March 3, 2014

How Often Do We Die Each Day?


Life is short.

We try not to be, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid feeling attached to life and scared of one day not being alive anymore. So we berate ourselves for failing to make the most of each moment; but it’s not long before we’re right back in our comfort zone, all thoughts of doing something new, maybe meaningful, pushed off for later.

But in that tiny, blink-of-an-eye moment between making ambitious plans for renewal, and shelving those plans for that sweet mid-afternoon nap, there has been a little death. Which means that new life followed, because it always does.

It reminds me of something French philosopher, critic and flâneur chronicler Walter Benjamin wrote about fashion: fashion, just by existing, predicates its own demise. Fashion reminds us that life has history. History itself is eternal, but this history is full of ruptures and insertions of the new, which can never last.

It exists as fashion because it’s new. And because it’s new, it will soon not be new anymore, which means it will no longer be fashionable. Clothing and accessories come into the world with a very finite lifespan; the fashion industry is built on the very notion of killing what was once king. (Of course, fashions return—cycles repeat—but that’s another story).

We—our bodies, minds, consciousness—function in the same way. By being alive, we have an inbuilt guarantee of one day not being alive anymore.

And this doesn’t have to be terrifying. I love the way this video shows the fusion of body and fashion, and how vibrant life is even as its transitory trends—and the bodies that wear them—are dying a little each second.


Just like we happily toss garments aside for new ones, we can learn to make the fact of our imminent deaths a little less scary is by seeing how often we are already doing it.

We are masters of dying!

We are. We don’t just need to remember to live as though we are dying. We are actually dying. All the time. Not just in that great-big-sigh sense; we are approaching our inevitable deaths with each breath that we take. If we pull back a little, we can really observe all the deaths that happen to us, even in a single day.

So many times.

We die first thing in the morning, when we stumble out of the dream world into the day. We can gently remember to say goodbye to our dream self and begin waking life.

We die when we stumble into our favourite orange shirt that brightens up our skin, our mood, our day.

Another little death happens over breakfast, when food enters our empty belly and begins the process of swishing through our system, changing the very chemical fabric of our being.

And again, when we feel full, and suddenly a negative thought creeps into our mind; it could be about how we need to lose weight, or how our loved one just said the most annoying thing or anything in between.

Will we shake the bad mood? Analyze it dry? Observe it? Each outcome represents a passageway through another little death.

We stub a toe. We wait in line for the bus. Someone tells us they love our hair. We take a test. We give a test. We drink coffee and send a text. We catch ourselves smiling unaware and we’re caught in the throes of a memory.

We remember we have to do, that thing we dread, next week. Dinner plans didn’t work out and only one friend showed up. We remember what it was like to smoke and we miss it. We remember to look up and see it’s a full moon.

We hate things. We crave things. Our mind ambles through dark and confusing passageways and our body, ever-so-subtly, responds, making us over in profound ways.

The day is full of dying and coming back. To where? To us? A version of this self that we carry around and hold ideas about and sometimes cherish and sometimes remember not to take too seriously?

“Without our familiar props, we are faced with just ourselves, a person we do not know, an unnerving stranger with whom we have been living all the time but we never really wanted to meet. Isn’t that why we have tried to fill every moment of time with noise and activity, however boring or trivial, to ensure that we are never left in silence with this stranger on our own?”
~ The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

We get to choose how we come back. Every time we catch a glimpse of the person we’re coming back to—gone. Until the next time. There is so much beauty in the ever-persistent attempt to be in the world in a harmonious way.

More interesting than dying all the time is this notion that we keep coming back. We always have another moment to do things differently. Or to keep trying, over and over, at whatever it is that gives us meaning. With our bodies, our thumping, pounding, madly-living hearts.

“It is better to spend one day contemplating the birth and death of all things than a hundred years never contemplating beginnings and endings.”
~ Buddha

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Editorial Assistant: Jennifer Moore/ Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Jennifer Moore 

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