Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything—external expectations, pride, fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

- Steve Jobs

“You may not wake up tomorrow.” Seneca urged us to tell ourselves this when going to bed. And when waking up, to say, “You may not sleep again.” To keep death at the forefront of our thoughts, he believed, would reveal the true insignificance of some of our worries and bring thoughtfulness into all aspects of life. “Let us prepare our minds as if we have come to the very end of life.”

The inevitability of death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful. “You could leave life right now,” Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations. “Let that determine what you do and say and think.” It happens that in thinking about death, we are also thinking about life: what matters, what needs to change, what we must accept, and what we should let go. In a way, then, death is an organizing principle, helping to account for our life honestly. Very few things stand up when measured against the finality of death. As Don Juan suggests, take death as your advisor.

To remember death isn’t to be morbid, but to remember that we are mortal, our time on earth is finite and short. Azrael can come for us at any time and in any moment. Imam al-Ghazzali said the thought should elicit a response or a reaction in accordance with the evolution of each person.

If one is deeply attached to the material world, he or she remembers death and loathes it, fearing to be deprived of its pleasures. If dying instils fear, the spiritual reward for this is immense if we become firmer in repentance and devotion. Only the remembrance of the knower brings calm and peace. He or she has reached the station of contentment and surrender by turning attention towards the immortality of the soul.

Mindfulness of death is a central teaching in all spiritual traditions. “Of all meditations, that on death is supreme,” said Buddha. The meditative practice marana-sati, meaning “death awareness,” is considered essential to extricate ourselves from our exclusive preoccupation with the world. Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) called upon people to visit graveyards to think about death and consider one’s mortality. “The wisest among you is he who remembers death the most,” he said, “and the most prudent is he who is the most prepared for it.” Shakespeare said every third thought should be of our grave.

I can’t say that I’m ready to stare death in the face, but I do think often about life’s impermanence. It is why I don’t hold any grudges, why I’m ready to make up with my wife soon after a big fight, why I don’t take my time with my children for granted, why I don’t sweat the small stuff, why I worry less about the future, why I am supercharged with even more ambition, why I desire no more than what is necessary, why I spend time in seclusion, why I’m filled with so much gratitude, and why I see only my own mountain of weaknesses. In short, you could say to practice dying is to practice being a better person.

If you want to build a regular practice of contemplating mortality, you should download WeCroak. The app is inspired by a Bhutanese folk saying that to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times a day.

Therefore, each day at random times and at any moment—just like death—you receive this alert: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” You can click to read a quote about death, ponder, sit silently, take a deep breath, bask in the now, do something different or discover something new.

The micro dose of mortality comes from a variety of sources including the work of Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Kabir, Henry David Thoreau, Pablo Neruda, Lao Tzu, Margaret Atwood, and even Zoolander. “Did you ever think that maybe there is more to life than being really, really, really, really, really, ridiculously good looking?”

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