There is an expression in spiritual literature that we, who are pursuing enlightenment, are to ‘die before you die.’ It’s difficult to know how to describe that to someone trying to understand ‘enlightenment oriented’ spirituality for the first time.
However, recently I had a conversation with someone who actually did die, and was revived. They told me something fascinating: later they found, without trying, that they had a totally different experience of life. (I use ‘they’ to hide their identity.) They started to notice a spontaneous arising of gratitude for life itself and for every relationship and physical possession. They also talked about a focus on the Present Moment that had arisen and remained their focus, and a loss of preoccupation with needless anxiety and worry. These changes had all occurred without any effort at all, as a result of dying and being revived.
I was delighted for my friend’s newfound experience of Presence and gratitude, but not so thrilled with how they got there. There is another way to arrive at gratitude and Presence, and we’d call this the path to spiritual awakening and enlightenment. Through a combination of practices including meditation, practicing Presence (a ‘walking around meditation’), and questioning the truthfulness of thoughts and attitudes about everything we think, we can come to an understanding of our actual deepest nature.
If ‘we’ can watch thoughts and feelings arise, then we aren’t just our thoughts and feelings. Since thoughts and feelings are the essential of our supposed ‘ego’ then that ego proves to be ephemeral and impermanent. As our attention goes deeper and deeper into the heart of our Being, into That which watches thoughts and feelings arise, and the boundaries between our deepest Being and the rest of Being (supposedly the ‘external world’ and the ‘Transcendent’) disappear, it becomes apparent that we are That….all of It, and not the ego after all.
Once the primacy of the ego is challenged and seen through, even once, then by continuing to do the above practices, the ego becomes more and more transparent and its power and control over the body dies. This is the actual experience that we refer to when we say ‘die before you die.’ As the ego’s primacy dies, it remains available as a series of processes that we can use to interact with the rest of the world. However, it no longer keeps the bodymind from an experience of the Present Moment, or from noticing everything that’s actually okay Right Now.
Just as my friend did, through an actual death and revival to life, if we ‘die before we die’ (the ego being stricken and dying before our physical death) then we begin to awaken to Life as a Present Moment experience. Anxieties prove to be illusions, if they’re about potential ‘catastrophes’ in the future, since they’re just generated by false thoughts which are attempting to predict the future. And, gratitude can arise for the natural state of peace and contentment that exists when we’re no longer pushed and pulled by the desire to make this Moment different than it is. The fruits of ‘dying before you die’ are worth the efforts of the spiritual path.