How to Prepare for Life (and Death)

We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance. ~ Marcel Proust

How many of us can honestly say that we are ready to die? To live a full and authentic life—to consciously choose life—you must prepare for death; the preparation to die is inseparable from the preparation to live; and do not delay this preparation because death may come to you much sooner than you think; now is the time to choose life.

The exterior world of money, material wealth and social status are powerful and persistent distractions that place your mind somewhere other than today, where life resides. Almost every message you see or hear suggests that you be somebody else or to be somewhere else other than who and where you are now: To be happy, you need the clothes, the car, the house, the body and the life that the messages communicate.

Unfortunately, most people require an extreme event, such as a natural disaster, the birth of a loved one, the death of a loved one, or their own near-death experience to remove the outer layers of the physical world to arrive at who and what they really are—the authentic Self.

Imagining your death and thinking of what you may have missed or which goals you may not have accomplished is commonly used in meditation techniques, motivational books, on personal development blogs, and in my profession of financial advice. This reflection on life through the lens of death is based upon a method of psychology called existential therapy, which originates from a branch of philosophy called existentialism.

How might I change my plans if I knew I would die in 5 years? If I learned today that I had cancer, would I have the same anxieties and frustrations of everyday life?

By asking and answering questions related to death—by existential reflection—the highest priorities and values you possess will rise to the surface of your mind and will be given clarity; the answers to life questions may be found by asking death questions.

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. ~ Mark Twain

If you have not had a near-death experience, do your best to imagine it; and do it often.  This a form of meditation. After your brush with death, would you worry about money, career, or traffic? Or might you find that every day is a gift—it is life—an opportunity to be amazed by the little things that you transform into large pleasures, such as the sight of a bird in flight, the sound of a child laughing, the smell of an ocean breeze, or the awareness of air flowing in and out of your lungs?

The more you reflect upon how to prepare for death, the more you reflect upon life; and because of this proximity to death, your fear of it diminishes as the quality and clarity of life increases. Do not fear that you will die; instead fear that you did not live.

About the Author

Kent Thune is the blog author of The Financial Philosopher, where he shares 2500 years of universal truths to help readers find their own path to meaning, purpose and authenticity by removing the physical world covers of money, materiality and social status.  You can follow Kent’s musings on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

Image from iStock Photo

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  1. Shawn says:

    One meditation on death that I like is this:

    Rather than leave a glass of water on your nightstand in case you get thirsty in the middle of the night, finish your water before you go to sleep in case you don’t wake up again. This reminds you that this might be your last moment.

    I don’t always do that, but throughout my day, I often take a moment to remember that this very moment may be my last. It does, as you say, put things into perspective.

    Why worry about getting the latest iPhone when you could get hit by a bus on the way to the Apple store?

    I also like to extend this meditation to people (and pets) that I love … imagining that this is the last moment that I will have with them.

    All of this helps me focus more clearly on the present moment. What am I feeling right now?

    • Kent Thune says:

      Great perspective, Shawn. Perhaps the greatest result of any form of meditation on death is presence — living in the present moment, where life resides. In different words, bringing close the thought of death often removes the covers of Self–money, material wealth and social status.

  2. Charles Tutt says:

    Thoughtful, meaningful, profound…

    Thank You

  3. Laura says:

    Okay, I get this AND wonder – yea, but…If I lived as though I death were imminent (say two weeks) I would create an epic mess that would be difficult, at best, to clean up. For example, let’s say I travelled extensively and did it all on credit. Now I am still alive and in-debt. Whenever I have tried to use this exercise I run up against “obstacles” that I think are very real given our current state of affairs. I must work at a job that pays the bills including my basic needs (food, shelter, clothing). Ideally, it should be work I love and am good at; however, this is not the reality for millions of people on this planet. If they knew they were going to die tomorrow they’d quit, have fun…but two weeks later when the rent is due they’d be in a mess!

    So help me out here. Is there something I’m missing or am I interpreting this exercise too literally?

    • Kent Thune says:

      I believe I can help you, Laura. Your challenge to find meaning through the thought of death is shared by the majority; and this challenge is that the first thought that comes to mind is through a financial lens, which is common deception in a material world. For example, many people will share your current view that, given a few months to live, most people would go on a spending spree, buying things and going on vacation.

      However, I believe this to be false, especially within my study of existential philosophy. For example, when most people have a near-death experience or they have been given only months to live, the LAST thoughts that come to their minds include the things that money can buy. Instead, their thoughts and actions return to what matters most–health, family, and small pleasures, such as a nature walk, a child’s laughter or a hot cup of tea–none of which are of any significant material expense.

      This is the kind of perspective I speak of: The jobs, the relationships and life’s challenges that were once perceived as problems can actually fade away like an illusion that is suddenly recognized as nothing but an illusion.

      In fact, it is likely that the person who has a close brush with death will IMPROVE their finances because they begin to care less about money and are thus enabled to save more of their money (and perhaps attract more money in their lives because they had begun to act more authentically).

      Here are some quotes of death that may teach this lesson better than I:

      “I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but caring little for it, and even less about the imperfections of my garden.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

      “…only by facing death will we come to a deeper realization of who we are.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

      “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~ Steve Jobs

    • Kent Thune says:

      [Forgive me if this reply is repeated. I had trouble getting it to post and made 3 attempts.] I believe I can help Laura. Your interpretation is not unlike the vast majority. For example, when given a scenario of having a few months to live, most people place their thoughts within a frame of money, material wealth and social status. Like you, they may imagine buying things or going on vacation.

      However, in my study of existential philosophy, most people who are given a few months to live (or who have a near-death experience) think quite the opposite — they place a higher value on non-material things, such as a nature walk, a child’s laughter, or the smell of a hot cup of tea on a cold day.

      In fact, such a meditation on death can actually improve financial health because the individual begins to care less about money and material wealth and more about the small pleasures of life that cost little or no money to enjoy.

      Here are few quotes on death that may do a better job of helping you than I:

      “…only by facing death will we come to a deeper realization of who we are.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

      “I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but caring little for it, and even less about the imperfections of my garden.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

      “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~ Steve Jobs

    • Kent Thune says:

      I believe I can help you Laura. Your interpretation is not unlike the vast majority. For example, when given a scenario of having a few months to live, most people place their thoughts within a frame of money, material wealth and social status. Like you, they may imagine buying things or going on vacation.

      However, in my study of existential philosophy, most people who are given a few months to live (or who have a near-death experience) think quite the opposite — they place a higher value on non-material things, such as a nature walk, a child’s laughter, or the smell of a hot cup of tea on a cold day.

      In fact, such a meditation on death can actually improve financial health because the individual begins to care less about money and material wealth and more about the small pleasures of life that cost little or no money to enjoy.

      Here are few quotes on death that may do a better job of helping you than I:

      “…only by facing death will we come to a deeper realization of who we are.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

      “I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but caring little for it, and even less about the imperfections of my garden.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

      “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~ Steve Jobs

    • Kent Thune says:

      Laura: I apologize for the double response. The first did not initially post and I wrote another to be sure I gave you a meaningful response. Now we have two but at least they are not 100% identical!

  4. What is helping me change my attitude toward death and perhaps lose my fear of death is this. I am realizing more and more deeply and clearly with each passing day the timeless nature of my own spirit.

    For example, I like to recall sometimes a moment when I was a child in 1940 evacuated from the London Blitz to a boarding school in Devon, in the West Country of England. Like all the other students I was eating a thick slice of white bread covered with a very thin coat of raspberry jam.

    I recall this past moment in my life and I realize quite clearly: “No matter what the world tries to tell me, the truth is I am changeless. I know I am changeless because it was the same ‘me’ eating that slice of bread in the wartime in England as is writing this comment in response to Kent’s great post now.”

    I’m 80, probably not a whole lot of time to go until “death.” I find it immensely comforting to realize, as I say, that contrary to what the world likes to teach my true nature is timeless.

    • Kent Thune says:

      Outstanding testimony, Christopher. Your perspective is a wonderful example that the proximity to death can (and often does) correlate with the proximity to life.

      In some ways, many people who think they are living are actually dying and those who are actually dying are really living.

      I hope that I (we) can help others come to this realization–this awakening, if you will–much sooner in life.

      Thanks for sharing…

  5. Bobbi Emel says:

    I love this post, Kent. It’s very concise, yet every word is evocative and practical at the same time.

    However, I’m sure you’ve completely freaked some people out! And good for you, I say.

    This is really timely for me because I’ve been spending more time than usual wondering how much of my life I’m losing by just “settling.” Settling for being comfortable, for not traveling, for staying within the bounds of what I know . . . I think about my death and, while it doesn’t frighten me, I do feel a sense of sadness that I think I could live my life much more fully than I currently am.

    • Kent Thune says:

      Thanks, Bobbi. I do hope I’ve “freaked some people out,” as you say! It is the blunt stone that sharpens the blade.

      I like your framework that the thought of death helps diminish your fear of it, while it simultaneously connects you to life, which is evident in your “sense of sadness.” You can live life more fully. Although it can be difficult at first, you simply need to transform the inspiration (states) into lasting behavior (traits).

  6. Priska says:

    The exterior world of money, material wealth and social status are powerful and persistent distractions that place your mind somewhere other than today, where life resides.
    Sometime during midlife you reach a point, perhaps through the loss of someone close, that you have decided that you are no longer going to ‘settle’ and that the legacy that you leave behind is something more than what is in your ‘estate’.

  7. Kent Thune says:

    Priska: I believe you are correct that most people shift perspectives around mid-life, although age, time and/or experience are not necessary for this shift.

    Personally, I have always valued money, material wealth and social status much lower than priorities, such as family and health. However, I became “lost” for many years as I got caught up in the so-called “rat race” mentality of climbing the corporate ladder and searching for identity through financial means. It was the birth of my two young children that reminded me of what I already knew and believed–that life is happening now and I will only have one chance to get it right, so to speak.

    Thanks for sharing…

  8. Karen says:

    Wow, I never thought of it that way! I am truly inspired! thanks for your post!

    • Kent Thune says:

      Thanks, Karen. Now carry that inspiration forward and into the next moment, otherwise the inspiration stops at just inspiration. Transform it into a step that continues a path to meaning and purpose. Don’t stop now…

  9. Jana says:

    Thank you. What a great reminder. I like that you said to think about it often. Even people I know that have gone through near death experiences tend to forget. Time found them caught up in the chaos of life again. It’s too easy to do.

    • Kent Thune says:

      Good point, Jana. The human brain is an adaptive, efficient machine. This creates a paradox: Our human ability to overcome difficulties is the same mechanism that forms bad habits. When possible, our brains make things “automatic.” This is why we find comfort and safety in routine.

      However, we often become complacent and slowly destroy ourselves. This is why mindfulness (self-awareness) is so important. The same capacity to form bad habits is there to form good habits — to slowly but surely move in a positive direction. The challenge is that good habits are usually the ones that require the most mindful attention in the beginning. This is why “change” can be difficult — because complacency and mindless routine is easier.

  10. What a powerful post, Kent. Reflection on death and impermanence is also well and alive in the Buddhist tradition. This is my daily reflection:

    “Death is real
    Comes without warning
    This body
    Will be a corpse.”

    As you express so beautifully, remembering death is key to appreciating each moment and living with wisdom and clarity. And, we don’t need to get morose about it because it’s only the physical body that dies.

    • Kent Thune says:

      Yes, Sandra. I’m currently reading “Meditative Mind” by Dan Goleman and learned that a good meditation for “thinkers” is on death and the body as a corpse. For me, the thought of death always brings me back to life. This is not fear of death but rather love of life — a meaningful life.

  11. Ion Doaga says:

    It is like “what is one thing you would die for”

    Money educates in us the feeling that we can buy a lot. But this creates a fake frame around a personality.

    The japanese Samurai’s were the most loyal fighter. They could easily die for their chief. That was on honor for them. This is brave and strong that qualities is hard to cultivate today.

    We remember of our values and belief only when we are face to face with death or expirience great financial problems. Somehow we become very disciplined and don’t dream about that fancy pinky live. You would be thankful with the small gains in your life.

  12. Chandra Lawrie says:

    What a profound post. I agree with all these comments as well. We do worry about the things outside us when all we really need is right here within us. We need to remember that we are empowered to be what we need to be to leave our mark. I have been recently reading A Rebel Chick Mystic’s Guide by Lisa Selow, picked it up at lisaselow.com. She writes on how to get to your true self and to reveal your lifes true purpose. It’s never too late to rewrite your story, and this post is tribute to that!

  13. This is truly a wonderful and thought provoking post. So many are afraid of death, and yet it’s not death itself, but living an unfulfilled life. Embracing this moment is the key. Thanks for sharing.

  14. […] How To Prepare For Death via @GoodLifeZen […]

  15. Kent Thune says:

    Yes, Zivana. I would only fear death if I felt I was not doing my best to lead a meaningful, purpose-driven life. Thanks…

  16. Sean says:

    Do not fear death. Embrace it. It is one of life’s biggest truths. It may be an ugly truth but life itself is a beautiful lie. People fear death not because of death alone. They fear that their life has not accomplished enough. The solution to this fear is to do more in your life NOW and not wait for death to come knocking on your door.

  17. James says:

    I have died metophorically speaking and experianced things not of this world as we know it these things that have happened changed my life everyday is a battle of faith in beliveing what I experianced as It I was in a psychosis at the time but I keep following my instincts and some of the philosophys I have aquired and this path has led me to this site….

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