The Warrior and the Shadow of Death

My Inner Warrior, being stared down by The Knowledge of Death, who often takes the form of a blood-stained hawk.

Today, a challenge was given to me: to accept death. My warrior encountered the side of myself who dwells in the knowledge of death (and all of the most horrible aspects of reality). This made me realize the warrior side of me was still weak, still not looking death in the face.

It turns out that the side of myself who appeared as a hawk with bloodstained wings (who I mentioned briefly here), and the side that keeps death in mind, are one in the same. Needless to say, many other parts of me try to ignore him or avoid him, thinking instead about particular aspects of life that favor what they want in the moment, rather than the whole.

For instance, think about goals. If you have a goal in life, thinking about how death would render that goal meaningless probably isn’t going to help you. It might bring you down, or, even if you do accomplish the goal, thinking about death might leave you with an empty feeling.

And warriors operate on goals: they see a goal, and break through the barriers standing in the way. But what is that warrior fighting for? If they kept death in mind, the impermanence of things, would they make the same choice?

For example, what if your goal is to become the CEO of a multi-national corporation. You’re still going to die – what’s the point of you doing that? Maybe you still want to have a name for yourself after you die, but what good will that name have? Only a small fraction of the names that ever were are remembered by people today, and who’s to say that you’ll be remembered in a positive light? Furthermore, everything you built will be destroyed someday when the Sun burns out and Earth, as a livable planet, dies.

Maybe you want money. But that will just allow you to maintain a comfortable life, at best you can reliably give yourself the same kinds of comforts over and over. That won’t fill the darkness inside that makes you uncomfortable. And no matter how safe you make it for yourself, you will die.

If you find yourself pulling back from the words about the stark realities of life, you’re not alone. It’s hard to face the world as it is, because a lot of our hopes, set against death, become fruitless. But fear of these things also leads to an unpeaceful life, or a life spent in denial. And denial is also fear.

My Inner Warrior (and probably yours too) doesn’t want to be held back by fear, and yet when he met this other side of me today, which I’ll call Knowledge of Death, he felt attacked. Fear was still in him. In the end he was left with a “Memento Mori”, a reminder of death and a memory of the encounter. My warrior realized that he was still weak, the fear of death still affected him, that he had avoided keeping all of the realities of life in mind. This got to him for a while, but he’s currently recovering.

At the same time, the Knowledge of Death had appeared today for a different reason: to destroy a bunch of fruitless goals – such as longing for egotistic glory in life, fame, etc. Similar to the examples above. The Knowledge of Death knew that these goals were fruitless, and destroyed them almost instantly. These other goals were under assumptions about life that would ultimately cause harm: jealousy, pride, ego. Rather than being content in the moment, they wanted something more, better than what they had now, better than they could even imagine (they were fanatic like that). But in the face of death, all the wind was taken out of their sails.

Ultimately, isn’t that what happens with false goals? Eventually you run up against the reality that all things fade away, that they can at any time. In fact, rather than just say that this is about physical death, really, it’s about impermanence.

The challenge my warrior was given was to keep pursuing goals even in the face of death. To accomplish things still given the fact that at any time I could die.

Again, this may sound uncomfortable to some people. It sure as hell feels uncomfortable right now. But I’m willing to live with a knowledge of death because it’s better to live based on how reality actually is, rather than how I’d like it to be. Perhaps keeping death in mind will allow me to keep what’s real and important in front of my eyes more often. I will make my Memento Mori a gift with which I’ll be able to live more freely, in the world as it really is. What will you do?

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