Aging gives us a chance to learn to use the shadows in our life as vehicles for our awakening — and the longest shadow of all is death. How you relate to death is the key spiritual work of aging. And how you see death is a function of how much you identify with that which dies. Egos die. Souls don’t die. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
But this: that one can contain
death, the whole of death,
even before life has begun,
can hold it to one’s heart
gently, and not refuse to go on living,
I encourage you to make peace with death, to see it as the culminating event of this adventure called life. Death is not an error; it is not a failure. My astral teacher, Emmanuel, says it is like taking off a tight shoe. Confucius says, “Those that find the Way in the morning can gladly die in the evening.”
For some of us, the subject of death is easy to talk about, and for some of us, it’s a little threatening and frightening. I recognize all that. But part of the essential spiritual work for us at any age is to find a way to be with death. An old tombstone inscription reads:
Please know as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now so you will be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.
Take that epitaph as a blessing from beyond, and let us prepare ourselves. I realize it’s presumptuous of me to talk about death, as if I know about it, but I have chutzpah, which is Sanskrit for “a lot of nerve.” In my meanderings through realms of consciousness over the past fifty years, something happened to me that changed my attitude toward death. A lot of the fear that surrounds death has left me. Partly that is from being with my guru and getting glimpses of his perspective. He saw life and death from beyond the physical body, as part of a long parade of births and deaths.
– Excerpt from Polishing the Mirror: How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart