The Dash Between Two Dates (A Death Meditation)

What will be left of all the fearing and wanting associated with your problematic life situation that every day takes up most of your attention?  A dash – one or two inches long, between the date of birth and date of death on your gravestone.

-Ekhart Tolle

November 14, 2011.  Partway through a very stressful month at work, I took some morning meditation time to sit and stare at that dash between the two dates on my gravestone.  It’s a scary and expanding way to meditate, but a perfect Give Up and Die practice. Meditating on your own death has been used for centuries as a way to improve life.  I like Ekhart Tolle’s quote because it is so concrete.  The dash between a birth date and a death date!  Is that all we are?

You should try a death meditation.  Here’s how mine went:

I began by sitting silently–I use a cushion, but a chair works too–staring at that dash for a few moments (the entire summary of my life).  I tried to really see the gravestone vividly.  Mine was one of those little flat slabs embedded in the ground (does this say something about my self-esteem at the moment?  Or is it because I  used to mow a cemetery lawn, so I know how hard it is to go around all those giant monuments).  Next I looked up to my name etched in stone.  I felt like Scrooge in the final scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future.  And of course, that was Dicken’s point, which Scrooge figured out.  After seeing my name, I really felt my heart start to beat.  Then I looked up and around.  I saw the faces of my grown children surrounding the little mound of fresh brown dirt.  I wondered what they had said at the funeral.  Yikes!  My stomach dropped.  Suddenly, I was not worried about what they were going to say in five days or fifty years, I was worried about what I had said last night?  Was I patient and compassionate–as I re-vow every day to be.  Or was I bothered and impatient, as I often am during a stressful time.  Did I rush the bedtime ritual with my boys because I needed to get back to a stack of papers and a cold beer?  Did I not take in and enjoy every little cuddle with my two-year old daughter who someday will be too big to cuddle?

I looked for friends around the tomb (I was surprised to see a couple there, considering how busy I’ve been; sometimes, I forget to respond to emails and texts).  But Thank God, there were a few.  Maybe there were even a few of my students in the back of the crowd.

One thing nobody seemed to mention or worry about at my funeral was whether the mound of paperwork I’m required to do this month was meticulous.

Bingo.  That’s what I needed to remember.

And just like that I felt a knot loosen in my chest.  What, after all, had I been so stressed out about?  Paperwork, it turned out.  Absolutely nothing that mattered.

Give Up all that is not essential And remember you will Die…it’s the only way to live.

Of course, I’ll still do the damn paperwork because I need to pay the mortgage, but I’m not going to worry about it (at least for today).  Right now I’m worried about what really matters, and that’s how quickly I can get my ass home from work and back on the floor with my daughter, surrounded by a band of horses and a sea of Legos and two laughing boys dressed up as pirates.

Read my other post on meditation:  Meditation is a complete waste of time…you should try it.

Or find other posts of interest here.