Why are so many of us fearful of death? Why are we afraid of our own death? Do we ever stop to contemplate it? Death and dying is an uncomfortable subject for most people, but it should not be. We will all experience death sooner or later, thus it only makes sense that we learn about it and prepare ourselves for the experience.
The Dalai Lama says “… man lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
The cycle of beginnings and endings is the foundation of all things. Every manifested event of matter or energy has a beginning and an ending, yet also neither begins nor ends.
But the fact is that we depend upon death to stay alive. ...
Our human mind struggles to deal with endings, especially with the ultimate ending, which is death, as it brings up fear of annihilation. Many people are afraid of death and do whatever they can to avoid it, not just in their environment, but also in their minds. However, the fact is we depend upon death to stay alive. Everything we eat had to sacrifice its life so we can be alive, even as a vegetarian or vegan. So we can say that death is inevitably part of what nourishes life.
Embracing death and aiming to have a conscious death without fear is one of the most essential tasks of life. Ultimately all fears are rooted in the fear of death.
According to Kabbalah, death is the ultimate crown of one’s lifetime. Kabbalists work deeply to preserve and protect the gift of life, yet they aspire to achieve a conscious death — one which can be a gateway to consciousness.
Kabbalists encourage us to do everything we can to honor and sustain life and avoid death. Every breath of life (Neshimah) is sacred as it sustains the soul (Neshamah) within the body.
Every soul has a divinely-ordained mission on the physical plane. When death arrives we are to accept it as another divinely-ordained mission. The Universe knows when our soul’s mission on the physical plane has been fulfilled. And the journey continues..
The Book of Splendor (the Zohar) teaches us that there is a four-fold process after death: separation from the physical realm; emotional cleansing; transcendent awareness; and, ultimately, divine union. These four stages are followed by what is called Gilgul (reincarnation).
Gilgul offers an opportunity to experience further correction. Through rebirth, a soul is given the gift of another lifetime to make amends for errors committed, an opportunity for self improvement and the fulfilling of good deeds.
As life is complex, so is its ending. Yet, it’s an inevitable step in the continuation of our soul’s journey. Living life to the fullest while embracing death is the key to the powerful authentic existence of our soul. In addition, it can bring enormous compassion for ourselves and others. When we truly understand that our own body is going to die, while not knowing when, and realizing that the same is true of everybody else, we inevitably want to treat ourselves and others better.
In early stages of the afterlife journey, the soul, which is separated from the body, experiences different visionary experiences. According to the Book of Splendor, angelic guides and ancestral beings escort the soul, from the time of death onwards, to a place where the soul will abide.
In addition, the Zohar states: “no man leaves the world before he sees the Shechinah, the Holy Spirit” (Zohar 3:88a) and “with the Shechinah there come three ministering angels to receive the soul of the righteous” (Zohar I, 98a).
So how can you start preparing yourself for death?
Step I: Invest in your spiritual growth while you are alive. The Talmud speaks of “heavenly academies,” where souls, after they depart from the physical plane and undergo their purification, learn Divine Spiritual Wisdom. The Talmud further informs us that the wo/man who enters the World to Come with this heavenly knowledge is happy. In essence, what you learn in this world, you shall learn on a much higher level in the Upper World. Yet, the revelations are to the degree of the efforts you exerted in this world. In other words, whatever investment you made while you were alive towards your spiritual growth you can reap at the moment of death and beyond.
Step II: Do not get attached to your personality. Your personality is often led by the ego versus our soul, which causes you to lose touch with consciousness. Your personality is not your identity. You must not become attached to your personality and build a lot of pride around it, as this is what may prevent you from having a conscious death. What is working through your personality are mainly desires to feel secure and accepted by others. In each incarnation you’ll take a new body, a new face and a new personality. Your personality is temporary. When your physical body dies, your personality dies with it. You do not carry your personality to your next incarnation. At the moment of death, our psychological state determines what will happen to us — where we go and what becomes of us. This is why it is important for us to learn to distinguish between our personality and the true identity of our soul.
Step III: Cultivate a relationship with God/ Goddess/ Spirit/ Universe while you’re alive. According to the Zohar, death is an illusion that we experience due to our restricted perspective of the ways of God. Great avatars such as Moses, Jacob, Jesus, Miriam and many others are considered to have reached a level of transformation where they didn’t experience death as we perceive it. The Zohar tells us that only those that are caught in an illusionary perception will perceive others as if they died. This fate, of course, is not kept for the few but for each and everyone of us. All we need is to aspire to unite with the Creator, with one another, and with the totality of creation. Indeed it is easier said than done, yet we must start now rather than at the hour of our death.
Step IV: Commit to preform truly selfless deeds, as when you do you draw God near you and tighten your bond with him. On the other hand, when you commit selfish deeds you disconnect from God, which is ultimately experienced as death and suffering. According to Kabbalah, the mission of life is to transform our desire to receive for ourselves alone to receive for the sake of giving pleasure to others. Through this process of transformation, you’ll be able to experience conscious death. Simply put, the purpose of life is to transform our desires.
Step V: Be open and receptive to revolutionizing your perception. You must be willing to see life and death for what they truly are — two sides of one phenomenon. As we are now in a living body, it is natural and unavoidable that we shall die. That is why we need to understand how to live life to the fullest and how to ultimately attain a conscious death. We need to understand why death is a prerequisite of nature, and moreover, that it must be harnessed.
Step VI: Continue to examine and understand yourself – your mind, why you suffer, what is your karma, how you got here, and ultimately how you can move to dharma (destiny). That work can continue after death. This is the same work that can be done in dreams when we are conscious that we are dreaming (lucid dreaming).
Step VII: Review each day at bedtime. The Zohar teaches us that after death wo/man shall have visions of his/her own life: “When God desires to take back a wo/man’s spirit, all the days that s/he lived in this world pass before him/her in review” (Zohar I, 221b). When you do the same process every night you shall be prepared when the movie of your life is shown to you. Simply at bedtime review the day backwards and any part of it that was challenging send light to it. This process takes only a few minutes. Get in the habit of practicing it daily!