A more mindful life comes from reflecting on Death .
When asked how to live a more authentic life, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century replied,
“Spend more time in graveyards.”
It was Martin Heidegger, the German existentialist who penned the absurdly difficult book, Being and Time.
What did he mean by this?
Heidegger claimed people are discontent because they are unwilling to embrace the fragility of life. This happens whether they know it or not. We live in bad faith because we too often fail to recognize — or appreciate — Death as a part of life.
It isn’t a secret — we don’t like talking about Death.
We don’t like acknowledging our own mortality, even though we are one of the few conscious beings capable of conceptualizing it. We are bestowed with foresight and intuition about our futures, yet too often we cannot bring ourselves to talk about those waning moments that await us all.
We use phrases like “passed away” or “kicked the bucket” to avoid explicitly referring to Death. It’s become taboo.
This mode of being — an avoidance of or ignorance of Death — inhibits us from living authentically (or living your best life, as 2019 calls it). We avoid acknowledging the shortness of life and instead busy ourselves with trifles.
Heidegger, ever-theatrical, referred to Death as, “the nothing.” We engage in what Heidegger deemed “endless chatter” in an attempt to ignore the nothing. Rather than embracing Death and the nothing, we use small, persistent doses of distractions. Social media, cheap gossip, Netflix-and-chill— we’re averse to sitting amidst our thoughts because it risks contemplation about the nothing.
Avoiding the nothing is often done unconsciously, a culturally imbued behavior that we fall into. Avoiding a discussion about Death can implicitly convince us that we are something of a permanent fixture ourselves, sapping the meaning from day-to-day life and draining our authenticity.
This leaves us squandering away meaningful moments under the guise that we will get more of them, indefinitely.
People, things, our own existence; these don’t last forever. Pretending they do inhibits us from appreciating them while they’re still here.
Rather than ignoring the end of our journey, we should use it as a lens with which to look at life. The meaning within the journey can be heightened in realizing that our story comes to an end.
We can live with greater urgency. Not urgency as in rushing, but urgency as in it can help us pay attention and be as present as possible.
Death informs us how to live properly. Death helps us realize the beauty in the mundane. We can learn to celebrate the small victories as often as we celebrate the big ones.
Understanding Death’s significance changes our perspective towards life. Colors shine brighter. Music plays sweeter. People smile more, love more. “Stop and smell the roses” transforms from a cliché into a habit.
Recognizing Death helps people spend time rather than kill it. We could walk about with a grateful heart and a keen eye, inhaling the surrounding impermanence.
The end isn’t something to mourn, it’s motivation for celebrating the present.
Acknowledging the nature of Death, talking about it, thinking about it— spending more time in graveyards — is one of Heidegger’s solutions to living more authentically. Death can inform ushow to live properly and with intention.
The inevitable arrival of the end is the best antidote to prevent us from falling asleep at the wheel of life. Our attitude should align with Death, not against it. Rather than frame Death as something to avoid talking about or to fear, we should embrace it as a reason to live a more meaningful life. We can better appreciate our time and be more intentional with how we choose to occupy ourselves.
Life is short. Heidegger knew this all too well. Rather than fighting this reality, he advocated for something far more profound.
In heeding our German philosopher’s advice, maybe these three things can happen more often:
- Eating dinner without the television on, and instead opting for conversation.
- Spending time with friends when no one has their phone out.
- Looking to the trees or gardens or skies outside because they are beautiful, not because your phone is out of battery.
Let’s be more present. Let’s wake up to our own fragility.
By recognizing Death as Death, we can each brim with a little more life.