Our Bloggers

Jerome Stone

Memento Mori; Remembering Impermanence

The Latin words memento mori—“remember death” or “remember that you must die”—were used in ancient Rome and in medieval times to remind the people of the imminence of death and the uncertainty as to its hour or circumstances. It was also believed to have been used in Rome during parades for Roman generals celebrating victories or triumphs in battle. Walking behind the victorious general would be his slave, who was given the task of reminding the general that, although he was celebrating his victory, at any moment he could be brought down by defeat. The slave would shout the words, “Memento mori!”

The time spent contemplating and studying impermanence prepares us to accept that the body dies. It’s just a natural consequence of being alive. While you are alive, it is important to learn how to live in such a way that you can be at ease with whatever happens. When dying, it’s important to learn how to die in a way that is not so burdened by anxiety, fear or pain—to learn how to die without dread.

       Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, from Medicine and Compassion—A Tibetan Lama’s Guidance for Caregivers

I've found that meditation can bring about a profound understanding of impermanence in life and in the phenomena of my mind. What I mean is that I am constantly reminded when meditating of the impermanence of my thoughts, feelings and emotions. But, then why remember death?

Death is the epitome of impermanence, one which we may try to keep out of our immediate awareness. But, what about the death of our planet? Talk about unfathomable! Talk about beyond thinkable! Yet, if we reflect on our own death, why not reflect on the "impermanence of it all?"

Recently I had the uncomfortable...awesome...accidental chance to stumble upon a video of a simulated asteroid impact on planet Earth, and the ultimate devastation that would ensue. I'd like to share the video with you. It's an amazing animation and has been heavily viewed on YouTube. The background soundtrack is - appropriately - Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky."

Have a look and let me know how it affects you. Does it sharpen your meditation on impermanence? Does it help to remind you of our tenacious and precious hold on this life and this existence? Or, is it too much? Perhaps too abysmal? Too disturbing? For me, it became an object of my meditation, a realization that not only is the length of my own life brief and unpredictable in when it will end, but that our dear "mother" earth - this beautiful life-giving, spinning blue ball floating in space - will also one day die as well.