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.

The Value Of Overcoming Our Own Perceived Image

The dinner table is a marvellous mess of empty cups of wine, mostly empty plates save for the bits of salad dressing that linger, and the cheesecake crumbs from the dessert the two of you shared. The candlelight flickers, as you step out onto the balcony to take in the starry night. Somewhere a slow melody plays. The type that urges a couple in love to hold each other and dance.

And that’s what she wants. She wants to dance with you.

But your think: I don’t dance.

And in that instance, you allow your perceived image of yourself to ruin the beautiful moment.

I don’t dance.

I know I have said that to myself plenty of times and it has resulted in me passively watching life while individuals who are willing to feel the moment and allow that feeling to take over their senses enjoy being alive.

And of course, dancing isn’t the only example of the way we think of ourselves and perceive ourselves that can force us into the passenger seat of life and make us passive. For some, it’s the notion that they are the type of person who doesn’t speak in public. For others, it can be the opposite. They might believe that they have to be the centre of attention in order to get the party started. They aren’t the type of person who can sit back and observe.

There are thousands of examples of how our perceived image keeps us in comfortable patterns, which can be important but can rob us of the spontaneity of life.

Once you have set an identity, it can be extremely difficult to break that mould but it is precisely in this breaking and reforming that we can achieve what Nietzsche called the Ubermensch or the Overman.

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

Nietzsche believed that our purpose on Earth was to create something that is beyond ourself. Now, this can be a little vague. What exactly classifies as going beyond ourself? For Nietzsche, this Ubermensch was someone who wasn’t concerned with happiness, reason, virtue, or pity. Rather, it was in the replication of lighting where the Ubermensch resided.

I love all those who are as heavy drops, falling one by one out of the dark cloud that hangs over men: they herald the advent of lightning, and, as heralds, they perish. Behold, I am a herald of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud; but this lighting is called overman.

One of the wonderful things about Nietzsche’s writing is that we can interpret it in several ways. My interpretation of the text could very well differ from your interpretation, which is why it’s always good to delve into such writing yourself and see what you can pull from it.

What I pulled from this is that lightning is bright, it strikes powerfully, it’s random and chaotic, and the spark dies as quickly as it arrives.

Lightning is spontaneity.

And in order to overcome oneself, you have to be open to life’s spontaneity and those feelings that spark within you precisely before you hear that voice that tells you what you are or who you are.

The feeling that tells you to dance or to run or to embrace a loved one or to listen or to speak or to create.

In short, to be part of life and take action. That is what lightning is. That is my Ubermensch.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under.

Change is the essence of life. Everything changes. You can look out of your window and see the spring flowers blossoming or the auburn hew of fall approaching or even the withering beauty of stark naked trees, knowing that in time those branches will bud with fresh green leaves.

Likewise, you change. Or at least your appearance does along with the people around you. Those who are there and those who used to be there. And while everything is transitioning and changing, one thing that doesn’t change without conscious effort and action on your part is your identity and belief set.

It’s in that sense you are a bridge between who you used to be and who you can be. In order to cross this bridge, you require a flash of lightning, and the spontaneity to take the first step. You require a little bit of chaos.

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.

Don’t think of your image. Don’t think about your preconceived notions. Don’t live in the judgement of your past.

You can become anew through action, through spontaneity, and by embracing the chaotic lightning within you.

So, that perhaps next time there is that urge to dance and be free, you can give into it, fully, completely, without the shackles of your past identity imprisoning you from feeling alive.

Source: Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (Walter Kaufmann translation)