Have you ever thought what you would do if you lost all your wealth? How would you react if you lost a loved one? What about physical disability? I know these are some really disturbing thoughts. You might be wondering if I have darkness in my heart for asking you to think of such aspects of life. But this is an exercise I practice from time to time.
You may know my interest in stoicism and applying it in my daily life when possible. Stoicism, and I am sure some other philosophies do too, suggest you to meditate on mortality and pain. It helps to see and feel pain clear as day without actually going though the tough times. So I try and visualize pain once every few months (may be once every 6 months or so).
Meditating on pain and death
Most of the time when I am visualizing pain, it is related to loss of a loved one. It gives me the maximum amount of pain. But when you have seen yourself go through the pain and how you would act, hopefully you would be more prepared when the disaster actually strikes. You would be more level headed and be able to handle the pain much better.
Other aspects of visualizing pain could be losing something valuable like your job, or wealth or house. It could also be losing your physical ability or status or respect. Experiencing the pain ahead of time lets you experience the real events with equanimity and help you make good decisions in the event of a bad situation.
Visualizing death of a loved one
This is an exercise I try to experience the most. When I talk about death I get angry looks and upset tone from family. But it is a natural eventuality and I never understood why people have such strong feelings against such thoughts.
Well I digress. Here is what I do to experience this pain. First I find a quiet place all alone by myself. Sometimes I put on some sad music, other times I will be in silence. Then I close my eyes and try to imagine a really bad situation for a loved one. The pain they are going through as they are nearing death. I experience how I feel when I am losing them. I try to visualize life without them, the emptiness, the memories. Really feel how it would be in their absence. Think of all the things they have done and how I will cope up with their loss and the eventual loneliness.
Value of something can be best understood not by its presence, but by its absence
What does it teach?
I keep on at it until my eyes are moist with emotion. Sometimes tears roll off. At that point I stop and open my eyes to the real world. I have imagined the loss of everyone who are dear to me including my daughter, wife, parents and sibling. This though experiment helps me dig up all the great things each of them have done for me. The love and caring they showed me and how much pain it would be to lose them.
Remember that all we have is “on loan” from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission—indeed, without even advance notice. Thus, we should love all our dear ones, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever—nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long.’Seneca
I come out of this imagination exercise with a bad headache. But after a few minutes things clear out and when I look out of the window I will see a beautiful world. I feel very relieved and feel gratitude for the people in my life. The point of this exercise is to train my mind to the eventual pain and how to handle it. Without this training I will feel like Zeratul from Starcraft II, a PC game I love playing.
My burdens weigh heavilyZeratul from Starcaft II
Visualizing other losses
I sometimes run through the same exercise but with the loss of material or egoistic things. For example what would it feel like if I were to lose all my wealth. What would I do. How will I handle the situation. What will it feel like to not have TV, laptop, car, bed or even food.
It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.Seneca
What would I feel like if some one thinks I am a liar or cheated them, or if they think I am useless to the society? What would it feel like to be shamed in front of everyone? How to handle situations when your advice or help is misconstrued as arrogance or overbearing?
Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.Marcus Aurelius
Visualizing your death
The exercise I practice least is visualizing my death. May be because I feel like I have everything in place, I don't feel too worried about my death. One of the post that came out of this exercise is titled Life After You Are Long Gone. So imagining my own death allowed me to see what things I need to put in order for my loved ones. By visualizing the troubles they could be facing, I can try and solve them now when I am alive.
Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.Seneca
This exercise is the only one that relaxes me even as I am visualizing my own death. It removes so much pain from you. Death is the most peaceful state of mind you can ever be in. Because life carries with it so many burdens which Buddha has recognized so early in this life. From time to time I am reminded of a quote from Age of Empires, another PC game I enjoy playing.
Every moment I live...is agonyFrom Age of Empires III
The reason I do this kind of thought experiment is because it resets the baseline. Everyone one of us have a baseline happiness level. As we accumulate and gain material possessions, this baseline slowly inches up without our conscious knowledge. When the level goes up, the only way we can experience happiness is with more possessions. Which eventually becomes the new baseline and we need more to bring us happiness.
When you visualize loss, you will appreciate what you already have. All the people and things that you already have are more than what you will need for a lifetime. Don't go searching for more. Think about a time when you lose all that. When it comes to people, the most painful part is not losing the person, but living with their memories. I will always remember that fact.
It is not the goodbyes that hurt but the memories that follow.