Learning From Death: Lessons About a Meaningful Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Untethered Soul" by Michael A. Singer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What lessons can you learn from death? How is the awareness of the fact that you can die any minute help you experience life more fully?

Death is your greatest spiritual teacher. The secret to living a fulfilling and meaningful life lies in the lessons your death has to teach you. And you don’t have to wait until the end of your life to attend to them. You can practice them right now.

Here are seven spiritual lessons you can learn from death.

7 Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn From Death

1) The treasure of life. It doesn’t take things away, it gives them to you. Your life is a tiny blip in an unfolding of reality that’s billions of years old. The reality of death enables you to appreciate the things in your experience of this stupendous cosmic dance that you’ve always taken for granted, the experiences you’ve never really paid attention to because you were stuck in a mental hyperworld where you pursued egocentric unrealities. 

2) Perspective shift. If you knew you were going to die tonight, this would change how you view everything. And the fact is, you will die. Maybe in 30 years. Maybe in the next 60 seconds. Let this create the same change in your perspective right now. Let it lead you to straighten your affairs and let go of problems and grudges.

3) Understanding your priorities. Appreciation of death leads you to give up any desire for “special” experiences that you might miss because of death. It shows you that such desires are what keep you from being fully present for real experiences in each moment. 

4) Love. It makes you more deeply cherish your time with your loved ones. It makes you more present and attentive with them.

5) Courage. When you embrace and live from the fact that you will die, you won’t have any last wishes, because you will have taken risks and achieved your wishes in every moment. 

6) Death makes you really live. For someone who’s truly awakened, the arrival of death doesn’t change anything about how they’ve been living, because a person has already been living fully, saying yes to life, living in the bliss of nonresistance and nonclinging. 

How to Practice the Teaching

To practice the lessons of death, you don’t have to change what you do. Instead, change how you do it and how much of you is present for it. Appreciate walking, breathing, rainfalls, arguments, good food, bad food, literally everything, more intensely than you ever have before. Every moment of your life can fill you completely and touch the very depths of your being, like the experience of finally hearing your favorite classical composition played by your favorite orchestra.

Think of death any time you’re having trouble. Are you experiencing anger or jealousy? Think of what it will be like when you’re dead and gone. This will put the immediate trigger in perspective and elicit compassion for whoever or whatever is inciting your feelings.

Study the words and actions of the great spiritual teachers, who fully embrace death. St. Paul said, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” Buddhists contemplate the temporal nature of all things. Yogis meditate in graveyards. Take inspiration and guidance from such people.

Learning From Death: Lessons About a Meaningful Life

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  • How to find your true self instead of your false identities
  • Why getting lost in the moment is important
  • Why death is the greatest spiritual teacher about life

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