Matters of life and death... mostly death, actually. In the media this spring.
Details aside, now that death is on the agenda, we must talk about it.
We need to have a conversation about death.
And where to begin...?
In ancient times, of course.
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... According to legend, this is what a Roman military commander would hear whispered in his ear. When riding his triumphal chariot in the victory parade.
”Memento Mori” is latin and means, ”Remember that you’re a mortal. Remember that you’re going to die.”
When the commander was met by cheers from the crowd he had a slave standing behind him on the chariot whispering Memento Mori
in his ear. Otherwise the commander might get hubris, starting to belive that he was more than human, a god.
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Counteracting hubris: you have to be aware of your mortality. This brings sobriety to your whole thought, your whole mindset, your whole way of being.
A conscious esotericist always has the concept of Memento Mori alive in him.
needs to have this ingrated in his being.
And it’s not about indulging in symbols and moods of death and decay per se.
Nothing of that...!
Memento Mori is about soberly knowing that your physical body one day will cease to function, i.e., ”die”. The soul lives on but the physical body dies and decays sooner or later. An esotericist has to know this.
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I’m not the first one saying this. The Existential School of Thought (Sartre, Simone Weil, Heidegger) all had a knowledge of death, of your mortality as a cornerstone of their thought. So if even a nihilist like Sartre acknowledged death then I can’t see why this would be so hard to realize for the man in the street.
This quote from a book by Carlos Castaneda puts the matter to a head. The words are said by his teacher, Don Juan: ”In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.” [Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan, p 56]
The neophyte Castaneda has to learn memento mori in order to become an esoteric operator. After some weeks of trying this, trying to get acquainted with the thought of death, he's panic stricken. Because, he has never thought about death systematically before.
He asks his teacher, Don Juan, what to do. And Don Juan says:
Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ’I haven’t touched you yet.’ [ibid p 51]
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Even J. W. Goethe knew about death and wrote about it.
He was aware of this: that if you acknowledge death, the fact that the life of the physical body is limited, then you’re spiritually free. It’s expressed in the dictum ”stirb und werde,” ”dying and becoming”. We find this in the poem ”Seelige Sehnsucht”, ”Blissful Yearning”. Here’s the last stanza, translated by A. S. Kline:
And as long as you lack this
true word: Die and Become!
You’ll be but a dismal guest
in Earth’s darkened room.
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Without indulging in it, without becoming a necrophile, you have to acquaint yourself with the thought of death.
The first time with death occupying your mind in this way isn't fun. This I admit. See the Castaneda experience above; he went through it, I went through it. The tribulation of getting to know death, to familiarise yourself with it, internalise it.
But when you're through it you are free, spiritually free.
You can't avoid facing death. So I say, face it and grow up. Face it and become spiritually mature.
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If you want this kind of lesson in print, then read Chapter One and Chapter Three of this book.
In it, more or less the above approach to death is covered as MMM = the Memento Mori Mindset.
And in Chapter Ten, I tell about the specific lesson I, LS, got from Castaneda regarding Memento Mori:
As for Castaneda his books above all taught me Memento Mori. This was in the mid 1990s, the lesson was hard to learn but I did embrace it after a while. It took time. But it was worth it, worth the endured angst. Castaneda taught me to face death, sober up in view of this and to assume responsibility for who I am and what I do. For this I am eternally grateful. [Svensson, Actionism, p 91]
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Again, we need to have a conversation about death. This year, next year, always.
And, the above text is an outline of such a conversation.
Actionism -- the Next Big Thing
Painters and Draughtsmen
Painting: Robert Svensson