There is nothing extra sure in life than the understanding of loss of life. It’s the good equalizer of the world, and it’s blind – regardless of if an individual is wealthy or poor, wholesome or unhealthy, good or dangerous, smart or ignorant, any sentient being that experiences life should additionally expertise loss of life. It behooves anybody who needs to enhance themself to be conscious of loss of life and one’s mortality.
Does That Seem Somber?
It does not should be when you have the precise mindset. You can select to dwell in relative consolation, keep away from most dangers of hurt, assume the story is unheroically about you, and arrive on loss of life’s shore comparatively secure and intact, unmarred by the labor of nice pursuits in service to a trigger higher than your existence.
At the identical time, you’re experiencing the burden of remorse for by no means figuring out the true extent of your capabilities.
On the opposite hand, you may select to depart behind a legacy outlined by a life lived with deep objective, that means, ethical character, convictions, compassion, and braveness, sturdy sufficient to encourage individuals lengthy after your flesh and bones return to mud and particulate silence.
Innumerable individuals all through human historical past have mirrored on loss of life as a solution to expertise life and dwell it to their fullest potential. The follow has had many names in lots of languages over the millennia, however as of late it is most sometimes called Memento Mori.
A Brief History of Memento Mori
Memento Mori interprets to, “Remember, you need to die.” The follow has a really lengthy historical past that crosses cultures, continents, religions, and philosophies: from the traditional philosophers of Greece to Roman generals, Buddhist monks to Islamic Sufis – meditation on loss of life allowed all of them to pursue life.
In Plato’s Phaedo, the good thinker Socrates states earlier than he’s about to die:
“…he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world…For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying…”
The instance that Socrates set throughout his life and earlier than his execution would go away an enduring legacy on everything of Western civilization and result in the start of many various colleges of philosophy.
One college specifically – Stoicism – changing into well-known as a sensible college of philosophy that pressured the significance of considering loss of life. The surviving writings of the traditional Stoics are crammed with admonitions to recollect loss of life and the three most well-known Stoics:
- The slave, Epictetus
- The Roman statesman, Seneca
- The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius
All have one thing to say about loss of life.
“All that you see will soon perish; those who witness this perishing will soon perish themselves. Die in extreme old age or die before your time – it will all be the same.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.33
“Keep the prospect of death, exile and all such apparent tragedies before you every day – especially death – and you will never have an abject thought, or desire anything to excess.”
– Epictetus, Enchiridion, 21
“I am endeavoring to dwell day-after-day as if it had been an entire life. I don’t certainly snatch it up as if it had been my final; I do regard it, nonetheless, as if it would even be my final. The current letter is written to you with this in thoughts as if loss of life had been about to name me away within the very act of writing. I’m able to depart, and I shall take pleasure in life simply because I’m not over-anxious as to the long run date of my departure.”
– Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter 61
The historic Romans additionally practiced the contemplation of loss of life, Memento Mori being a Latin phrase.
Memento Mori comes from a Roman custom wherein a normal would participate in a triumphal procession via the town, upon returning to Rome after a major victory. To be the topic of such a march was an ideal honor and the need of many formidable troopers.
As the triumphant normal was carried via the town in his horse-drawn chariot to the good applause and reward of the individuals of Rome, a slave would stand behind him, holding a crown over his head and whispering, “Respice put up te. Hominem te memento. Memento mori!”
“Look behind you. Remember you are mortal. Remember you must die!”
This custom was a chance for the overall to throw a grand celebration, and it allowed him some self-promotion, which may come in useful ought to he resolve to run for political workplace sometime. It’s a bit powerful working for workplace when no person’s heard of you, in spite of everything.
The objective of the slave whispering in his ear was to maintain the overall’s ego and perspective in verify all through the whole celebration, lest he forgets himself and does one thing disgraceful and offensive to the gods.
A number of hundred years later, in the course of the late Middle Ages, Memento Mori had developed into an artwork fashion often known as Danse Macabre or the Dance of Death.
At this level in historical past, Europe had simply been devastated by the Black Death pandemic, with probably the most fatalities ever recorded in human historical past; loss of life was on everybody’s thoughts.
The Danse Macabre was a meditation on the universality of loss of life: regardless of how wealthy or how poor one is, loss of life comes for us all.
The artwork would often characteristic a personification of loss of life (a skeleton or corpse) main individuals from completely different stations in life – usually a pope, king, emperor, laborer, and baby – in a dance to their graves.
In the 17th century, Dutch artists used a mode of nonetheless life portray often known as vanitas artwork (from the primary chapter of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity.”) as a Memento Mori. The art work would characteristic skulls, rotting fruit, candles, hourglasses, useless and wilted flowers, and extra atop tables as highly effective imagery to remind the viewer of loss of life.
By the 19th century, Memento Mori had moved from work to jewellery, with individuals from all walks of life sporting rings that includes skulls, coffins, the phrase “Memento Mori,” or a mix of the three as a continuing reminder of the wearer’s mortality.
Though not almost as prevalent within the minds of the overall populace because it as soon as was, Memento Mori is having a contemporary resurgence. People are shopping for Memento Mori medallions to hold with them of their pockets as a continuing reminder that they may at some point die.
Such well-known figures as Tim Ferriss, Casey Neistat, and extra carry a Memento Mori medallion with them, and even Memento Mori rings are making a comeback.
I am part of this contemporary resurgence.
Memento Mori and The Twelve Labors Project
Memento Mori is the device that I take advantage of to beat the challenges in my life and discover the inspiration to push via any impediment that I see earlier than me.
When I tackle bodily challenges as a part of my Twelve Labors Project, Memento Mori is what retains me grounded, centered on the current, and conscious of what actually issues in a universe that appears to be unraveling.
In 2016, for my fifth labor, I set out alone within the barren wilderness of the northern Mojave Desert to boost consciousness of veteran suicide by pulling a 2.5-ton pickup truck throughout Death Valley.
With a panorama as lovely as it’s bleak, my solely companions all through the 22-mile problem had been stones sculpted over the millennia by the desert wind and rain, dunes that mirrored the solar’s blinding gentle, the searing warmth that burns something that enters the Valley, and my ideas.
Each mile that I pulled the truck via the desert represented one of many 22 lives which are misplaced every day to veteran suicide.
With each step I took and each inch of floor that I gained, Death Valley would strive a little bit tougher to persuade me to take off the chest harness and give up the problem; it solely ever bought hotter and drier because the journey progressed.
Naturally, the solitude that I skilled in the course of the problem compelled me to confront the worst of myself – my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, and the whole lot I had ever come to remorse in my life.
I might take a step and listen to a voice, “Give up! There is no shame in quitting.”
I might take one other step and inform myself, “Memento Mori! Remember, you must die! Remember why you are here!”
Reflecting on my mortality and the reminiscence of those that we have misplaced to suicide fortified my steps and made the seemingly not possible, doable.
The dichotomy between loss of life and the current second turned extra obvious than ever, opening my view to views and insights that by no means earlier than occurred to me.
It was the catalyst I wanted to regain my momentum and embrace my destiny second by second with a full coronary heart and unyielding resolve.
Being alone in Death Valley with a 2.5-ton pickup truck strapped to your again is a surefire solution to come head to head along with your mortality, and the follow of Memento Mori is what allowed me to remain centered on a purpose that was larger than myself. I wasn’t striving for recognition after I hauled a truck throughout the desert.
I wished to boost the attention of an alarming drawback that is plaguing veterans. Whether or not I accomplished the labor or another person did was irrelevant, as long as individuals had been made conscious of the trigger that spurred the problem.
I may have died at any level throughout my trek via the desert – I may die at any second, actually – the popularity, the accolades, it might all be meaningless to me after that.
The trigger, nonetheless, would live-on.
“On fame. Look at their minds, the nature of their thought and what they seek or avoid. And see how, just as drifting sands constantly overlay the previous sand, so in our lives what we once did is very quickly covered over by subsequent layers.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.34
How Memento Mori can Spur motion
Memento Mori is not only a device to inspire your self to tug a truck via a hellish panorama – it might additionally act as a catalyst for motivation and productiveness day-after-day.
Procrastination is a problem that most individuals face every day, and I am no exception. Why trouble getting away from bed each morning to face an uncomfortable world when consolation will be discovered already beneath the blankets? Why trouble doing something in any respect?
What sort of life would that be?
“So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.”
– Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Seneca knew that we so usually waste life clinging to idleness and comforts that solely serve to distract us from fulfilling our highest potential.
A life lived in pursuit of consolation whereas laying aside our obligation is a life spent losing the finite period of time we’ve got. Find consolation within the uncomfortable, and keep in mind you need to die: why waste your time on trivia when your time is brief?
If you need to meet particular health targets, Memento Mori is the motivator it is advisable get to the health club (or maybe your own home health club for now) and attain these targets.
When you get up within the morning, set an affirmation for your self that you’ll do what it is advisable do to satisfy your targets, whatever the obstacles you might face.
Remind your self of your mortality and that you’d slightly not spend the valuable time you could have left watching tv or sleeping.
That’s what I inform myself every day earlier than I prepare, and it is what you may say to your self, too.
If your purpose is to have a more healthy weight loss program, Memento Mori may also help you to develop more healthy consuming and consuming habits. Life is brief – would you like your last moments spent in a drunken haze? I doubt it.
Sure, we’re all fated to die at some point, however that does not imply that we must always use each second we’ve got in hedonistic pursuits. The cake is sweet, however ought to we eat it for each meal? Of course not.
Overindulgence in unhealthy consuming and consuming will solely deliver loss of life quicker, whereas wholesome habits will serve to maintain life lengthy and enable you to attain your fullest potential.
A wholesome physique makes for a wholesome thoughts, in spite of everything.
Memento Mori and World Events
The world is presently experiencing turbulence that hasn’t been felt in a very long time. Climate change is inflicting extremes in climate circumstances which have led to intense droughts, huge forest and bush fires, and hurricanes, the like of which humanity has not seen since biblical instances.
We’re in the course of a world pandemic, with COVID-19 spreading via cities harking back to the Black Plague of the medieval interval. Governments are utilizing the concern and distraction brought on by the pandemic to push agendas on each ends of the political spectrum.
American regulation enforcement is beneath magnified scrutiny as a consequence of instances the place extreme makes use of of power and lack of human decency resulted in undue loss of life. These issues are occurring inside an environment of violent riots and peaceable protests towards racial injustice and police brutality.
Some social points are being conflated with broader ones to embolden actions and assaults towards sure teams. In distinction, different essential points are being drowned out by a deafening silence solely for his or her lack of utility or mere comfort throughout the widespread narrative.
As an American with deep love and hope for this nation, who additionally occurs to be an individual of shade, allow us to tread via these troubled waters collectively.
I imagine that the best adversary to justice and inequality for all individuals are the unacknowledged unions between indifference and management, ignorance and energy, and apathy and concern.
In the phrases of the American novelist and activist, James Baldwin:
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
We will need to have the braveness to battle and disintegrate these shadow alliances at this time and hereafter, lengthy after the media strikes on from it, and it’s not trending.
As Og Mandino as soon as wrote:
“Tomorrow is only found in the calendar of fools.”
Memento Mori, as a follow throughout this difficult time in historical past, permits us to face our fears, flaws, and failures individually and as a rustic. These occasions compel purposeful motion with a way of urgency, not from a spot of hate or vengeance, however from a spot of empathy and compassion beneath the premise that at the present time, this hour, this second is all we’ve got.
Tomorrow isn’t a promise however a mere thought—an assumption of an unsure future time and place arising within the current.
These actions embody defending individuals’s proper to criticize our nation’s shortcomings and peacefully protest them whereas supporting the constitutional ideas upon which America stands—all throughout the similar breath of ardour and wholehearted conviction.
We are all dying from a power situation known as life. In fact, each second, we lose to laziness, procrastination, or indifference eternally belongs to loss of life.
Every alternative to do good on this planet, no matter an individual’s race, politics, faith, or social class, turns into a present after we embrace the truth that each human on earth will at some point expertise the identical lack of family members and struggling such as you.
It is smart to be type to each particular person we encounter throughout these complicated instances after we remind ourselves that loss of life is the ultimate arbiter.
Out of the 4 Stoic virtues of knowledge, braveness, temperance, and justice, Marcus Aurelius felt that justice was an important of all of them.
“And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31
When confronted with a sort of turmoil that we’ve not seen for generations, Memento Mori will be the information that helps us navigate via the current local weather.
Every time you watch present occasions on the information or witness injustice occurring in entrance of you, you could have a alternative between motion or inaction.
Reflection on our mortality can permit us to see the larger image, face injustice like a real Stoic, and current options based mostly on purpose and sound judgment.
We should die, it is true, however should we die having completed nothing for the good thing about the higher good? No. Our lives have that means after we dwell in keeping with our ideas and arise for what is true and good on this planet.
Death involves everybody, that is for certain – there isn’t any level in worrying about when or the way it will come when probably the most unsure a part of life is how we select to dwell it.
After all, loss of life is barely the tip beneath the presumption that the story is solely about you. Our good deeds and power of character are immortal, standing as dwelling monuments in these we encourage—extra highly effective than mere phrases on a tombstone can ever be.
There’s a Greek proverb that I really feel fantastically exemplifies the purpose I’m attempting to make:
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Maybe we’re not all previous but, but when we wish our society to develop, then we should plant the seeds of justice and love in order that future generations can benefit from the shade of those bushes.
Doing so is a alternative that we should make, totally conscious of the truth that loss of life involves us all ultimately, however the penalties of our selections dwell on on this planet and have an effect on the generations that comply with.
“You may leave this life at any moment; have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.11
Taking the recommendation of Marcus Aurelius, we will let the inevitability of our demise inform our lifestyle. With each single alternative we make and each single motion we take, we will view it in gentle of our loss of life earlier than we make that alternative or take that motion. Ask your self these questions:
“Do I want to be remembered as the person who turned away from injustice?”
“Am I okay with being the cause of inequality and suffering?”
“Do I truly feel indifferent to the plight of the oppressed?”
When society lacks correct management, you need to be taught to look to your ideas to guide your self.
Living in keeping with your ideas could trigger you to face alone towards a crowd; it might result in concern and doubt, and can nearly actually deliver the strain down on you from particular person members of society – however you need to stand resolute.
If you may’t stand agency in your convictions whereas attempting to enhance society and crumple on the first signal of pushback or be part of the gang when it acts towards your ideas, then you have not stood for something in any respect. In chapter 24 of the Enchiridion, Epictetus has the next to say about benefitting communities:
“Well, what’s going to my occupation in the neighborhood be?’ Whatever place you’re outfitted to fill, as long as you protect the person of belief and integrity. If you lose that in your zeal to be a public benefactor, what use in the long run will you be to the group after getting been rendered shameless and corrupt?”
To that finish, we should stand as much as human indecency within the type of violence and rioting.
What would you hear when you went round your group and advised individuals that you simply robbed their companies for his or her profit and destroyed their properties to guard their rights? It’s unlikely that you’d face gratitude from victims of violence and theft, do not you suppose?
Memento Mori will be the catalyst for motion, however it may also be the catalyst for restraint. Use it to remind your self of what kind of habits you need individuals to recollect. Just as you may ask your self questions that can assist you take motion, you can even ask questions that promote restraint:
“Do I want to be remembered as the person who destroyed someone’s livelihood?”
“Am I willing to sacrifice my convictions just to satisfy the mob’s lust for violence?”
“Will this help my case or hurt it?”
Memento Mori would be the information that reminds you that there’s at all times an even bigger image and that it’s not at all times smart to behave, simply as it’s not at all times smart to stay inactive. Epictetus in chapter 33 of the Enchiridion as soon as once more admonishes us to be agency in our convictions:
“Settle on the type of person you want to be and stick to it, whether alone or in company.”
When you could have determined who you need to be, Memento Mori will enable you to to stay to it, reminding you when to behave and when to not.
It takes braveness and sacrifice to do one thing for a trigger higher than your self, however you will not lose your self to the baser instincts of the ego as long as you keep in mind this:
“Look behind you. Remember you are mortal. Remember you must die!”