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Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
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Death Meditation

from chapter 13 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Most spiritual paths begin by recognizing the impermanence of human life. Medieval Christians honored this in the mystery play of Everyman. Don Juan, the Yaqui sorcerer, taught that the enlightened warrior walks with death at his shoulder. To confront and accept the inevitability of our dying releases us from triviality and frees us to live boldly.  

An initial meditation on the Buddhist path involves reflection on the twofold fact that: “death is certain” and “the time of death is uncertain.” In our world today, nuclear weaponry, serving in a sense as a spiritual teacher, does that meditation for us, for it tells us that we can die together at any moment, without warning. When we allow the reality of that possibility to become conscious, it is painful, but it also jolts us awake to life’s preciousness, heightening our awareness of the beauty and uniqueness of each object, and each being.

Look at the person you encounter (stranger or friend). Let the realization arise in you that this person lives on an endangered planet. He or she may die in a nuclear war, or from the poisons spreading through our world. Observe that face, unique, vulnerable… those eyes still can see; they are not empty sockets… the skin is still intact… become aware of your desire that this person be spared such suffering; feel the strength of that desire… keep breathing…  

Also let the possibility arise in your consciousness that this may be the person who is with you when you die… that face the last you see… that hand the last you touch… it might reach out to help you then, to comfort, to give water… open to the caring and connection that arise in you…

Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown