How to Practice Death

by Dennis E. Bradford, Ph.D.

in spiritual well-being

The idea that death practice (deliberately imagining oneself as dead, practicing being dead) can enhance the quality of being alive initially may seem counter-intuitive.

Don’t take my word for it. However, please do consider what others such as Ramana Maharshi and Jon Kabat-Zinn have to say about it.

Why?

They may encourage you to try it. It only takes a few minutes to test it for yourself.

How?

Adopt the corpse pose in yoga. It’s very easy. Simply lie flat on the floor or ground on your back. Relax. Legs can be about shoulder-width apart with feet falling away from each other. Arms will be away from the torso so that it’s comfortable when your palms are open to the ceiling or sky. Surrender completely. The only movement should come from the flowing breath.

Woman is resting in Savasana during Yoga. Woman resting in Savasana.

 

(As with so many topics, it’s easy to go to YouTube and find a free, short visual demonstration if you want one.)

The key is simply to accept what-is (reality, the world) just as it is.  After we die, what-is will simply continue to go on unfolding except without us.  Our death is the death of all our attachments.  There will be nothing any more to cling to and nothing any more to do any clinging.

Now is sufficient.  In fact, now is and always has been sufficient.  It has never needed us.

If, as is likely, thoughts continue to swirl after adopting the corpse pose and resting in it for a while, ask, “Who died?”  “Who is breathing?”  “Who is doing yoga?”  “Who is meditating?”  Or “Who am I?” that may be shortened to just “Who?”

Let go.  Let go of the future.  Let go of the past.  Let go of elsewhere.

Let go of your self-concept.  Let go of asking “Where am I?” or “What time is it?”

Let go of asking “Where have I been?” or “What will happen to me?”  Since there’s nothing to do, let go of asking “What should I be doing?”  In other words, just let go of all the usual so-called existential questions.  The point, as the Buddha taught, is to let go of ‘I’, ‘me,’ and ‘mine.’  When we are dead, there are no answers required.

Let go of any emotions that arise.  Since emotions depend upon thoughts, if you practice letting go of any thoughts that arise, you will automatically short-circuit any emotions based on those thoughts.

Let go of all conditioning.  It’s very simple to become free from the conditioned mind, but it’s also very difficult.  There may be no more difficult task.  Anyone who tells you that living well is easy is either ignorant or lying.

In the end, though, what is more important than living well?  What else is there to do?

Furthermore, doing that work of liberation is profoundly satisfying.  Ego death, detachment from your self concept, is required for living well.

Of course, you are not yet dead.  You are miraculously alive in an embodied state.  Appreciate that miracle.

We usually don’t.  We usually just take being alive for granted.  After all, it’s very simple and very familiar.  We’ve so thoroughly adapted to it that, foolishly, the death of others often surprises us.  He died!  She died!  Of course.  Did you really expect him never to die?  Did you really expert her never to die?

Adopting the corpse pose and unbinding the mind, this death practice, can be an effective spiritual practice.

In a sense, it’s not another task, not just something else to do.  There’s really nothing to do.

Just be.

 

 

 

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