I spend a lot of time either thinking about death or "studying death". One thing in this life is absolutely certain; I'm going to die and I have no idea
when or how. Sometimes, going about my normal daily activities, I will think about all the possible ways I could die. They really are infinite. It brings a certain clarity to existence. The underlying, primal, fight or flight physical fear of death, I try transform into a fuel to do what needs to be done... to not waste time on trivial things.
I really think it is better how India approaches death. Puts it directly in your face, right in the open. You can walk by a skull on the street and people barely notice, and people seem generally more at peace. Whereas in western society, there is a mass ignoring and denial of death. That's a good book on the subject from a western psychology point of view The Denial of Death
. I recently finished this book and will be revisiting it. Its basically discussing how almost everything humans do is essentially motivated by an underlying fear or denial of death, like striving for success in order to become immortal in a sense, to transcend death. I imagine this is at the core of materialism as well, holding on to objects or creating them, attaching to things or ideas, to put your mark on the world, grasping them as if they can embody oneself into what seems like permanent objects if only because they may last longer than one's own squishy flesh body. It goes deep into the childhood psychology of death... really puts me in a "raw" state or like... vulnerable... hard to describe. Its sort of gross, actually.
Sometimes, in my life, I trick myself into thinking I no longer fear death. But inevitably, at least once a year or so, I will have a brutal, horrendous, crushing, life threatening health issue that will put me almost to death, or what seems like close to death, or at the very least, death is a better option because the pain is unbearable. Then, when I'm on the edge, I clearly see I'm terrified of death, or at least what happens leading up to death, at a fundamental, primal level. Intellectually, I can convince myself all I want I'm not afraid, and I'm not, at an intellectual level. I see its just a separation from these aggregates. But when I'm faced with an actual encounter of a near death experience, then I know what the reality is, and if I've made any progress in practice. I wonder, how many people say they don't fear death, but have never been close to it? How many people say they aren't afraid of death but have never almost died, or haven't in a long, long time? I really wonder about this... who has convinced themselves, but have never had that idea tested?
The book "Wake Up to Your Life" by Ken Mccleod has very good, practical, step by step meditations on death, impermanence, aging, etc, which come from the Kagyu or another tradition, if I remember correctly.
I think the point is to transfer that intellectual non fear of death into a deeper, emotional non-fear of death, and then even deeper until the non-fear becomes a physical knowing, when it becomes a part of how you experience the world, when the primal, fight-or-flight reaction is sort of "pushed out" and dissipates, when the threat of death no longer triggers a fear response.
Then, I think I might be getting somewhere....
"Seek truth in meditation, not moldy books. Look in the sky to find the moon, not in the pond."
- Persian proverb