Death is one of those subjects that most of us avoid talking about. We don’t want to be reminded of our mortality, we don’t want to think about the fact that one day we won’t be here anymore, and we don’t want to think about those things in the context of the ones we love either.

To most, death is one of those uncomfortable truths about life that we tend to only think about when we’re faced with it. However, there are a number of philosophies around the world that make a deliberate effort to think about death; they meditate on the impermanence of life and the transitory nature of our time here, and in doing so, they get a unique perspective on the world around us and our place within it.

When we make a practice of contemplating death, we begin to accept that our time is limited. We only have so many conversations with the people we love, only have so many times to say “goodnight” to our kids, “I love you” to our partners, eat our favorite food, read our favorite book, or travel to our favorite places.

Instead of lessening our experience, the reminder of death can make us grateful for the time we have and more present when we’re doing the things we love, for example spending time with friends when we know that the people around us are only here for a while.

The Stoics called this practice Memento Mori, meaning to remind yourself of death. In this way they cultivated gratitude, focused on what’s really important, savoured the good things in life, and stopped wasting time on the things we can’t control.

Page Break Image of a Greek Temple

Quotes on Death:

“Death smiles at us all; all we can do is smile back.”
– Marcus Aurelius

“I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.”

– Epictetus

“When the longest- and shortest-lived of us dies, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any of us can be deprived is the present, since this is all we own, and nobody can lose what is not theirs.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to throw away. Death stands at your elbow. Be good for something while you live and it is in your power.”
– Marcus Aurelius

“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
– Marcus Aurelius

“Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.”

– Epictetus

“What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things. For example, death is nothing dreadful (or else it would have appeared dreadful to Socrates), but instead the judgment about death that it is dreadful—that is what is dreadful. So, when we are thwarted or upset or distressed, let us never blame someone else but rather ourselves, that is, our own judgments. An uneducated person accuses others when he is doing badly; a partly educated person accuses himself, an educated person accuses neither someone else nor himself.”

– Epictetus

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.

– Seneca

“Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.”
– Epicurus

“Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five.”
– Benjamin Franklin

“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
– Ernest Hemingway

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer

Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination.

– Seneca

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
– Steve Jobs

“From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them, and that is eternity.”
– Edvard Munch

“No evil is honorable: but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil.”

– Zeno of Citium

“Brief is man’s life and small the nook of the Earth where he lives; brief, too, is the longest posthumous fame, buoyed only by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die and who know little of themselves, much less of someone who died long ago.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Given that all must die, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.

– Musonius Rufus

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