July 30, 2017

Life’s Final Exam.

Image: Chris McCandless of Into the Wild, before his death in Alaska after a journey of existential soul-searching. 


It’s the only one that really counts.

None of us knows when we will die. Or how. We only know that we will.

If today was the day you were snatched away, would you be ready?

My answer is “not yet—I still need to nail this down.” I want to pass from this Earth with flying colors, with nothing but love and gratitude on my lips—but that’s going to take some work. Vestiges of fear, guilt, and regret still lurk within me. If I come to the end of this life harboring these laments, they will follow me to the next one.

Once upon a time, dying seemed like something that only other people did. But I can see now that I have been doing a bit of it all along, too. As a boy, I was quick of mind and foot. Not so today. My memory is slower and less reliable, too.

Yes, I know this is normal—yet vanity balks at the thought of it.

That’s because we’re besieged with images and messages that equate goodness with youth.

America venerates virility. And the older we get, the harder it is to maintain. If I want to die in a positive frame of mind, I need to turn this around. I need to see that aging is not a curse, and that making friends with death now can be my ticket to healthier, happier living.

The lesson here is the same as when I was in school. There’s a “final exam” up ahead, and failing it will hold me back, requiring me to repeat the course until getting it right. It’s like “Groundhog Day” in real life.

When I was 29, hiking in the Sierras, I had an experience that frightened me to the core. I’d been pushing hard for hours to reach a particular campsite, neglecting to stay hydrated in my hurry.

A cramp started to grip my abdominal muscles. Its spasms migrated north into my ribcage, doubling me over in pain. Not knowing why, my mind fled into frenzy, fearing this rogue attack was aiming to seize my heart. I pictured myself a dead man, suddenly and mysteriously betrayed by my own body.

The upshot of those terrible minutes was the overpowering realization that I was completely unprepared to die.

I swallowed six aspirin with a swig of water, laid down by the side of the trail, and slowly the attack began to subside. But the shock of that episode—believing that I was to perish in a state of utter alarm—was a wakeup call to get myself on tranquil terms with death.

Easier said than done. Fear of death was rooted in the marrow of my being. I hope that I still have many years of this life remaining, for I know there is more to do to prep for my final exam. I have karma that needs resolution. I have holes in my composure that leak inner peace.

The smartest move I have made in recent years is turning to meditation for help, and help is indeed what I have received through its access to higher awareness.

It has shown me that fear of death is nothing more than fear of losing what I am bound to lose anyway. The trick is to enjoy what I have without needing to have it.

For much of my life, I’ve been tethered to karma’s wheel, going round from high to low. That’s not where I want to be anymore. I want to be more intentional with my actions, and aware of their karmic implications. My soul wearies of its crazy, tedious ride.

But breaking free of the ride’s allure—its constant promise of excitement and thrills—is an enormous task. The egoic part of me wants to believe that I can have it both ways: fun without its flip side, freedom without forsaking my worldly ways.

Thus, death remains an event that I am still not ready to welcome without a twinge of worry.

According to Ascended Masters, as well as some who’ve returned from a near-death experience, our final exam will include a life review. “How much did you love?” is said to be the question on which we will be assessed, and the answer will settle how and where we spend the time before our next rebirth.

That could be a problem.

Unconditional love might not yet be my daily practice, but meditation is, and it takes me closer each day to my release of unloving thoughts and deeds. It also guides me to see death now as more than a grim reaper, and even as a charioteer to a place of blessed relief and renewal.

In the words of my beloved guru, Paramhansa Yogananda:

“Let us not call Death ‘annihilation,’ but see it as a door through which Souls can enter the all-alluring region of our ever-luminous Cosmic Home.”

I am definitely ready for that.



Author: Surendra James Conti
Image: YouTube still
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell 


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