To most people death is the ultimate enemy. To the sage death is the ultimate adviser. Here is Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, speaking to his student apprentice, Carlos Castaneda:
Death is our eternal companion. It is always at our left at arm’s length….It has always been watching you…It always will until the day it taps you…
The thing to do when you are impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if you catch a glimpse of it or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.
I invite you to make a list of all of your problems and concerns; then ask yourself, “How many of these things would be a problem if I had only one week to live?” And then ask a second question: “If I had but one week to live, what would be important to me?”
What questions will you ask yourself at that time? Will it be “Did I make enough money?” Or “Did I get through my To Do list?” Probably not; more likely it will be, “Did I live well? Did I love well? Is the world a better place because of my life?”
Seeing death as your adviser is a powerful spiritual practice because it really pulls the rug out from under the ego! All transformative spiritual practice is designed to annihilate the ego and perhaps nothing will do this more quickly than the reminder of our own death.
This practice is not a morbid preoccupation with death but rather it’s a focus on how we are living our own life right now. Remembering that the span of my life is limited makes my remaining days all the more precious. It encourages me to not waste energy on matters of little consequence and instead to focus on what really matters most in my life right now.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This is not advocating that anyone engage in martyrdom. This is a deep wisdom teaching that shows us how to realize our own True Nature. It tells us that whoever clings to the life of the ego will ultimately lose everything, but whoever is willing to let go of the egocentric life will discover their True Nature, which can never be lost.
The ego is like a caterpillar; it’s not intended to be the end of our development, but simply one stage of it. As the caterpillar dies it’s born into its fullest nature as the butterfly.
This practice may trigger some anxiety; it is very important not to run from that experience. Explore the anxiety to understand how you may be clinging to life as you believe it to be--and in that clinging denying yourself the experience of being truly alive in the deepest sense of the word.
Facing your death may feel like annihilation, but in reality it’s just the opposite. It is not death, but awakening to your true life. “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” These words of the Apostle Paul exemplify the experience of one who has “died” to the old life and has been reborn into a greater reality.
Don Juan continues his instruction: “Death is the only wise adviser we have. Whenever you feel …that you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch.”
As you fully understand this then you touch that which is beyond birth and death: the timeless reality that is your true home.