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Memento Mori

“The one perennial truth – rich or not, successful or not, religious, philosophical, it doesn’t matter – you will die. From the beginning of time to the end, death is the one universal inescapable commonality. Kings or peasants, brilliant or stupid, everyone dies or is dead. Some try not to think about it. But for others, the certainty of death is kept at the forefront of thought. Why? So that they might really live.

“Memento Mori,” or translated in English, “Remember you must die.” The point of this reminder isn’t to be morbid or promote fear, but to inspire, motivate and clarify. The idea has been central to art, philosophy, literature, architecture, and more throughout history. As Socrates says in Plato’s Phaedo, “The one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.”

In this article, we’ll explore the history of this seemingly haunting, but actually inspiring, phrase as well as where it came from and what it means. We’ll show you how it has evolved through its many forms of practice and interpretation in literature, art, fashion, and present day popular culture — where thousands of people carry Memento Mori coins in their pockets or have adapted other physical reminders to keep the thought of death with them at all times.

A TIMELESS CULTURAL PRACTICE
STOICS
Seneca urged in his Moral Letters to Lucilius, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” The emperor considered it imperative to keep death at the forefront of his thoughts. In doing so, the world’s most powerful man managed the obligations of his position guided by living virtuously NOW.

Epictetus would ask his students, “Do you then ponder how the supreme of human evils, the surest mark of the base and cowardly, is not death, but the fear of death?” And begged them to “discipline yourself against such fear, direct all your thinking, exercises, and reading this way — and you will know the only path to human freedom.”

The Stoics used Memento Mori to invigorate life, and to create priority and meaning. They treated each day as a gift, and reminded themselves constantly to not waste any time in the day on the trivial and vain.

ROMANS
Memento Mori is believed to have originated from an ancient Roman tradition.
After a major military victory, the triumphant military generals were paraded through the streets to the roars of the masses. The ceremonial procession could span the course of a day with the military leader riding in a chariot drawn by four horses. There was not a more coveted honor. The general was idolized, viewed as divine by his troops and the public alike. But riding in the same chariot, standing just behind the worshipped general, was a slave. The slave’s sole responsibility for the entirety of the procession was to whisper in the general’s ear continuously, “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!”

“Look behind. Remember thou art mortal. Remember you must die!”

The slave served to remind the victor at the peak of glory, this god-like adoration would soon end, while the truth of his mortality remained.

EGYPTIANS
Of the seven ancient wonders of the world, only one remains intact – the Great Pyramid of Giza. How the ancient Egyptians transported over 170,000 tons of limestone to erect the pyramid continues to puzzle archaeologists, but the why is better known.

Preceding the pointed smooth-sided pyramids were bench-shaped mounds called mastabas, built atop the tombs of early kings and pharaohs. The Great Pyramid displays an advancement aesthetically, but not symbolically. An estimated 20,000 civilians contributed to the 20 year construction of the pharaoh Khufu’s burial chamber – a structure memorializing the fate shared by the royals and the common.

Excavated mummies, tombs, and pyramids reveal that remembering death was entrenched in ancient Egyptian culture. Egyptologists maintain the preservation of dead bodies and the building of elaborate death chambers were an act of celebrating life, and a reverence for its ephemeralness.

Michel de Montaigne, known for creating the essay as a literary genre and regarded as the Father of Modern Skepticism, wrote in an essay titled That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die of the ancient Egyptian custom where celebratory feasts concluded with the raising of a skeleton to the chant, “Drink and be merry, for such shalt thou be when thou are dead.”

In the height of celebration, Egyptian custom was to set remembrance to the frailness and fleetingness of festival. Through the visual of the skeleton and the pronouncing of the chant, celebrators reeled in the jollity to acknowledge the moment would soon pass so not to take it for granted.

BUDDHISTS
Mindfulness of death is a central teaching in Buddhism. The meditative practice maranasati, meaning “death awareness,” is considered essential to better living. It brings recognition to the transitory nature of one’s physical life, and stimulates the question of whether or not one is making the right use of their fragile and precious life.

As Buddha put it, “Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.”

CATHOLICS
The Bible is the most read book in the world. The most read book of the most read book is the book of Psalms from the Old Testament. It is also the longest book of the Bible, and the most quoted book in the New Testament. Theologists attribute its reverence to capturing human emotion, not just in the joys of life, but in the struggles as well. C.S. Lewis, devout Christian and one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, wrote Reflections on the Psalms because the Psalms were an aid in the “difficulties I have met” and the “lights I have gained.”

Lewis devotes a chapter to the transitory nature of life. Death in the Psalms centers around immortality and that “death is inevitable.” He references Sheol, “the land of the dead,” Hades, god of the underworld, and Plato’s “vivid and positive doctrine of immortality,” before citing Psalm 89:46 as the “clearest of all” reflections, “O Remember how short my time is.”

The fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century lead to a tumultuous period of conflict, plague, and political crisis. Without a strong central government to maintain order, the Catholic Church surged as the most powerful institution. Kings, queens, and other leaders derived power through their allegiance to and protection of the Church. Devotion was proven by the building of grand cathedrals, churches, and other ecclesiastical monuments. Funerary art displayed to compel visitors to reflect on the gift of life. Crucifixes and tombs were most common. Remembering the inevitability of death is a core Biblical theme. It remains prevalent today far beyond the written word.

A REMINDER THROUGH ART
DANSE MACABRE
The Late Middle Ages was a period of devastation. A catastrophic plague, the Black Death, devastated Europe, killing an estimated 25 million people – one-third of the population. Out of the grim horrors and fight for survival grew an art genre called Danse Macabre, meaning Dance or Death. Like plague, Danse Macabre illustrates the all-conquering power of death. Paintings include kings with peasants, young with old, to convey that death comes for everyone.

VANITAS
Life is fleeting so best to not waste it on meaningless goods and pleasures. That’s the message behind vanitas art. Inspired by the first chapter of Ecclesiastes (“vanity of vanity, all is vanity”), Dutch Golden Age artists of the 17th century used still-life as moral instruction. Artists emphasized the emptiness and futility of earthly items. Skulls, candles, hourglasses, watches, rotting fruit, wilting flowers, and fraying books.

MOURNING RINGS
Plagues, wars, and massacres aside, people of the Regency and Victorian eras dealt too with some of the highest infant mortality rates in history. Without vaccines to control illness, mothers lost the life of their newborn, and sometimes their own, at an alarming rate. Documentation started to be kept in a yearly Bill of Mortality. To say death was on the public’s mind would perhaps be an understatement.

The haunting reality of life’s uncertainty showed itself in many forms: art, literature, architecture, and a new trend, jewelry. Memento Mori rings were worn by everyone from Queen Victoria to the impoverished. Skeletal bands and skulls wearing a crown reminded wearers that death is the master of all.

A MODERN RESURGENCE
While Memento Mori has fallen from consciousness compared to its historical relevance, mortality motivation is practiced modernly in fueling successful entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, authors, among others.

Steve Jobs famously said:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Writer and media strategist Ryan Holiday carries around a Memento Mori medallion to remind him of his mortality.

“It’s easy to lose track of that mortality, to forget time, to think that you’re going to live forever. The idea that you’re gonna die and that life is short is only depressing if you’re thinking about it wrong. If you’re thinking about it right it should give you a sense of priority. It should even give you a sense of meaning; it should let you know what’s important, what you’re trying to do while you’re here on this planet.”

Billionaire author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and life coach Tony Robbins has said:

“There’s something coming for all of us. It’s called death. Rather than fearing it, it can become one of our greatest counselors. So, if this was the last week of your life, what would you cherish most? How would you live? How would you love? What truth would you tell today?”

When entrepreneur, author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk was asked to give three words of inspiration to someone, he said, “You’re gonna die.” Gary explains this later by saying:

“The reason I believe in it(death as motivation) is because it’s ultimately practical. It’s the guiding light and the fire and ambition that drives me toward legacy and living my best life.”

Tim Ferriss,best selling author, entrepreneur, and host of one of iTunes most listened to Podcasts, shared an image on Instagram of his Memento Mori coin, with a caption explaining how he reminds himself to not take any day for granted:

“I’m enjoying having this Memento Mori (remember you will die) coin in my pocket as a reminder: there is wonder all around us, but we are ephemeral. I’m trying to note and enjoy the small things that expire quickly.”

In 2007 Damien Hirst created one of the more famous modern art examples of Memento Mori with his For The Love of God, featuring over 8,000 diamonds laid out on a human skull. The piece sold for a reported £50 million.

In 2014, Disney added a store called Memento Mori to their Magic Kingdom Park. The store features “haunted mansion themed merchandise.”

The world-renowned fashion brand, Gucci, recently used Memento Mori as a theme in their Gucci Cruise 19 show. The show was held in a graveyard in Arles, France.

The multi-platinum and three time Grammy winning R&B singer The Weeknd, titled his 2018 radio show “Memento Mori,” featuring his favorite music that is inspired by late nights.

And Mac Miller, whose promising music career ended prematurely, let us with the reminder. Just 8 weeks before his tragic passing, he shot his final music video which included a scene of him carving the words Memento Mori in a coffin. The screenshot below captures the moment before Mac punches through the coffin. The scene progresses to Mac freeing himself from the coffin, climbing atop a pile of dirt, to the verse:

I got all the time in the world
So for now, I’m just chillin’
Plus, I know it’s a, it’s a beautiful feeling
In oblivion

Talk about art getting real.

Today, the typical person doesn’t think about death at all because it’s uncomfortable, sad or scary. Fortunately, we’re no longer cavemen afraid that we’re going to be eaten by a lion, or ancient Romans afraid we’ll be murdered by a gladiator, or Medieval sires afraid we’ll fall victim to plague. Unfortunately, however, as the world has gotten safer and better, we start to think that we’re going to live forever and that things are always going to go exactly our way. The Stoics would say that death is what gives life meaning – it’s the cap at the end that helps us make the most of the time we’ve been given.

Dr. BJ Miller, a hospice and palliative care physician, and a triple amputee survivor of a near-death electrocution accident, says meditating on death has become taboo in our culture but is the secret to living:

“For those of us who work in the field of hospice and palliative care, it can feel like you’re sitting on a secret…Sure it is loaded, emotionally laden work…But, you pretty quickly get a real sweet hit that paying attention to this zone of life is very nurturing. The secret is that paying attention to the fact that you die can help you live a lot better. My colleagues and I are very aware of the clock. We’re aware of our finitude and so, we’re just a little more likely to be kind to ourselves and others, and we’re a little less likely to squander that time.”

The truth is, we have all been given a fatal diagnosis. The doctor who pulled you out of your mother knew for certain that you were going to die, he just didn’t know exactly when. And neither do you. So keep the reminder of Memento Mori with you. Don’t waste your time on trivial, pointless things. Don’t take for granted the time you have.”

Source: https://dailystoic.com/history-of-memento-mori/

This Ignorance

“One who knows not who he is and to what end he was born; what kind of world this is and with whom he is associated therein; one who cannot distinguish Good and Evil, Beauty and Foulness, Truth and Falsehood, will never follow Reason in shaping his desires and impulses and repulsions, but will in one word go about deaf and blind. Is there anything new in all this? Is not this ignorance the cause of all the mistakes and mischances of men since the human race began?”- Epictetus

Everything Is Understandable

“What’s amazing about life is that it seems possible to understand every aspect of it if one really cares to know.

-Every aspect of it makes perfect sense when looked at deeply and holistically enough.
-Some aspects of it can only be understood by transcending rationality, self, and mind.
-The deepest aspects of life is unbelievably counter-intuitive.

Of course most people simply do not care to understand. The intent to understand has to be genuine, and for its own sake. Not a manipulation towards some productive end.

It’s equally amazing that every aspect of life can also be easily misunderstood.

Just remember this, if there’s some aspect of life that doesn’t make sense, it’s only because you haven’t yet really cared to understand it. You haven’t yet been willing to pay the price for the understanding. The deepest understandings require self-sacrifice. They are not things one reads in a textbook or hears in a video.

What would happen if you committed your whole existence to understanding — genuine understanding?”

Source: https://www.actualized.org/insights?p=44

How Do You Know You’re You?

“Do the following quick exercise:

Go look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “Who told me that that’s me?”

Seriously! Go do it right now.

If you’re a very rational, scientifically-minded person, or an atheist, this is the perfect exercise for you.

What evidence do you have that you are that thing in the mirror?

Seriously! I’m not kidding. This is not an armchair philosophy exercise. This is a hardcore science experiment.

How do you know what you’re supposed to look like?

Could it be that you’ve simply assumed that that thing in the mirror was you without actually investigating the matter?

Is there any scientific evidence whatsoever of how you are supposed to look like? How would you even make such a determination?

Can you recall how in your early childhood it wasn’t at all obvious that you had a body, knew it’s parts, or knew how it looked? Can you recalling having to acquire all those notions?

Now, notice that your mind will come up with all sorts of objections and rationalizations for why you really are that thing in the mirror.

But I hope you’re wise enough not to blindly trust that mind of yours. After all, isn’t that your biggest gripe with religious fanatics? That they blindly believe in unwarranted things… that they beg the question?

Well, watch out! Maybe you’ve been committing that very same sin your whole life. Which, by the way way, would explain that grudge you hold towards religion.

Who’s begging the question now? Oh, how the tables have turned! Oh, the delicious the irony! Oh, the hypocrisy of rationalism!

If what I say is true, can you begin to fathom the significance of it? Not philosophically, but ACTUALLY!”

Source: https://www.actualized.org/insights?p=45

Why Religion Persists

“One reason that religion persists is because it provides genuine psychological benefits to the practitioner. It is the original self-help. To those skeptics who dismiss religion so quickly by saying, “But it’s just a bunch of fairy tales” — the only way you can say that is because you lack experience with it, and so you misunderstand it. You misunderstand it, but not in the way you think. The reality is, there’s no way in hell a collection of purely fabricated stories could survive for such a long time. Religion survives because it WORKS!

It’s because it works that it becomes a problem. It’s because it works that people aren’t so eager to abandon it as your models would predict. People feel the positive effects and get seduced into thinking that everything in the religion is true because of the psychological or spiritual benefits they feel. And then that is take as evidence of the religion’s exclusivity: “My religion must be true because look! Look at all these great benefits to my life!”

The problem is not that the benefits are not real — they are REAL! The problem is that the benefits are not exclusive — but people hold them as exclusive. This cannot be seen without a more experienced, more cosmopolitan meta-perspective. It’s not possible to see the universal psychological and spiritual principles at work in a religious tradition without practice and study of other traditions and non-religious self-help techniques. If you do undertake such a study, you will see the common threads unpinning all traditions, from Mormonism to Islam to Judaism to psychoanalysis to Yoga to Scientology.

But the false exclusivity that many religious adherents subscribe to becomes a huge burden. Religion becomes dangerous when it feeds tribalism. ANY ideology becomes dangerous when it feeds tribalism. And virtually all ideologies do!

How many ideologies or religious traditions say: “We don’t care which other traditions you study or practice. In fact, let us help you study the vast diversity of ideas available in the psycho-spiritual marketplace.”?

Ha! Good luck finding an ideology like that!

How can we tell if an ideology is dangerous? Very simple. Just ask, “Is it feeding tribalism? It is putting itself on a pedestal?” Is it encouraging tolerance and unity with self and other, or separation of self from other?”

Source: https://www.actualized.org/insights?p=49

Philosophy Used To Be Easier

“Imagine what it was like to be alive 2,000 years ago. Ignore what your material life would be like and instead imagine what your epistemic position would be. What would be your inner understanding of what reality is? It’d be totally different than humans conceive of it today. Everything would have a feeling of the unknown about it. Every day you’d get up and wonder: “What are human beings doing here? What the hell is this place?!” You’d wonder that because everyone around you would be just as clueless as you. There were fewer answers at your disposal back then.

In a sense it was much easier for philosophers 2,000 years ago to do true philosophy because they were not as locked into paradigms of religion, science, mathematics, consumerism, culture, etc. Simply because those things all had to be created at some point. We take for granted that these things were not a part of life 2,000 years ago, or if they were, they played a significantly different role. Maybe that’s why 2,500 years ago was the heyday of Western philosophy. The world appeared more mystical and unknown back then, and that was actually true to nature.

Now we have all these excellent models of reality which ironically calcify the mind. A perfect example of: the better the model, the bigger the problem. 2,000 years ago was an intellectual wild west, a no man’s land. Of course one of the downsides to this radical openness and uncertainty was a lot of superstitious theorizing. And the greatest downside was that people didn’t have the great advantage of being able to study history — the massive intellectual blunders that would result in the next 2,000 years from sloppy or rigid thinking. But then again, that is only an advantage if its made use of. Most thinkers today don’t really appreciate these historical blunders and haven’t learned their lessons.”

Source: https://www.actualized.org/insights?p=49

Transhumanism

“Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes.” (Wikipedia)

The world is headed towards transhumanism…. Man meets AI.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away is a 2001 Japanese-animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten, Nippon Television Network, Dentsu, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Tohokushinsha Film, and Mitsubishi. The film stars Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Takeshi Naito, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Takehiko Ono, and Bunta Sugawara. Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a 10-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighbourhood, enters the world of Kami. After her parents are turned into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world. Miyazaki wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on the 10-year-old daughter of his friend Seiji Okuda, the movie’s associate producer, who came to visit his house each summer. At the time, Miyazaki was developing two personal projects, but they were rejected.”

Source: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=spirited+away&ia=web&iax=about

Empty Beings

Those who pursue nothing but desires.

Those who commit sins led by that temptation.

Those that haunt others with no mercy.

Those who wage wars with words endlessly.

Those that have billions in the bank yet the hunger of others in the human family surrounds them.

Those that poison our water supplies.

Those that thrive off of human trafficking.

Those that feed off of our fear.

Those that pump us with chemicals.

Those that lie to us through the tell-lies-to-vision.

Those that stamp on others to get to the top.

Those who gave up on being human.

-DiosSoulRelics 01/10/20

Silver Birch: Untouched Souls

“YOU should feel sorry for them because they have wasted their earthly lives. They have not fulfilled themselves. They are like children who have gone to school for the requisite time, learnt none of its lessons and thus are not equipped for the adult life that follows when the school period is over. Earth is an essential preparation for the existence that inevitably follows when death comes. Every happening is part of the price to be paid for evolution. Earthly life cannot be a monotone. It must have its light and shade, its sunshine and storm.” – The Silver Birch Book Of Questions & Answers

Unconditional Love

“This is an entry from my private journal which I wrote to myself. It shows my thought process in coming to grips with advanced spiritual truths:

Why can’t I love unconditionally? Why don’t humans love unconditionally? Because we have survival requirements. Because I am a specific way, I am predisposed to love certain things more than others. Of course I am going to love something which suits me more than I will love something which doesn’t. Of course I will love a calm, smart, pretty child more than I will love a noisy, angry, ugly, crippled child. Because these things materially affect me. As a human I don’t have God’s infinite freedom and invulnerability. It’s easy for the Godhead to love unconditionally because it is formless! It cannot lose anything. It cannot be harmed or annoyed. So is truly unconditional love possible for humans? Even enlightened humans? Seems unlikely. Unconditional love would only be possible with total selflessness. You’d have to really not care any more about living, dying, or enduring all sorts of hardship, suffering, and annoyance. To set up the ideal that I must always be unconditionally love could easily become a recipe for unhappiness and misery, as I will always fail to live up to such an impossible ideal. Then again, maybe unconditional love really is possible. But even if it is, it is certainly not something I can will or act my way into. It would have to come as an organic byproduct of deep awakening, higher states of consciousness, purification of the chakras, total surrender of the ego, and transcendence of self. Unconditional love would only be possible at the moment of total God-realization. The realization would have to be so total that there would be zero difference between myself and God, not just as a knowing, and not just temporarily as a peak experience, but as it is embodied day to day, minute to minute. Has any human ever attained such a degree of God-realization? I don’t know. If they have, it would be a remarkable feat and I’m not sure how realistic it is to try to replicate it. It’s certainly not something that the average spiritual seeker can do. I’m not sure if I could do it. You would have to completely renounce your entire life to reach this level of realization. It would have to be the only thing your life is about. I do not see that most monks or yogis have this level of God-realization in practice. Perhaps a few do, but this tells you just how difficult it is and why such people would be worshiped as Gods if they did exist — they literally are Gods at this point. You would be worshiped as God, but you would be so selfless at this point that you would not care at all for the praise. An interesting paradox. Half the world would worship you and love for your saintly self-sacrifice and half the world would hate you because your demonstration of such a radical degree of love would deeply threaten their egos. And you wouldn’t care which was which because you would love both types equally. As a result, you would likely be killed by someone in the mob. And you still would not care. Which would only make your followers worship you even more after your death and create a religion which deluded others into worshiping you rather than realizing God as themselves.”

Source: https://www.actualized.org/insights?p=18

Millionaires & Billionaires

“We need more millionaires and billionaires to speak out against the devilry of neoliberal economics. Unfortunately most of them are so comfy it makes them blind to the systemic rigging. A lot of millionaires and billionaires hold libertarian and capitalist ideologies because that’s what serves their survival, and allowed them to rise to the top.

It would be almost impossible for someone who’s conscious of the devilry of neoliberalism to run a giant Fortune 500 company like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Disney, Exxon, Boeing, Walmart, Coca Cola, AT&T, etc. To run such companies requires that management and investors bullshit themselves about how good and fair it all is. All of these companies need to believe that giant monopolies, low taxes, and deregulation are good for society. Without such a positive mythology, management and investors would have an existential and moral crisis.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”- Upton Sinclair”

Source: https://www.actualized.org/insights?p=9