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Death Is Your Real Life Coach

Here's the question today: must we fight to the death against death, and live in chronic anxiety concerning the inevitable event -- or is there a positive approach to accepting our own mortality?
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As we slip-slide into this new year, we do so knowing that quiet a few of us won't make it through to the next one. Life is mystery enough; death is the ultimate mystery, and we naturally tend to fear the unknown.

Thus most of us tend to be chronically anxious about our own coming demise -- we run away from death, and when we do finally die we tend to run up a giant last-minute medical bill that does no one any good.

Here's the question today: must we fight to the death against death, and live in chronic anxiety concerning the inevitable event -- or is there a positive approach to accepting our own mortality?

I'm a cognitive psychologist with a spiritual bent. There's no question in my mind about the existence of an infinite Creator who somehow manifested this vast material universe. And we're all chips off that original spiritual block. So anything is possible -- and we can plug intuitively into the wisdom and love and power of the Universal Creative Mind through meditation etc.

However, we can't realistically escape the fact that our physical minds and bodies are intrinsically caught up in the laws of the material universe. The biological truth is that no one gets out of here alive. There might be life and transformation after we die (we won't know until we do), but we must first experience the process of biological death before discovering if there's anything beyond. Therein lies the rub.

As therapists regularly point out, trying to avoid the fact that at some point we are going to physically cease to exist is counter-productive, because it generates doubt-plagued denial syndromes and free-floating anxiety about our future. This anxiety in turn permeates every moment of our lives, turning heaven on earth into earthly hell. I never worked with a client in therapy whose root anxiety wasn't their buried fear of their coming death.

Hopefully 2010 will initiate an ever-more-rapid awakening in our populace regarding how to deal with the impending reality of death. This series of articles on 'death and dying' aims to shed a bit of light on how you can feel more positively about death, and also perhaps help others who are struggling with their fears of dying.

From my understanding, the first step in making peace with death is to actively surrender to the biological situation: our bodies are destined to organically wear out and shut down sometime before our hundredth birthday. That's just how it is here on planet earth. The perceptual and cognitive functions of our biological brains will come to a natural end, and as a biological presence we will simply be gone.

Having our mortal lights go out is of course a scary thing to anticipate, and this fear can make us unable to fully enjoy the earthly life experience we still have ahead of us. That's just not good, and that's what therapy for instance is all about: helping people learn how to manage their own minds so that they stop focusing on fearful worries about the future, and focus instead on thoroughly enjoying the emerging experience right here, right now while we're still alive and kicking.

During the last 50 years, those of us in the cognitive-science realms have been working to invent and deliver a number of 'away with worrying' methods that can actually be of great help when used outside the therapy situation. The exciting recent addition of meditative mindfulness-techniques has expanded these methods considerably, teaching realistic ways to shift your focus of attention regularly in directions that make you feel better and function more successfully.

The choice is to regularly shift your all-powerful power of attention away from thoughts and memories and projections that generate worries and stress -- and to re-focus exactly in directions that serve you best.

What if, instead of fighting fearfully against your own impending demise, you decided to listen to death as your life coach. Death teaches a drop-kick lesson: your days on earth are seriously numbered; therefore the wise action is to fully embrace each new moment emerging in your personal sensory experience (which is where all life experience actually takes place).

Here's the next step: from a daily-practice point of view, what does Death teach us to do, to enjoy and fulfill ourselves in life more -- right now?

In making peace with the natural flow of life and death, I find it optimal to regularly hold in mind the following Focus Phrase:

"I surrender to the truth that I am going to die."

I strongly recommend saying this reality-statement to yourself several times a day. The words will begin to effortlessly stimulate deep change within your attitudes and emotions. Over the next few months, by focusing on this act of surrendering to reality, you'll come to accept your future demise and feel seriously much better overall.

Both psychologically and spiritually, each moment you're focused off-and-away on the past or future is a moment forever lost. As is often said: if today might be your last day, then live life fully right now. How do you do this? Here's a second Focus Phrase to explore, one that will shift your attention effortlessly from being 'lost in thought' into full engagement with your emerging present moment.

This 'focus-shifting' statement of intent, when said to yourself often during each new day, will begin to resonate throughout your being and as it aims your of attention toward life, not death:

"I choose to enjoy this moment."

Each of these words packs unexpected cognitive-shifting power:

Saying I CHOOSE ... clearly establishes your intent to consciously decide where to aim your focus of attention.

Saying ...TO ENJOY ... aims your attention away from negative thoughts that chronically run through your mind and make you feel bad, toward the thoughts and feelings that open up good feelings - hey, why not!

Finally, saying ... THIS MOMENT will shift your attention immediately away from past-future thoughts and imaginings, toward the whole-body experience that your biological earthly self is immersed in ... right now.

This is the ultimate choice that death as your life coach teaches: when your time comes to die, then surrender gracefully and let go -- meanwhile, live your remaining moments to the fullest. This is your choice. Each moment.

For help in the process of choosing to focus here-and-now rather than then-and-there, you'll find free professional video guidance on the web

Each of us ultimately makes our own choice about how to approach death. I hope these thoughts and techniques prove of value in your explorations!

Visit John Selby at