Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Make Death Your Ally

--by Duane Elgin (Jul 12, 2011)

Death is an important ally for appreciating life. I am not referring to a morbid preoccupation with death. Rather, I mean the felt awareness of our finitude as physical beings -- an honest recognition of the short time we have to love and to learn on this earth. The knowledge that our bodies will inevitably die burns through our attachments to the dignified madness of our socially constructed existence. Death is a friend that helps us to release our clinging to social position and material possessions as a source of ultimate security and identity. An awareness of death forces us to confront the purpose and meaning of our existence, here and now.

Those who have had near-death experiences confirm that awareness of death can be an uncompromising friend, putting us back in touch with what is most important. A common sentiment expressed by many near-death survivors is a decreased emphasis on money and material things and a heightened appreciation for nature and loving other people. Dr. Kenneth Ring, a researcher of near-death experiences, quotes a young man who had a near-death experience after a serious automobile accident. As a result the young man found that he developed an "awareness that something more was going on in life than just the physical part of it... It was just a total awareness of not just the material and how much we can buy -- in the way of cars and stuff, or food or anything. There's more than just consuming life. There's a point where you have to give to it and that's real important."
Gandhi once said, "Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for non-violence." If we are to lead nonviolent and loving lives, then we can begin by coming to terms with our own death. An appreciation that we must die awakens us from our social sleep and to the reality of our situation. Death is an unyielding partner in life -- an inescapable certainty to push against as we sort out the significant from the trivial in our daily lives. In this regard, consider the words of Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky, who was 85-years-old when she wrote, "If I Had My Life to Live Over":
"I'd like to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. . . . I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have."
We cannot hide from death. Its embrace will consume our social existence entirely. Job titles, social position, material possessions, sexual roles and images--all must yield to death. This does not mean that we should abandon our material and social existence. Rather, it means that in consciously honoring the fact of our physical death, we are thereby empowered to penetrate through the social pretense, ostentation, and confusion that normally obscure our sense of what is truly significant. An awareness of death is an ally for infusing our lives with a sense of immediacy, perspective, and proportion. In acknowledging the reality of death, we can more fully appreciate our gift of life.
If you were to choose death as an ally (as a reminder of the preciousness of each moment), and if you were to choose the universe as your home (as a reminder of the awesome dimensions of our existence), would a quality of aliveness, immediacy, and poignancy naturally infuse your moment-to-moment living? If you knew that you would die within several hours or days, would the simplest things acquire a luminous and penetrating significance? Would each moment become precious beyond all previous measure? Would each flower, each person, each crack in the sidewalk, each tree become a fleeting and never-to-be-repeated miracle? Simplicity of living helps brings this kind of clarity and appreciation into our lives
--Duane Elgin, in Make Death Your Ally

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On Jul 4, 2011 Conrad wrote:


Thanks much for the opportunity to respond.


After reading, Being No One, Going Nowhere, (maybe it was Pema Chodron's, I forget.) I have become more aware of how I want to be noticed and given attention, while at the same time, not wanting not to be noticed and not given attention. Being peaceful in the present moment helps me notice that as I live, so will I die. Being peaceful now, helps one die peacefully. I find joy in paradoxical events. Being born and dieing each second is a way that I find worthwhile. I also find, not knowing worthwhile. Paradoxically, I like to hear from people who know what they are talking about. I find I often do not know what I am talking about. I now believe kindness is everything and the only time one can be kind is now. Life and death are my allies. Life and death are one. If I were aware more often, I would be kinder.


Warm and kind regards to everyone.





On Jul 8, 2011 Bill Miller wrote:

Well, this is one of those sentiments that I agree with in principle, yet struggle with in practice. This may just pertain to me, but I'm also driven by a sense I'm here, given the gift life, with a mandate to contribute something meaningful to the whole enterprise before passing on. I'm not sure that I've done that, and I'm not sure I've even found my proper niche where that can be accomplished. In that sense then, death seems like a looming, ticking deadline - what if the potential is not realized in time?

I guess the standard answer is to simply be appreciative of the small things - whatever is - and to not be attached to any particular "big" thing.  Yet unrealized potential always seems sad to me.

Anyway, I'll be interested to hear other's thoughts.

On Jul 9, 2011 PK wrote:

When we choose death as an ally as Duane suggests, fear disappears. Sadness stops bothering us as much as usually does. We begin to accept things as they are and enjoy the process of living more than ever.

Everything happens through cycles -- seasons, waves, sunrise and sunset, sleep -- you name it, it has a cyclical nature. Why is that life cannot have the same cyclical nature. We are born, we live and then we die to be born again -- right? it feels much simpler once we have death as an ally.

On Jul 9, 2011 Edit Lak wrote:
Every day we wake is just another day we are closer to our death... Or so we believe

This is just another way of coping with the fears that have been built into us. Death is not pleasant, it’s an awakening to self, and that knowledge can be shocking.

Death has to be experienced daily to know that life truly exists. And by laying to rest each day the day’s sufferings, losses and pains in our lives, we accept to move on and live by accepting all deaths, that death brings us the ally of life
Death is to life, as life is to love, and ‘love’ is our strength.

So I think, it’s our own conflicts to the past, and insecurities to the fears of death-to die-that robs us of our life’s gift to totally live and understand in this moment - now.

By accepting and knowingly overcome the fear of our death, in life, changes life.

Change is death, every-time we change, we lay to rest the death of the past, from that death we take a step into our own consciousness, where we see and feel the true being of whom we really are and our immortality.

I think if we step beyond polarity and duality we realise we have infinity that is beyond any death that we believe we know... I was given a death card some years ago – It wasn’t the death card that scared me or made me weaker, it was the people around me constantly saying cancer, from that dark time I learned to meditate, I removed the cancer word from my vocabulary, the ‘word’ held the harm more than anything else, then a great peace and love came, so, a stronger happy, peacefulness and acceptance with love came from a darker side of death, and from that my life was born – what a great ally to have... And everyones got an ally.

Thanks for the reflection..

On Jul 10, 2011 susan schaller wrote:

"Life is short."  has become a meaningless cliché for most people.  It had for me, until I suddenly crumpled up with more pain than I ever imagined possible.  I would have died within 30 hours, but for emergency surgery.  On the way to the operating room, I knew I was dying, and saw Death, smelling His breath.  I woke up from surgery with a huge, bloated abdomen stapled together, grateful for the pain from the incision which was so much less than the pain before surgery.  I remember staring at my hands, saying, "I'm alive.  I'm alive."   Since then, I began living, noticing, then experiiencing my connections to my greater Self, the Self that is connected to all of you, to all of life.  I am not my body.  I am not my mind.  I am not my feelings.  All that dies.  I finally met unending Life and Love.  Thank you, Death, for the introduction.

On Jul 10, 2011 Kate wrote:
Thank you, Somik, I just asked myself the question about Death as ally, and it made me (surprised me!) realize that it already is, has always been, my ally and that that is what has helped me *to* live.

Death has already been, always will be, on my side, on my team. I just realized how awesome my team is. :)

On Jul 10, 2011 Shariq wrote:

As the philosopher says, "death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death" and, as such, the taste of what happens to us then may pass us by, though, as the poet says, because of what happens to us then we come alive as the taste of love in each morsel that nurtures the creation until the end of the time:
Post Humus
Scatter my ashes in my garden
so I can be near my loves.
Say a few honest words, 
sing a gentle song,
join hands in a circle of flesh.
Please tell some stories
about me making you laugh.
I love to make you laugh.

When I've had time to settle
and green gathers into buds,
remember I love blossoms
bursting in spring.
As the season ripens
remember my persistent passion.

And if you come in my garden
on an August afternoon,
pluck a bright red globe,
let juice run down your chin
and the seeds stick to your cheek.

When I'm dead I want folks to smile
and say, "That Patti, she sure is
some tomato!"

Source: Patti Tana,
Ask the Dreamer Where Night Begins:
Poems & Postscripts, 1986

On Jul 10, 2011 Navin wrote:

Life/Death are two side of one coin I am grateful that after two heart surgeries and mejor heart attack I am ready to climb mountins .my mother used to tell us when I was young child in small village in inda due to maleria and no medical service in village everyone thought I was dead and were preparing to cremate accept mother she did not release my body to them she held me close to her heart and hour latter I open my eyes. in 2005 while climbing mountain I suffered mejor heart attack , some lady doctor was behind us and she recognise situation and gave me treatment beside other exp.I worked 37 years with elderly in nursing home where Death and dying is every day event     ---------- without faith and human compassion its impossible to suffering of life and death most of time when person departs this body after old age and sickness we call it blessing that person is not suffering and he or she is resting now

 its our attachment to this body and material world we forget death is with us and will greet us any moment we are numb or Ignorent to starving children anywhere in the world that is living Death? Mahatma Gandhi once said if we eat more than we need or keep more than we need, some where in the world someone isnot eating enough or starving of their needs isnt that also death of the  human conscience ----- one must focus living Rightously. Then just like mystery of Love and Life and Death understanding comes from within. Our scripture explains very clearly Shri Krishna explains in Geeta  Death is like  changing bodies  like we discard old clothes and wear new clothes. Our attachment to this ever transient world triggers all feelings and emotions Life and  Death.  These worldly attachments are ignorance, and if our conscience evolves  beyond our  ignorance of the  truth, spiritual knowledge, and wisdom then there is no such thing as Death. Nishkam Prem is living life with selfless love for  all creation. This will bring us eternal Life where  there is no Death and no Doubts or Question its beyond words.

  With love alwyas,


On Jul 10, 2011 Ricky wrote:

As I continue to age, I notice a shift in consciousness.  When young, my mom helped instill in me a fear of everything.  I did not have this fear earlier, but can remember this nagging tug at how awful life really is from about age 5 on under her tutelage...I am now aware she received this indoctrination early in her life too.  The difference now is that she is still fearful, and my fear has changed to something else.  My fear has turned to a sense of deep inner peace as I connect to the quiet realization that there is so much more than this experience, and that this moment is to be experienced with every sense, even those beyond the scientifically accepted five senses.  This is not to say that I don't feel fear, but now I internally welcome the lesson that rises up from the awareness of that fear, and welcome the next breath, becoming fully present once more. I sat with my dear laborador when he took his last breath about three years ago in the side yard.  I was brought immediately to the moment, to the beautiful serenity after his spirit flew, leaving behind the struggles and pain he had recently been dealing with.  It was my extreme honor to care after his earthsuit left behind, being fully content and at peace.  I miss his earthsuit more than I can ever express, but am fully at peace knowing the spirit that experienced life here with me has arrived in another earthsuit of some sort, to experience the finite once again.  I now look at wildlife and nature around my home in a whole new way, and also have looked into the eyes of the children I work with and connected with the spirit I share with them.  It helps me slow down.  It reminds me of the fact that Love is the only thing...if it is indeed a thing...only Love. 

On Jul 12, 2011 anne lawlor wrote:

can't remember it accurately or the author but it goes something like this... "To keep life in perspective we must keep death in our field of vision"....

On Jul 12, 2011 smile wrote:

I feel blessed to read this passage and comments. These contain peace, strength and happiness embedded within with the message to be good, loving all the time.

Thanks a lot

On Jul 13, 2011 Gulrez wrote:

I never witnessed death closely as such but an incident helped me change my attitude towards life. I have always known that deep down I am a relation person who is more into having quality life rather running for the materialist pleasures. Somewhere I messed up with my relations with my mother, my father, my brothers and my friends too as negativity in one aspects affects everything else... and I know what the reason behind that was. Being in relations truly and living life the way it comes requires lot of emotional maturity and acceptance within to handle what comes ones way. I was not emotionally sorted out and I never accepted and loved myself. So I tried running away from my relations, not out of fear of how they would react to my realities but, because I was scared of handling the pulls and pushes that will come my way while relating with them, by letting me theirs completely, by belonging to them, by letting me be affected by them. I was too weak and dread being vulnerable to emotions. So I created distance between me and ones I loved. I thought the distance will help be escape but it did not for I found myself living a false and very unhealthy life.

And then one day while surfing on one of the social sites, I saw a pop up to wish a friend whose b'day I had forgotten. I did send him a very banal happy birthday message and completely forgot about it. Next day, I saw a message from one of his friend I had never known saying that my friend had died in a road accident months ago. I was numbed... such a beautiful looking, nice, young, good hearted guy he was! And I started regretting all the missed opportunities I could have used to connect with him while he was alive... That was the day I decided I will not let it happen with me ever. I will connect to people as if this is the last moment I have got to touch them. And I am on my mending ways... the process is slow, I am reaching out to people... letting them know who I am, my feelings and helping them express themselves... I am still trying to make sense of life, various feelings, attachments, detachments, and death, loss that we experience... I am still discovering myself... but this time I am not desperate, I am not down and lonely... I am letting life affect me and I am living it to the fullest




On Jul 13, 2011 Ricky wrote:

Dear 'Gulrez,'  you have affected my life deeply after reading your comment submission.  I will call my mom right away.  Thank you so much for your heart felt thoughts and beautiful writing.

On Jul 13, 2011 Maddi cohen wrote:

 In 1979 I had a 2 day near death experience. I visited a place like the one in the movie WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. When I came back my words were " Why do I think that the things which I think are important, are important?"

The voice answered " They aren't "

"People and relationships are important."

It was the best gift I've received yet.

On Jul 13, 2011 Gulrez wrote:

Dear Ricky

I am almost crying on reading your words... cry of happiness... and I wish you peace and fulfillments!

Soulful love and hugs


On Jul 14, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

Every week, we usually do a circle of sharing around the thought of the week.  But this week, we had the privilege of hosting the well known meditation teacher, Gil Fronsdal of Insight Meditation Center, share his personal (and inspiring!) life journey and then engage with some dynamic Q&A.  The audio clips from the gathering are online ...


On Jul 19, 2011 Patsy wrote:

As soon as my children were old enough to take care of themselves, my fear of death began to fade. I now have absoluetly no fear about the end of this life. I may still make mistakes, but none of my decisions is based on fear. When anyone tries to control me with this fear, I laugh and tell them "we all die, that's part of the deal of life"

Of course, is certainly helps that I am a complete believer in life everlasting before and after this Earth. I don't know what it is, but I figure since it happens/has happened to everyone it must be OK. I look forward to what's next.

On Sep 15, 2011 mat hatidi wrote:



A lot of people are preparing themselves with the skill of life.But very little learn the skill to die.There is a saying that says: die before you die.That is the best training we can develop for ourselves to prepare for the certainty of death. Anyway, death is part of life. Only after we die that we really go through the real life .

On Oct 6, 2011 Susan wrote:

Lovely sentiments, but I'm not sure my life could have been too different, at least my earlier years.  From the time I was a toddler I was very controlled by my parents and those around me.  I still am to a great degree, but there is a part of me that I never did relinquish, and never will.  Odd that they were as they were to me, and this very place in me is so very different from anyone around me, even a partner in a not great relationship, but it's a partnership.

So no matter where you are, no matter how little your control, no matter what others think of you or how difficult your life, there is that piece of us, our soul, our spirit, whatever we choose to call it, it's that piece of us that is ours and ours alone, and no one can take it away from you.  Let it hug you and love you.  Sometimes it's all we got and it's a solitary place, but make it a feel good place, a nest in which to rest and decorate in virutal furs and jewels.





On Oct 6, 2011 charlotte wrote:

The above so well stated giving one much to ponder .... thank you.

On Oct 6, 2011 tope adaramola wrote:

Great inspiratiion indeed on the temporariness of life. what remains of us is to also address where we shall all be after we exit from here. sure we cane  from somewhere and must go somewhere at the end of our voyage here on earth. Tthe Lord Jesus said in my father s house there are many mansions and that he has gone to prepare a place for us. I want to believe that only those who fulfil his condition by accepting him deliberately into their lives as lord and factor him into their  consciousness will have the opportunity of being in that glorious habitation of the immortals after death. The understanding of this will bring  more illumination to us on the other end of death, which we all agree as the end point here on earth.

On Oct 8, 2011 Elisabeth Barry wrote:

 Reflecting on the meaning of life and death is liberating.

On Aug 29, 2012 Reeni Jarrell wrote:
 Contemplation of death brings awareness of life in all it's changing forms. Death is the study of life with lucid awareness and joy.