3 Gifts from Memento Mori (Remembering You Will Die)
Memento Mori is a powerful practice to create a meaningful, productive and fulfilling life. Roughly translated to English, it means, "Remember you must die." Reflecting on your own death might seem like a dark and depressing way to live. But it offers three unique gifts that help you live with intention.
If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, would you live today differently?
What would you wish you had done, said, received and given?
What would you be most grateful to have done, said, received and given?
Memento mori is a powerful practice to create a meaningful, productive and fulfilling life.
Roughly translated to English, it means remember you must die.
Reflecting on your own death might seem like a dark and depressing way to live.
But it offers three unique gifts that help you live with intention: the first gift is the gift of gratitude, the second is the gift of groundedness and the third is the gift of grit.
A joyful, good life doesn’t mean you’re happy all the time. It is more important to be able to experience the richness and depth of life. And this includes painful emotions that come from events like the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream job, or a serious illness.
When we are born, we usually have the capacity to grow, develop and turn our visions, dreams and goals into a reality. But it’s inevitable that we will die.
Memento Mori is an ancient practice that spans across time and cultures. It’s generally rooted in Roman tradition and Stoic philosophy. Remembering death is also in the doctrine of religions like Buddhism and Christianity.
Ancient philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epicurus had a lot to say about death.
Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic philosopher and a Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 CE. He is known as the last of the Five Good Emperors.
In his journal, published as Meditations, Marcus wrote, “You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.”
Seneca was a Stoic philosopher and a leading advisor to Nero, the fifth emperor of Rome, from AD 54 to 62.
In Letters from a Stoic, Seneca wrote that the law of Fate has a limit fixed for us.
“…let us so order our minds as if we had come to the very end. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day. The greatest flaw in life is that it is always imperfect, and that a certain part of it is postponed.”
In his essay, On the Shortness of Life, Seneca cautioned us to not waste time on trivial matters and to make each moment count.
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher who taught that "Pleasure is the principle and end to a happy life." He believed the fear of death was the main source of misery. And until you can embrace death anxiety, it’s hard to enjoy life and get satisfaction from it.
You don’t have to be philosophical or religious to reflect on death. It is a practical practice that helps you to be grateful, present, and resilient.
This is episode 53. 3 Gifts from Memento Mori (remembering you will die). Welcome to The Incrementalist. My name is Dyan Williams and I’m your productivity coach who will help you make big changes in small steps.
Irvin D Yalom, an existential psychiatrist and best-selling author, says everyone fears death in his or her own way. In his book Staring at the Sun, he writes the fear of death is not a standing for something else. He notes, “Psychotherapists often assume, mistakenly, that overt death anxiety is not anxiety about death, but is instead a mask for some other problem.”
He describes grief as an awakening experience – it makes you more mindful of your very existence, your whole being. The fact that a loved one is alive brings a sense of comfort and security, even if they’re incapacitated or ill, or you don’t speak to or seem them daily.
Yalom writes, “though the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us.” He posits that the two states of nonbeing - the time before our birth and the time after death –are identical. Yet we have so much fear about the second state of darkness and so little concern for the first.
Whether or not you have religious or spiritual beliefs about death, it’s hard to know for sure what will happen to us when we die.
But when we move from death anxiety to death reflection – from a negative reaction to a positive response to knowing we will die – we can have a deeper life. We receive the first gift of Memento Mori: Gratitude.
When we remember that life is fleeting and fragile, we’re less likely to take things for granted. We appreciate what we already have. We’re grateful for not just the big things, but also the small pleasures whether from our own doing or from nature, like the sunny weather and the changes in seasons.
You savor solo time or enjoy family time. You’re more present with others, like your children, your parents, your spouse, your sibling, your friends, your neighbors.
Gratitude is being more present even as you’re getting ready for the next thing. You engage in healthy habits and rituals as you aim for high, hard goals.
You’re grateful for yesterday and for another day. You move through your morning with intention.
You enjoy tea time. You savor the moment as you begin your day.
The simple act of making yourself something to eat, brings joy. Maybe it’s scrambled eggs. You feel great as you whisk the eggs, heat up the butter, pour the eggs into the pan, and stir slowly.
You experience the vibrant energy when you’re outdoors at the playground. You take note of the sights and sounds. You see the vibrant colors when you’re sharing M & Ms. You pay attention to infectious laughter or a warm smile.
At lunch time, you mindfully eat the bowl of salad that you prepared at home. Or you go out to eat with friends, listen to background music, people watch and take a drive around town.
Remembering you will die delivers the second gift of Memento Mori: groundedness.
Groundedness is inner strength and stability, even in tumultuous times and in the face of limitless responsibilities.
You stay grounded as you navigate daily life. You find calm instead of stress in never-ending chores: doing the dishes, wiping the kitchen counters, and doing the laundry.
You run your errands with ease. You do your grocery shopping, walk down the aisles, return your cart, and drive out of the parking lot – thankful for an hour well spent.
You enjoy the journey to get where you need to be. You wait patiently in your car or you start your car when you’re ready. You drive mindfully to your destination and return home mindfully when you’re done.
You see routine activities as part of self-care and maintenance. They keep your life in order and allow traction to build.
You prioritize, plan and schedule the things you enjoy. This could be taking a walk with loved ones and friends on a sunny, spring afternoon. Or walking solo on a scenic pathway, feeling your feet touch the ground, and mind-wandering.
You spend time in your yard, soak in the sunlight, gaze at the blue sky and listen to the birds chirping and the sounds around you.
You take a strategic pause. Open up your journal, plan your day and sip on coffee with or without cream before you move into your next task.
You savor your grounding and centering practice, like feeling the warmth of the sunlight, rolling out your yoga mat, stepping on to your yoga mat, doing breathwork, feeling the weight of your body resting on the ground beneath you, meditating and starting your day.
Reflecting on death in a healthy way gives you the third gift of Memento Mori: grit.
In Staring at the Sun, Dr. Yalom introduces the concept, Rippling. Your behaviors and actions in life – often without conscious intent or knowledge - can have a far-reaching effect for years, even for generations. The effect we have on others is passed on to others.
Like ripples in a pond, they go on and on until you can no longer see them, but they continue at a nano level.
“Rippling does not necessarily mean leaving behind your image or your name.”
Rippling “refers instead to leaving behind something from your life experience: some trait, some piece of wisdom, guidance, virtue, comfort that passes on to others, known or unknown.”
On a daily level, grit starts with waking up at a set hour to greet your day. This begins in the past, with an evening routine that allows for restful sleep. You do what you need to do to wake up your body, like take a shower, warm or cold.
If you’re a morning person, you start your work day with a high focus task. Maybe this is writing a memo, an article, a marketing proposal, or the second chapter of your book. You don’t freak out when you face writer’s block. You just start typing to build momentum and get into the flow state.
Or maybe you wait until your focus and energy ramp up - you do your hard work in the mid-morning when your mind is clearer, or in the early evening when the afternoon slump is over.
Grit is sticking with what’s most important to you even in the face of obstacles. You not only bounce back from failures and setbacks, but get stronger and smarter as a result.
You know your limits. You add on more weight as you build your strength and endurance.
You maintain, mend and mind what is. You nurture and care for the things that are within your control. You help them grow, thrive and stay alive. You let go of the things that you don’t control. You appreciate that they don’t need your stepping in, meddling and participating.
You learn a new skill or develop existing ones. You show up at the arena. Get in the rink. Practice what you can do. Or take a class to get to the next level. You make consistent, incremental improvements to reach competence or mastery.
You clean up when you’ve made a mess. You put your toys and tools back in their place. You clear to neutral for the next day or for the next person.
When you take the last cup of coffee, you brew the next pot for the next person.
You show up with courage and do what’s right. You join a service organization to give back to your community. You aim to leave the world in a better state by the time you die.
Over the past six months, I’ve experienced the loss of not one, but two loved ones. They were both near and dear to me. They had a profound impact and rippling effect on my life. Their death reminds me of the importance of planning and prioritizing, as well as staying present and being adaptable to change – some expected, some not.
You can thrive, grow and reduce the accumulation of regrets by applying the Latin phrase, Memento Mori.
To create a meaningful life, you just need to think about what you would want to have in a eulogy for you. And don’t wait until it’s time to give a eulogy to tell your friends or loved ones how much they mean to you.
For more on how to prioritize what truly matters, check out my book, The Incrementalist at leanpub.com/incrementalist.
If you have questions or feedback, send me an email at email@example.com or drop them in the comments section of the YouTube channel.
If you found value in this episode, hit the like and share buttons. And if you want to keep learning on how to make big changes in small steps, be sure to subscribe. Thank you for being with me and join me again on The Incrementalist.
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