Most of us have heard the Native American term “it is a good day to die.” It was usually said in the movies by a Native warrior as he rode off into battle.
But how often do we think about what that really means? Do we live as though each day is a good day to die? Are we ready?
Most indigenous cultures understand that death is a natural part of the life cycle, and don’t fear it.
Modern American and European cultures do not have that understanding. While everyone knows they’re going to die, no one actually believes it.
And it’s a shame really, because being ready to die at any given moment means your life is spiritually rich and vibrant. It means you’re living with purpose and contribution.
What do you think happens when we die?
Death is not the opposite of life; it’s the opposite of birth. It’s not an ending; it’s a new beginning. Until we understand that, it’s only natural to be afraid of it.
There are many different religious believes as to what happens when we die. Some believe in heaven and hell, others reincarnation, others believe there is nothing after death.
We take on these beliefs as children, but they may change as we go through life and get exposed to other beliefs.
I was raised as a Catholic to believe in heaven and hell, but that changed as a teenager as I was searching for more meaning in life. I remember watching the 1970s television show Kung Fu, in which the master told the student, “death is walking into the next room, the next phase of your journey.”
That made perfect sense to me and helped form my view of death. I now believe, in the words of Chief Seattle, “There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
“I believe that our friends among the dead really mind us and look out for us . . .We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation or pain. They are home. They are with God from whom they came.” John O’Donohue in Anam Cara
We leave this physical body, this “bag of bones” as some Natives call it, and become spirit guides, guardian angels, ancestors.
The Roman poet Lucan summarizes the Celtic attitude to death as follows: “Death is the middle of a long life.”
The Sufis have a saying, attributed to Mohammed, “Die before you die.” Meaning during your lifetime, let go of ego, base desires, things that keep you away from God. So that when you die, you die into God.
Muslims pray to die doing something good. That seems like a very nice way to go.
After the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in 1995, there was a photo that made headlines around the country of a fireman carrying out a grievously injured infant girl.
After the event, Bear Heart was asked to provide grief counseling for Federal Building rescue workers. One of the people he counseled was that very same fireman, who told Bear Heart he felt he could never hold a child again because she died in his arms.
Bear Heart helped him reframe that experience by pointing out he had the privilege of holding her as she went home to her Creator.
Living as though it is a good day to die
One of the great disservices in modern culture is being taught that death is an end.
Just as the trees lose their leaves in the fall and are reborn in the spring, the natural cycle of life is death and rebirth.
So how do we live so fully that we are ready at any point to “go home”?
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Steve Jobs
A hospice nurse recorded her conversations with her patients over the years and put the results in a book called, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” Here they are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
If you’re reading this, you’re alive and can make sure you never have those regrets. Act on them now!
- Live a life true to yourself.
- Play more.
- Express your feelings.
- Stay in touch with friends.
- Be happier.
If you live that way, every day is a good day to die.
What would you do if you knew this were your last day on earth, lived with health and energy, so you can do anything you want? I invite you to think about this and feel free to write your answer in the comments.