Miguel Ruiz Jr. reveals how facing our mortality can open us to living life fearlessly and fully.
“Find your way out. Go home and master death by becoming alive.”
My father said to this to me at the apex of my apprenticeship in our family’s beautiful oral tradition, just before sending me out on my own to apply my teachings. Having been submerged in my Toltec training during that year, my perception had changed greatly, and venturing back into my everyday life was not the easy transition I imagined.
Still his statement did not overly concern me. Death was just another lesson I needed to master. I walked away thinking, “I need to face my own mortality.” I placed my attention there for some time, believing that is where I would find my answers.
But I was made aware of our mortality many years earlier. When I was just 5 or 6 years old, a girl in my neighborhood was hit by a car and killed. She was roughly my age, and I have a vivid memory of seeing her father crying in his car in front of his house. I can still feel the impact that event had on me, and the feeling of emptiness that goes along with it. A child my age had died, and watching her father cry, I not only saw his pain and grief, but I knew at that moment I could die too.
As a result, I began to think about death and to fear it from a very early age. The constant need to know what happens next, or to know how death feels, started to shape some of my actions and interactions. This affected my sense of faith in myself.
On a side note, I want to be clear that I have no idea what happens after that moment of death. The world is full of stories that allow me to fill that void in my knowledge, and I can pick and choose the ones I want. Growing up Catholic, I naturally fall back on the notion that we all go back to God. My father describes a moment where a drop in the ocean, which up to that moment only had the perception throughout life of being a single drop, expands its perception to encompass the whole ocean at the moment of death. Of course, both of our ideas are just stories—stories that can comfort us, or they can shape our lives, depending on how attached we become to them.
Have you ever seen anyone die? If you have, then you might be able to relate with what I am about to share with you. My uncle and godfather Duc Nguyen was a mechanic. One day, they found him unconscious on the floor of his shop. He had sustained a heavy blow to his head by either an instrument falling on his head, or from passing out and hitting the floor hard. He was rushed to the emergency room. In the ICU, they had to remove a piece of his cranium in order to release the pressure from the swelling of his brain, to no avail. After some tests, his responses were becoming primitive, and his brain function was gone. My cousins and my aunt had to make the tough choice of letting him go.
I was there in the hospital, and was in the intensive care unit with my family to be with him as he passed away. I was privileged to be holding one of his hands. Even though he was unconscious, I felt his warmth. I could feel him and he was alive. When you disconnect someone from life support, death doesn’t happen fast like in the movies. It’s a slow process, but when the breath starts shifting, you know the moment is coming near. The sound of the last breath was so finite, with the dramatic sound of the heart monitor emitting a long sustained beep giving us confirmation he was gone.
Beside the pain of loosing my uncle, two things impacted me the most: the first being that just moments before I could still feel my uncle as I held his hand, but on that moment after his death, I couldn’t feel him. He was gone, along with his warmth. I didn’t let go of his hand, yet he was gone. I knew that. I also learned that when he was alive, his body was alive, full of intent, but at the moment of death his body became an object without any intent to move it. It became an inanimate object, just like the desk that I am writing this article on.
My beloved uncle taught me the lesson my father had asked me to learn. At the moment of death, intent—the force that animated his body—was gone. My physics lessons from when I was young: “In order for matter to move, there needs to be a force that moves it,” and “Energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed.” I am the force that moves my body, and gives life to this mind. The difference between my corpse and me is my life intent. This realization helped me see that not only did I need to release my fear of mortality; I needed to shed my fear of living as well.
I am alive to move, to dance, to sing, to live, to love! I am not this body, just as much I am not this mind, but I am the force, the intent, that gives life to this body and mind. I am the whole. My life energy uses both mind and body to work together to manifest anything in life. I can imagine the most wonderful opportunity with my mind, and I can manifest it with this body. While I am alive, anything is possible!
The beautiful thing about accepting your own mortality is that it allows you to become aware that you are alive at this very moment. Yes, one day I will pass away, but there is plenty of life to be lived between now and then, and my gratitude of being alive is expressed through my happiness.
Having fear in a moment of danger is natural because the main function of fear in my life is to keep me safe and alive by either fleeing, fighting, or freezing at that moment of danger. Abusing the projected possibility of irrational fear, like experiencing fear from a movie, or with any other danger that is only present in your imagination, can make you afraid of living life.
This is how I came to peace with fear. By admitting that I abused fear, like one abuses alcohol, believing it was real even when the fear was irrational, and in so doing I lost faith in myself. By accepting that truth I was able to see the clear distinction between rational and irrational fear and not let irrational fear keep me from living my life.
The other big benefit of coming to terms with our own mortality is we also realize the mortality of everyone we love. How we choose to share this moment is up to us, because we have the opportunity to manifest a bond between those we love and enjoy every minute we have together. While I am alive, I am free to manifest and enjoy my experience of life.
Are you currently letting irrational fear stop you from living? Then master death by becoming alive, face the irrational fear to both living and dying that is holding you back and enjoy being alive with the people you love.
Photo: Flickr/Jiaren Lau