Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
Depending on your age or personal experience, you may think of death as either a distant event, an unavoidable fact or a spine-chilling affair that you'd rather not think about. Or maybe something entirely different. Whatever it is, I'm a firm believer we need to be contemplating death more often. (Unless you already are, in which case, keep doing what you're doing.)

Contemplating death is like watching a jellyfish. Feelings of awe, fear and unease can come and cascade over you, as you try to make sense of what you're seeing. From ancient times, humans have tried to make sense of death, creating rituals around it, developing stories and passing down traditions that integrate it into everyday life.

Many of us have an unexplained fear of death, but that needs to be distinguished from the fear of dying. Most of the time, it's the former, rather than the latter, that cripple us. One of the reasons may be that, although it's shrouded in mystery, one thing's certain: we'll lose everything that makes us us. In his book The Denial of Death, anthropologist Ernest Becker writes:
This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life, and self-expression—and with all this yet to die.

Why do we need to contemplate death?
  • Perspective & priorities. We know our existence is finite, but sometimes we live as if it's not. Being reminded of one's impending demise may be akin to a plunge into an ice bath, but it can prompt us to focus on what truly matters. It may embolden us to stop doing the things that we know are not conducive to growth and happiness.
  • Enhanced life appreciation. The wonder of life can only be grasped by putting it in contrast to the alternative: non-existence, the void of nothingness. Even the small things in life will appearing oozing of meaning and wonder.
  • Profound purpose. By knowing your time is limited, you will be more inclined to make choices that align with your authentic self, choices that are consonant with your values and goals.
  • Increased gratitude. A new sense of appreciation can be found in simply acknowledging our human condition.
  • Living in the present. We'll be more mindful of our everyday experiences knowing that they'll transitory and finite.
  • Arriving at acceptance. When one begins to think more deeply about death, one can become more intimate with the reality of it, maybe even shedding the fear around it. This won't mean that we'll be glad when it comes, but we'll be ready when it does.
You may think that becoming hyper-aware of your own mortality will result in you being more melancholic and cautious of anything that may bring about death (flying, extreme sports etc), but in reality the opposite is true. People who face their finite nature are more likely to experience a newfound sense of wonder and joy for their lives. Death awareness doesn't paralyze them, but it sets them free.

What's more, studies have shown that people who took up a regular practice of death contemplation are motivated to abandon goals focused on money or social status and pursue ones that fulfill their deepest needs: authenticity, connection, creativity.

For inspiration, here are some ways in which you can practice getting more comfortable with death:
  • Write your own obituary. You can approach this in two ways: either write it as if you died today, or from the perspective of you dying of old age, in which case you can include all the accomplishments you wish to have by then.
  • Write your will. Think about what you're leaving and to whom. This exercise may help you bring to mind the important relationships in your life, as well as your attachment to your material possessions.
  • Plan your funeral. Think about how you want your funeral to be organized. Solemn or lighthearted? Burial or incineration?
  • Visit a cemetery. It can be a famous one where important figures are resting, or simply a random one. Either way, you'll be faced with the greatest equalizer of all.
  • Plan your last 30 days. Imagine you're told you only have 30 days to live, how would you choose to spend them?
I hope you'll take up my invitation and explore your feelings and attitudes towards death. Remember: at the end of the day, the "recipe" for a good death is simply a good life.

Timeless Content

Chilling Art: Five Potent Paintings About Death
Christopher P. Jones | 6 minute read
I thought I'd keep with the death theme and invite you to contemplate on it some more.
Granted, thinking about death is not easy, but you'll have great company. In the article linked above, the author showcases 5 famous paintings on death, each with its own idiosyncrasy, seen through the eyes of 5 different artists, including Gustav Klimt or Jacques-Louis David.

With such a delicate yet sober topic, it's helpful to approach it through a medium like art, that can provide both an uncanny intimacy with it, but at the same time enough separation so we don't get overwhelmed by our emotions.

Tool For Thought

App | iOS & Android
There's an app for everything. Even death contemplation.

The WeCroak app is inspired by the Bhutanese idea that one needs to think about death five times a day in order to be happy. In line with this thinking, the app will send you five notifications, at random times, each day to prompt you to consider your own mortality. You'll be presented with quotes and reflections on death from notable thinkers through history, to help you on your journey to accepting your finite predicament.

Picture of the Week

Source: @abstractsunday

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Writer Hunter S. Thompson on how to die:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

Source: The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters, Vol. 1)

Question For You To Ponder

What is something your 80 year old self would criticize you for, and how can you change it?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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