There is a story of a wise Roman general who gave a slave the job of following him around everywhere repeating the words “momento mori”. This leader had enjoyed many victories on the battlefield, but he also knew the risk of becoming complacent. If we wish to avoid the dangers of complacency, we need to keep momento mori as one of our guiding principles in life as well.
Momento mori is a Latin phrase that can be roughly translated as meaning ‘remember you are going to die’. This instruction is a reminder that our time is short, and we need to stop taking things so much for granted. Thinking about our death might sound a bit morbid, but if we don’t do this enough, there is a huge risk that we could waste our life to frivolous activity.
Death is everywhere, yet it is something that most of us try to ignore. We accept that there is going to be a day when we die, but this is mostly just on an intellectual level – we rarely stop to think about what this really means. Much of our culture is created to encourage death-denial, and we hide it away as something embarrassing and a bit dirty. This means that when death touches our lives, we just aren’t prepared for it.
The sad truth is that most of us approach life as if we have all the time in the world. Worst of all, we do things to ‘kill the time’ – the clock is ticking, but we act as if this wonderful gift of time is an inconvenience. Instead of life being this amazing adventure, we treat it as a kind of waiting-room where we just do our best to keep busy.
I’m more aware of death than the average person. I trained as a nurse, and I’ve spent some time working in palliative care (care for the dying). I’ve seen lots of people die – plenty of them were the same age or younger than me. This experience of being around so much death forced me to spend a lot of time thinking about my own mortality – it has greatly benefited my life.
Chase Your Dreams Because You Have Nothing to Lose
“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”.
When I think about my own death, it allows me to see that most of the things that cause me to worry, or the things that hold me back in life, are just ridiculously trivial. We come into this world with nothing, and we are going to leave with nothing – so what do we have to lose?
Being alive offers us this amazing opportunity, but we have to move fast before it’s all over. We are going to lose it all anyway, so behaving too cautiously out of fear of loss doesn’t make sense. The only way we can do something magnificent with our life is to remember momento mori and take the big risks for the big rewards.
How to Benefit from Momento Mori in Your Life
Hiring somebody to follow you around saying ‘remember you are going to die’ probably isn’t very practical. There are some things you can do to benefit from this principle: