Here’s the latest from 30 DAYS OF INTENT! Iman and Natalie, accompanied by YouTube star Hannah Hart, visited Laurel Lewis for a lesson in death and dying. Laurel is a registered nurse who specializes in end-of-life care, and she is best known for her “Death and Dying Dinners.” We interviewed Laurel on the importance of contemplating death as a way of living life more fully.
The Chopra Well: Hi, Laurel! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. First off, can contemplating our own death aid in a spiritual journey?
Laurel Lewis: Contemplating one’s own death is a spiritual practice. It can certainly be the focal point of any meditation or journal writing. A Buddhist would say that we should examine it with every breath. That may be much for the beginner. How about we start with twice a day, upon waking and just prior to falling asleep.
The idea is to become more conscious of how you are spending your time, who are spending your precious time with. Is the way you live your life contributing to your overall happiness or depleting you? By contemplating death we learn to identify friends, coworkers, habits, family members, even thoughts that are no longer serving our greatest good, not serving our life’s purpose fully. The spiritual practice of contemplating death somehow gives us permission to live our lives more authentically and to live with more purpose and compassion. When we truly realize that death can come at any time, that nothing but death is guaranteed, we see that our life is so precious. It allows for an incredible feeling of freedom and personal responsibility to live life with beauty, connection, purpose, joy, compassion and gratitude.
CW: You lead Hannah, Natalie, and Iman through a process where they wrote and heard their own eulogies. Have you done this exercise, yourself? What’s it like? What’s the hardest or most interesting thing about it?
LL: I encourage writing your own eulogy as a way to measure how you’re living your life. You can actually google “how to write a eulogy”. Give yourself some time and some space and allow for at least 45 minutes. I did write my own eulogy recently. What I found and what the participants have echoed is that it is a great way to see if we are “on track” for the things that we want to accomplish in our lives. I have been in service for most of my life with my family and in my profession. What I found with writing my eulogy was that I am not dancing enough, or singing enough or playing enough with my friends.
I do feel happy about the care I have provided to people on their deathbeds and the families that I have served as well. But as I contemplate dying at the age of 41 I can see the spaces in my life that I would like to fill with more fun! So, this exercise is great for identifying: am I doing what I want to be doing, am I exemplifying the qualities in life that I value, am I sharing myself fully and authentically, am I spending time in ways that fulfill me or deplete me? I can see it now more clearly and now that I am aware of it, I can take responsibility for creating more of what I want in my life.
CW: Natalie found it easier to love herself and appreciate herself by writing her own eulogy. It sounds like a powerful exercise! How can we incorporate this into our daily lives?
LL: Writing your eulogy gives you a unique opportunity to think about what people might say about you, about the type of person you were, how you impacted the lives of those around you. This can be very provocative approach to looking at yourself from someone else’s point of view. You may realize that you would like people to say certain things about you but that you have not chosen to express yourself in a way that would encourage that. Or you may actually find yourself creating a beautiful list of affirmations about who you are and what you have created in your life thus far. This unique exercise allows you to consider yourself from someone else’s perspective. If you like what you come up with then it could be a very grounding spiritual practice to acknowledge those parts of yourself regularly.
Make a list of qualities and post them next to your mirror with the words I AM at the top of the list. This kind of practice encourages more of the same to come forward. If you want to take it to the next level, look at yourself in the eyes while you read over your love list. This is a simple practice, but it can create a great deal of self-love, self care, and self respect. And as you learn to regard yourself in a more positive light, you will start to regard others that way as well. In return, people will actually start to see you the way you are seeing and feeling yourself. Try it!
Try writing a eulogy for yourself, and stay tuned for Part 2 of Laurel’s interview on her “Death and Dying Dinners”.
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