Lessons from the Samurai

I was sitting in the emergency room. I had undergone a routine procedure early that morning and gone home. The surgery had caused parts of the outer wall of an artery to be torn off. I managed to tear the rest of it open through the highly dangerous act of eating chicken soup. As the hour passed, I became more light-headed and weak.

As I sat in that emergency room, they hooked me up to some monitors and things, and I saw the bad situation I was in. My pulse was more than twice my normal resting rate of 68 bpm, and it was getting faster with each passing moment, and my normally high blood pressure was 90 over 50 and falling. The nurse put a wristband on me to note that I was at a high risk of falling.

While they tried to locate my surgeon, pulse kept rising, blood pressure kept falling. They warned me not to stand up, but the warning was wasted, I couldn’t even see the floor.

From the look on the faces of the nurses and my family, I knew that I was in bad shape. I was reasonably sure this was the end.

The Samurai had a lot of teachings on facing death, but most people can only reach a superficial understanding. Until you are face-to-face with it, you probably won’t know the depth of the Samurai teachings.

Most human fears are rooted in the fear of death – our deepest instincts recognize threats to our survival. This fear can metastasize into an intricate web of loosely related fears that can take over your life.

Loss of our own lives being the ultimate loss, the Samurai ideal is the complete and open acceptance that this loss is inevitable.

Facing the inevitability of that ultimate loss isn’t morbid. Quite the opposite, it is extremely liberating! If you look honestly, most of the stress and anxiety in your life is caused by clinging to the false idea that you can avoid the ultimate loss. When you let go of that, everything changes.

If you are alive, you will die someday. There is no way out of it. Accepting this fact frees you to truly live.

Having the end of your existence staring in your eyes is sobering. Your personal saga will end. If you experience seeing the end about to happen and manage to walk away, you will be a different person. You will recognize just how much wasted time you had allowed. You will regret that, but you won’t be as bad about it anymore. You will see that much of your worry over the opinions of others was a waste as well. Branching out from there, your worry over things you can’t control is a terrible waste of precious time. Spending time and energy trying to please people who really want nothing more than to see you fail… been there, done that. You will stop doing that as well.

You will never again lose sight of the fact that you will someday stop being. You will tell your loved ones that you love them, knowing that it might be your last chance to say it. You will hug them a lot for the same reason.

And none of this is from a negative perspective, quite the opposite! You tend to cherish the moment, that ever present now. Because now is all you have anyway.

Perhaps most importantly, you will no longer be afraid to die. You will recognize that it is unavoidable. Why be afraid?

Also, I’m not saying that I am any better than anyone. I had to stare death right in the eyes before my illusions were shattered. It’s too bad that people can’t have such an understanding without nearly dying.

Take care of yourself and each other.

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