I’m auditing a course this semester on spiritual practice, and one of the assignments was to visit a cemetery for thirty minutes. While there we were to spend some time imagining and reflecting on our own corpse.
I have found reflecting on death to be a significant and life-changing activity. The Psalmist asks God to “teach us to number our days, so we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Reflecting on your mortality helps put things in a new perspective, one that doesn’t come naturally in this modern, consumerist society. You are heading towards death, we all are – it’s the final chapter for all of us. And you can write a much more meaningful story with your life if you always keep the final chapter in mind.
But something interesting happened for me. I was expecting to reflect on my own corpse, but instead I saw in my mind’s eye the corpses of everyone else I knew. And it had a strange effect. It gave me a sense of compassion for everyone who has ever slighted, hurt, or irritated me.
Every one of them will be a pile of ash or rotting in the ground sometime down the road.
And I don’t say that in a “what goes around, comes around,” poetic vengeance sort of way. Imagine instead that the gravity of death exposes the pettiness and smallness of so much of one’s negative feelings towards other people. It changes perspective.
We all suffer from a “sickness unto death” that is the source of our slighting, hurting, and irritating, as well as our easily bruised egos. It’s much easier to have compassion on the sick than the healthy, and to find patience for them. And what I realized is that we are all sick and dying. And it’s something I need to remember in all my thoughts towards and interactions with others.