to be a colored person, let us step through these troubled waters together.
I believe that the greatest opponent of justice and inequality for all people is the unrecognized unions between indifference and leadership, ignorance and power, and apathy and fear.
In the words of the American writer and activist James Baldwin:
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
We must have the courage to fight and dissolve these shadow alliances today and after, long after the media has moved away, and it is no longer a trend.
As Og Mandino once wrote:
"Tomorrow can only be found on the fool's calendar."
Memento Mori as a practice in this complicated time in history enables us to face our fears, mistakes and failures individually and as a country. These events force you to act with a sense of urgency, not a place of hate or revenge, but a place of compassion and compassion, provided that this day, this hour, this moment is all we have .
Tomorrow is not a promise, just a thought– an assumption of an uncertain future time and an uncertain future place in the present.
These measures include defending the right of people to criticize and peacefully protest the deficiencies of our country, while at the same time supporting the constitutional principles on which America is based – all with the same touch of passion and unreserved conviction.
We all die from a chronic illness called life. In truth, we lose every second of laziness, delay, or indifference that belongs to death forever.
Every opportunity to do good in the world, regardless of race, politics, religion or social class, becomes a gift if we accept the fact that every person on earth will one day experience the same loss of loved ones and sufferings as you will experience.
It makes sense to be kind to everyone we meet in these complex times when we remember that death is the final judge.
Of the four stoic virtues, wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice, Marcus Aurelius considered justice to be the most important of all.
"And a commitment to justice in your own actions. Which means: thinking and acting lead to the common good. What you were born for "
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31
Memento Mori, given a type of turmoil that we haven't seen in generations, can be the guide that helps us navigate the current climate.
Every time you see current events on the news or witness injustices, you have a choice of action or inaction.
If we think about our mortality, we can see the big picture, face injustices like a true stoic, and present solutions based on reason and sound judgment.
We have to die, it's true, but do we have to die if we haven't done anything for the common good? No. Our life makes sense if we live by our principles and stand up for what is right and good in the world.
Death comes to everyone, for sure – there is no point in worrying about when or how it will come when the most uncertain part of life is how we want to live it.
After all, death is just the end assuming that the story is only about you. Our good deeds and strength of character are immortal and stand as living monuments in those we inspire – more powerful than words on a tombstone can ever be.
There is a Greek saying that I think is a wonderful illustration of the point I want to raise:
"A society grows great when old men plant trees in the shade of which they know they should never sit."
Maybe we're not all old yet, but if we want our society to grow, then it is We must plant the seeds of justice and love so that future generations can enjoy the shade of these trees.
This is a decision we must make, being fully aware of the fact that death will come to all of us at some point, but the consequences of our decisions continue to live in the world and affect future generations.
"You can leave this life at any time; Keep this in mind in everything you do, say, or think. "
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.11
If we follow Marcus Aurelius' advice, we can make the inevitability of our lives affect our way of life. With every decision we make and every action we take, we can look at them in the light of our death before we make that decision or take that action. Ask yourself the following questions:
"Do I want to be remembered as the person who turned away from injustice?"
"Do I agree to be the cause of inequality and suffering?"
"Do I really feel indifferent to the plight of the oppressed?"
If society does not have adequate leadership, you must learn to follow your principles in order to guide yourself.
Living by your principles can make you stand alone against a crowd. it can lead to fear and doubt and will almost certainly reduce the pressure of individual members of society on you – but you must remain determined.
If you can't stand firm in your beliefs as you try to improve society and collapse at the first sign of a setback, or join the crowd when it goes against your principles, then you have not represented anything. In Chapter 24 of the Enchiridion, Epictetus has the following to say about the good of the community:
"Well, what will my job in the community be? & # 39; Whatever position you can hold as long as you keep the man of trust and integrity. If you lose your zeal to be a public benefactor, which one Benefit you in the end will you be in the community if you have become shameless and corrupt? "
For this purpose, we must assert ourselves against indecency in the form of violence and unrest.
What would you hear if you walked around your community and told people that you robbed their businesses for their benefit and destroyed their real estate to protect their rights? Victims of violence and theft are unlikely to be grateful, don't you think?
Memento Mori can be the catalyst for action, but it can also be the catalyst for reluctance. Use it to remember what kind of behavior people should remember. Just as you can ask yourself questions to take action, you can also ask questions that encourage reluctance:
"Do I want to be remembered as the person who destroyed a person's livelihood?"
"Am I willing to sacrifice my beliefs just to satisfy the mob's lust for violence?"
"Will that help my case or hurt it?"
Memento Mori will be the guide that reminds you that there is always a bigger picture and that it is not always wise to act, just as it is not always wise to remain inactive. The epictetus in chapter 33 of the Enchiridion again exhorts us to be firm in our beliefs:
"Choose the type of person you want to be and stick with it, whether alone or in company."
When you have decided who you want to be, Memento Mori will help you stick to it and remind you when to act and when not to.
It takes courage and sacrifice to do something bigger than yourself, but you won't lose yourself in the lower instincts of the ego as long as you remember:
"Look behind you. Remember you are mortal. Remember you have to die!"