Memento Mori.

February 25, 2024

Memento Mori.

May 29, 2023

Chip: Rocky may be our most prolific guest poster and his essays always fill me with inspiration.

For many weeks I have sensed a keen awareness that my physical life may be nearing its expiration date. Around the world someone is dying every second of every day. A Google search states 109 billion people have lived and died and, one day, I will die, too. The Latin, “memento mori,” comes from Epictetus, the Greek Stoic Philosopher, and states, “remember, you must die.” 

As I reach for my key fob, I have an “aha” moment. Keys represent going somewhere, the freedom to leave on my own terms - unlocking something - and can serve as the perfect talisman for memento mori. 

The day before my father died, he darted around the room asking, “Where are my car keys, I need my car keys, Rock?” With dry macular degeneration, Dad had not driven in years. The hospice worker said patients searching for keys help them process their imminent departure.

Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski (and an MEA faculty member) says, “Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.”

At the end of most yoga āsana traditions, we practice śavāsana/corpse pose, reminding ourselves someday we will be asked to let go of our physical bodies, the ultimate act of transition. I have practiced śavāsana thousands of times in my thirty-year yoga journey. Have all these experiences created a cumulative effect? An internal shift where I am now keenly aware of the temporal nature of all human life? Specifically my own life? My own death?

Three years ago, I broke my back. I was about to teach yoga and a table collapsed, forcing me to the floor. I could feel my twenty-four vertebrae smashing one on top of the other. The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t feel my legs as the paramedics arrived. Shortly after, I passed out. Life changed in an instant.   

I recognize it is up to me to make each day meaningful. Curiosity and intuition create the keys to go beyond the surface and connect more authentically with others. Being present and actively listening to others helps me move beyond my individual self and find a deeper joy in being alive. When I’m feeling joy, this emotion tells me I am indeed connected to my true self, my Sat Nam, my authentic self. 

Remembering the finiteness of my life helps me be conscious when my mind goes negative. Holding my memento mori reminds me to let go of the trivial and the mundane, the judging, the annoying, any feelings of being less than.

While I recovered from my fall and my back healed, tomorrow’s sunrise has no guarantee. I may not always possess my physically able body and agile mind. A favorite tee-shirt has the moniker, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” On any given day, consider asking yourself, “Is this a good day to die?”

-Rocky

Rocky Blumhagen, two-time Baja MEA alum, 28 Degrees and Deep River cohorts. A Stanford DCI alum, '2019 and current Oxford University Next Horizons Scholar. A yoga and mindfulness practitioner. You can read Rocky's expanded thoughts on this post here

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