Meditation is a practice where the individual uses breath work and stillness to calm the body and the mind. Many religions – including Buddhism and Hinduism – use this spiritual technique to bring us closer to each other, closer to God and closer to ourselves. In its simplest form, meditation allows us a moment to stop. To pause the ongoing thoughts in our head and the endless lists of errands to run. You simply observe. Detached from these previously stressful, sad or even happy thoughts.
So if that’s what meditation is, then what do you think about death meditation? This practice has a longer history than you may imagine and is becoming increasingly more popular as a social media trend. Let’s find out what this phenomenon actually is.
What is Meditation?
In our fast-paced and increasingly interconnected world, the practice of meditation has gained significant attention as a way to find solace, balance, and inner peace. With roots stretching back thousands of years across various cultures and traditions, meditation is more than just a passing trend; it is a profound technique that offers a gateway to self-discovery and heightened well-being.
The Essence of Meditation
At its core, meditation is a mental exercise that involves focusing the mind and eliminating distracting thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about emptying the mind completely, but rather about cultivating awareness and achieving a state of heightened concentration. It’s a process of training the mind to become more attentive, centred, and attuned to the present moment. Rather than ignoring your thoughts, you’re simply allowing them to wash over you, and not take control. The Buddhist Centre writes:
“Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being.”
The takeaway here is positivity. Seeing the world in an optimistic way is key to meditation, as this is what makes our lives easier to live. There are many things in life that are stressful and painful, we cannot always escape this, but what we can do is find a way to look at life differently. For instance, a fear of death is a common thought that may pop into people’s heads. In fact, dying is one of the only genuine guarantees we have in life. But how can we deal with this scary prospect? Well, that’s where death meditation comes in.
Different Forms of Meditation
There are varying forms of meditation that exist today. Some are newer and some have been around for thousands of years. Each has its own techniques and goals. In this modern world, meditation has become more of an accessible technique than something you may need to travel to the other side of the world to learn. Apps such as Headspace and Waking Up offer easy and digestible meditative methods to help with people’s everyday lives. Fear of flying? We’ve got you. Anxious after work? We’ve got you. Sad after a heartbreak? We’ve got you. Modern meditation has found ways to deal with specific emotions that pop up a lot in the modern mind. Headspace writes:
“Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgement. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the various forms of meditation:
Mindfulness Meditation: This form of meditation encourages individuals to observe their thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement. The aim is to develop a heightened awareness of the present moment and to be fully engaged with whatever is happening now.
Transcendental Meditation: Originating from ancient Vedic traditions, this technique involves silently repeating a mantra—a specific word, sound, or phrase—to transcend ordinary thought and access a state of deep restful awareness.
Loving-Kindness Meditation: Also known as Metta meditation, this practice involves generating feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward oneself and others. It cultivates positive emotions and a sense of interconnectedness.
Vipassana Meditation: Rooted in Buddhist teachings, Vipassana aims to achieve insight into the true nature of reality by observing bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions in a systematic way. It’s a method of self-exploration and self-understanding.
Guided Meditation: In this approach, a teacher or recorded audio guides participants through visualisations or scenarios that promote relaxation, self-awareness, and personal growth.
Death Meditation: Also known as contemplation of mortality or mindfulness of death, is a practice that encourages individuals to reflect upon the reality of their own mortality and the transient nature of life.
What is Death Meditation?
In our fast-paced modern world, where distractions abound and the pursuit of material success often takes priority, contemplating mortality can seem uncomfortable and unsettling. Yet the fact is, many of us think about it. More than we would like to admit. According to a CBS poll, around 50% of the American population think about death on a regular basis. However, death meditation, a practice rooted in ancient spiritual traditions, offers a unique and profound way to engage with the concept of death. By acknowledging and embracing the inevitability of death, practitioners can gain insights that lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Also known as Maranasati meditation, Positive Psychology writes:
“Research shows that coming to terms with death is essential to living life fully… yet in the Western world, many of us are socialized to avoid discussing or even thinking about death, leading many to suffer from death anxiety and terror of this inevitable event.”
It’s an interesting concept. Take the thing that many fear the most in the world and, rather than ignore it, engage with it and accept it. Only then, maybe, will people be able to live their lives without fear.
How Does It Work
There are several approaches to practising death meditation. One common technique involves visualising one’s own death in vivid detail. This might include imagining the physical sensations, emotional responses, and the gradual fading of consciousness. Another method involves meditating on the impermanence of all things, recognizing that everything in life – including our own existence – is going to end. There’s beauty in that in a way, just as there is in nature. The Daily Mail describes one method of Maranasati meditation:
“Another death meditation practice involves visualizing the body’s inevitable decay to let go of attachments to the material world. In some more intense sessions, participants wrap themselves in white sheets to make themselves look and feel like mummies or they will write their own eulogies to read out loud to a group. “
This may sound extreme, weird and strange but that’s because it is. Since covid, death meditation has gained a lot more traction due to the amount of people beginning to fear their own death. In fact, this craze has gained 2.5 million views on TikTok and 3000 posts on Instagram. This means that even the Gen Z’s are learning about it. Nonetheless, just because this practice may seem odd, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have benefits. We’re so often taught to simply not think about the things that scare us. And yet, fearing death, is probably one of the most logical fears you can have. It happens to everyone. So perhaps staring death in the face, understanding it and accepting it, is the best way to stop fearing it.
Benefits of Death Meditation
Here are some of the key benefits of death meditation.
Engaging with the concept of death can lead to a profound shift in perspective. It can help individuals prioritise what truly matters, such as relationships, experiences, and personal growth, over superficial concerns.
Regular practice of death meditation can desensitise the fear of death, which is often a source of anxiety for many. By confronting mortality head-on, people can find a sense of acceptance and peace.
Awareness of life’s impermanence can cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for the present moment. By realising that life is finite, individuals are motivated to make the most of their time and experiences.
Death meditation can contribute to emotional resilience by helping individuals develop a healthier relationship with suffering and adversity. It encourages embracing discomfort as part of the human journey.
The practice challenges the ego’s attachment to the self, fostering humility and diminishing the ego’s dominance over thoughts and actions.
Whilst the name itself might sound alarming, death meditation seems completely sensical and beneficial. Nowadays, meditation is being used to tackle a variety of issues and anxieties. Therefore, why not a fear of death too? In many old societies, humans would discuss death from an early age, knowing what came before and what will come after. In essence, the cycle of life. In the modern world, we often ignore it as best we can. This inevitably leads to a great fear of the unknown. Perhaps more people should be delving into the world of death meditation.
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