The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day, when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.
The first time I came across this passage was in high school when I first read Hagakure. At the time I was a bit confused as to what it all meant. I had no concept of meditation other than basic prayer and only stumbled upon the book because I was really into samurai at the time. After reading through the book a few times I started to get a greater understanding of the different ways in which we can utilize meditation.
One of the problems with the modern world is that the fear of death is exaggerated to an extreme level. Most everything we do is predicated on the fact that we could die. We make decisions every day based on the threat of death looming around the corner.
The threat still exists, but it’s influencing a lot of stuff that it shouldn’t. The fact is that if you are living in America, your safety is much greater than in ancient times. Unfortunately our minds are still stuck in the past evolutionarily speaking.
Every little decision we make these days is hampered by the thought that if we make the wrong one we are going to die as a result.
In this era of relative safety, we should be thriving, but instead many are frozen unable to make a decision one way or the other. Ironically, making no decision is the most dangerous one.
Humans have been dealing with this fear since the dawn of man, and many techniques have been created to get past this fear. Leave it to the samurai to come up with an awesome method to deal with the fear of death.
When Hagakure was written, it was a time of relative peace in Japan for about 100 years. The Samurai were making a transition from warriors to middle managers. However, the Samurai still pined for the ways of old when death stared you in the face every day. As a result of this constant threat of very real death, the Samurai developed a meditation technique to get through the day and do their duties. This was passed down through the generations and was found to have great benefits even in a time of peace.
In essence, the Samurai developed a way to experience exposure therapy to death by using their imagination. The theory going that if you could envision experiencing your own death through meditation, it wouldn’t seem as bad. In this way, the fear of your actual death would begin to subside.
This is the death meditation.
How to perform the death meditation
Performing the death meditation is as easy as imagining yourself dying. However, it’s a good idea to personalize it for yourself.
- Sit down and close your eyes
- Imagine a scenario in which you are likely to die
- Try to think about the last seconds of life before giving up and dying.
- Think about what feelings you are having when you are finally dying and the fear you have before your eventual death.
- Now, after you have gone thorough that scenario a few times, take stock of your feelings. Do you still feel as scared?
This exposure therapy of sorts should make you less anxious to make big decisions in your life. More importantly, you will have less hesitation when making a decision.
My brush with Death
Whenever I do the death meditation, I like to draw on personal experience to make it more visceral and effective. One time I came very close to death. So much so that I’m not sure that I even made it out alive. Sometimes I think that I died and have been living in limbo ever since.
In 2003 I went to a movie with some friends. I was sitting in the passenger seat going down Rt 611 in Pennsylvania across from the naval base. If anyone is familiar with the area they’ll know that this particular spot is a dangerous spot.
For some reason my friend who was driving took a sharp left across 4 lanes to pull into a diner. I can remember looking out of the window to my right staring at another car about to crush us. I thought to myself, “Oh fuck”.
The car crashed into us and I got knocked out immediately. I woke up in the parking lot of the diner and kicked the now mangled door open to get out. I remember looking up at the diner and seeing everyone in the window with a horrified look on their faces.
I came out of it with a concussion and a broken bone in my back. The kid in the back wasn’t so lucky. They had to drill into his head to relieve the pressure on his brain and it took about a month for him to fully recover.
I think about this all the time and realize how I almost died. Then I remember that I didn’t die and things just don’t seem as tough when put up against that.
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