Die On Purpose: A Meditation Practice

Our waking hours can be full of stimuli. We are constantly bombarded with attention-grabbing and attention-seeking things all day long. This can leave our heads a jumbled mess of thoughts, impulses, and desires. It doesn’t take much for our thoughts to become overwhelming. One or two things compound and we begin that awful spiral of overthinking and contemplating how our lives can fall apart if we don’t get ‘X’ done or how we really badly need to do ‘Y’ or else…If ‘Z’ doesn’t happen then…all of these big jumps in conclusions and judgements can plague us when we are in ‘being mode’.

That’s a term Jon Kabat-Zinn uses in his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are. When we are in ‘being mode’, we are constantly thinking about what to do. We are acting, consuming, and thinking. The best way to unplug from this mode is to focus on the present feelings and sensations.

A good way to stop all the doing is to shift into the “being mode” for a moment. Think of yourself as an eternal witness, as timeless. Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?

When we do this, one thing happens for sure. Everything around you goes on. That’s the harsh reality of life. Life can and will go on without you. When we are in ‘being mode,’ we can overvalue our existence and need. It feels like everything around us depends on our next action, so we have to do the right thing. We have to be productive. We have to make decisions and choices. We have to keep moving and acting. 

But when we unplug for a moment and see that life goes on perfectly fine without you. And even if there is a hiccup because you’ve stepped away for a moment, you know that part will get smoothed out soon enough. 

Kabat-Zinn compares this understanding to our death.

In some ways, it’s as if you died and the world continued on. If you did die, all your responsibilities and obligations would immediately evaporate. Their residue would somehow get worked out without you.

I liken this to the death of our ego. Of feeling important. When we are so plugged into what’s happening, we can’t get a clear picture of what we actually need. What will actually benefit us because we are so focused on all the stimuli around us.

Another aspect of this meditation is to step off of the conveyor belt of consumption. Content is king these days and along with that, consuming content has become an impossible task to keep up with. We have this overwhelming desire to watch the latest show, to listen to every podcast under the sun, to practice millions of different routines, diets, and exercises. Every second there is a new trend that grabs hold of our culture and it feels like if we don’t participate in it, we’ll be left behind. 

But the reality is that almost all of it is just momentary pleasure. Entertainment right now. When we take a break, step away, and focus on something other than consuming, we see that missing out on a TV show or the latest online drama has no impact on our lives.

More than that, think about all the time you have spent consuming these types of things and can you even recall a single moment of it six months later? A month later? A week later? Time moves quickly and with it, new content pops up to take our attention and play at our impulses.

But, by practicing dying on purpose, we can differentiate not only which actions are important in our lives but also what things to really spend our time on. 

If this is true, maybe you don’t need to make one more phone call right now, even if you think you do. Maybe you don’t need to read something just now, or run one more errand. By taking a few moments to “die on purpose” to the rush of time while you are still living, you free yourself to have time for the present. By “dying” now in this way, you actually become more alive now. This is what stopping can do. There is nothing passive about it. And when you decide to go, it’s a different kind of going because you stopped. The stopping actually makes the going more vivid, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It gives us guidance.

Through dying then we reclaim our life.

Kabat-Zinn finishes off this thought process by suggesting a meditation practice.

Try stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing once in a while throughout the day. It can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how you are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don’t try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.

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