There’s a lot of death awareness among people in palliative care. Palliative care means end-of-life care. When people receive a notice, they have a prognosis. Prognosis means how long you have to live. It means other things too, like, how long the disease will last, but to predict means to figure out what will happen in the future.
Doctors often have an accurate idea of how long someone will live based on what they’ve seen many times before. There are signs when the biological robot is winding down, and there’s also a sign that certain kinds of ailments are relatively efficient in how they take over and destroy the body.
Different Lives, Similar Regrets
A palliative care worker who had a best-selling book named Bronnie Ware wrote a book that got translated into 31 different languages around the world. It’s called the Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A life transformed by the dearly departing.
Her book is a series of stories of people she cared for when she was in palliative care. She had a window into their lives. Some of them were in their 90s, some of them were in their 30s, and younger. And all of them had some similar regrets. And it’s one of the things she talks about, especially in her book.
That’s what Stephen Covey talks about: for managing anything, begin with the end in mind. So why not do it with your life? We know life has a beginning and an end. And if we try to pretend otherwise, then that’s a kind of ostrich philosophy: put one’s head in the sand and just forget about it! Better to be fully cognizant, and prepare for death.
Bronnie Ware points out that you can have a much fuller life when you go with your eyes open and don’t consider death or the subject to be taboo. Now, the point with this taboo, or something that we stuff psychologically, is that we just put it out of our mind, in our subconscious, and then it comes out in very unhealthy ways.
Death Comes to Everyone
There is a conversation between Yuddhistira and Yamaraja in the Mahabharata that is familiar to many people. This conversation happens in the context of the Pandavas becoming uncharacteristically thirsty, coming to drink water, but being warned by a stork. The stork said, “Don’t drink the water. It’s poisoned!” But since they were so thirsty, they drank it anyway.
But Yuddhistira abided by the warning.
The stork said: first you answer my questions, and then you can drink.
One of the questions the stork asked Yuddhistira was, “What’s the most amazing thing in the world?”
Yuddhistira said: ahany ahani lokānī gacchantīha yamālayam (Mahābhārata, Vana-parva 313.116), and that means death comes to every living being.
Still, everyone’s walking around thinking it won’t come to me! So that’s the most amazing thing. And this is due to clinging to life.
This is called ābhiniveśataḥ.
Clinging to Life Causes Suffering
Patanjali Muni describes in his yoga sutras the defects of the mind that cause us suffering in this world. And he said the greatest of all of them is called ābhiniveśataḥ, which means clinging to life.
Every living being has been through this before. That’s why little birds, when you come up to them, even though you love them to death, little finches, such cute little animals, fly away like you’re going to kill them.
Everyone feels like that in the material world because they’ve died and have taken birth again many times. It’s stuffed deep in the subconscious that I will die at some point.
One should come to terms with one’s actual situation, and it’s not so bad, actually. Because as Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gita, no one ever dies. We’re just changing clothes – become aware of it.
If we start with the end in mind and work backward from there, we’ll be happier and more productive because we’ll have a clearer idea of the purpose of life by facing our death and planning for it. We won’t be hoping that maybe I’ll be ready, but making sure that we’re prepared for that time when we move from this body to the next body.
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