Memento Mori: A Simple Practice for a Complex Time

Robert S. Hays

There is nothing more particular in existence than the certainty of death. It is really the terrific equalizer of the globe, and it is blind – no subject if a particular person is abundant or poor, healthful or harmful, fantastic or poor, sensible or ignorant, any sentient staying that ordeals existence have to also working experience death. It behooves any individual who wishes to increase themself to be aware of death and one’s mortality.


Memento Mori: A Simple Practice for a Complex Time - Fitness, fitness, meditation, motivation, focus, ego, mind-body connection, self confidence, inspiration, procrastination, mindfullness, goal planning, Life Challenges, fitness motivation, stoicism



Does That Seem Somber?

It would not have to be if you have the appropriate state of mind. You can choose to reside in relative ease and comfort, stay clear of most dangers of harm, believe the tale is unheroically about you, and arrive on death’s shore relatively secure and intact, unmarred by the labor of terrific pursuits in services to a lead to increased than your existence.


At the identical time, you are suffering from the burden of regret for never ever knowing the true extent of your abilities.


On the other hand, you can choose to go away behind a legacy described by a existence lived with deep purpose, that means, ethical character, convictions, compassion, and braveness, sturdy plenty of to encourage folks long just after your flesh and bones return to dust and particulate silence.


Innumerable folks all over human historical past have reflected on death as a way to working experience existence and reside it to their fullest potential. The apply has had quite a few names in quite a few languages over the millennia, but these times it really is most typically referred to as Memento Mori.


A Brief Heritage of Memento Mori

Memento Mori translates to, “Don’t forget, you have to die.” The apply has a quite long historical past that crosses cultures, continents, religions, and philosophies: from the historic philosophers of Greece to Roman generals, Buddhist monks to Islamic Sufis – meditation on death allowed them all to pursue existence.


In Plato’s Phaedo, the terrific thinker Socrates states before he is about to die:


 “…he who has lived as a true thinker has explanation to be of fantastic cheer when he is about to die, and that just after death he may perhaps hope to obtain the greatest fantastic in the other globe…For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is most likely to be misunderstood by other gentlemen they do not understand that he is ever pursuing death and dying…”


The case in point that Socrates set for the duration of his existence and before his execution would go away a lasting legacy on the entirety of Western civilization and lead to the birth of quite a few unique colleges of philosophy.


One university in distinct – Stoicism – turning out to be well-known as a functional university of philosophy that stressed the relevance of contemplating death. The surviving writings of the historic Stoics are loaded with admonitions to remember death and the 3 most well-known Stoics:



  1. The slave, Epictetus
  2. The Roman statesman, Seneca
  3. The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius


All have anything to say about death.


“All that you see will before long perish individuals who witness this perishing will before long perish on their own. Die in severe outdated age or die before your time – it will all be the identical.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.33


“Keep the prospect of death, exile and all these apparent tragedies before you every working day – in particular death – and you will never ever have an abject imagined, or need something to surplus.”

– Epictetus, Enchiridion, 21


I am endeavoring to reside every working day as if it were being a full existence. I do not without a doubt snatch it up as if it were being my last I do regard it, nevertheless, as if it may even be my last. The existing letter is prepared to you with this in brain as if death were being about to call me away in the quite act of writing. I am completely ready to depart, and I shall delight in existence just mainly because I am not over-nervous as to the foreseeable future date of my departure.”

– Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter sixty one


The historic Romans also practiced the contemplation of death, Memento Mori staying a Latin phrase.


Memento Mori will come from a Roman custom in which a basic would choose portion in a triumphal procession as a result of the city, upon returning to Rome just after a important victory. To be the matter of these a march was a terrific honor and the need of quite a few bold troopers.


As the triumphant basic was carried as a result of the city in his horse-drawn chariot to the terrific applause and praise of the folks of Rome, a slave would stand behind him, holding a crown over his head and whispering, “Respice write-up te. Hominem te memento. Memento mori!”


“Look behind you. Don’t forget you are mortal. Don’t forget you have to die!”


This custom was an prospect for the basic to toss a grand celebration, and it allowed him some self-marketing, which could arrive in useful really should he make a decision to operate for political office sometime. It is really a bit challenging managing for office when nobody’s heard of you, just after all.


The purpose of the slave whispering in his ear was to continue to keep the general’s ego and perspective in check all over the complete celebration, lest he forgets himself and does anything disgraceful and offensive to the gods.


Memento Mori: A Simple Practice for a Complex Time - Fitness, fitness, meditation, motivation, focus, ego, mind-body connection, self confidence, inspiration, procrastination, mindfullness, goal planning, Life Challenges, fitness motivation, stoicism


A handful of hundred years afterwards, for the duration of the late Middle Ages, Memento Mori had formulated into an artwork design and style known as Danse Macabre or the Dance of Death.


At this level in historical past, Europe had just been devastated by the Black Death pandemic, with the most fatalities ever recorded in human historical past death was on everyone’s brain.


The Danse Macabre was a meditation on the universality of death: no subject how abundant or how poor one is, death will come for us all.


The artwork would typically characteristic a personification of death (a skeleton or corpse) top folks from unique stations in existence – usually a pope, king, emperor, laborer, and boy or girl – in a dance to their graves.


Memento Mori: A Simple Practice for a Complex Time - Fitness, fitness, meditation, motivation, focus, ego, mind-body connection, self confidence, inspiration, procrastination, mindfullness, goal planning, Life Challenges, fitness motivation, stoicism


In the 17th century, Dutch artists used a design and style of nevertheless existence painting known as vanitas artwork (from the to start with chapter of Ecclesiastes, “All is self-importance.”) as a Memento Mori. The artwork would characteristic skulls, rotting fruit, candles, hourglasses, lifeless and wilted flowers, and more atop tables as highly effective imagery to remind the viewer of death.


By the 19th century, Memento Mori had moved from paintings to jewellery, with folks from all walks of existence wearing rings that includes skulls, coffins, the phrase “Memento Mori,” or a mixture of the 3 as a regular reminder of the wearer’s mortality.


Nevertheless not just about as widespread in the minds of the basic populace as it at the time was, Memento Mori is owning a modern day resurgence. Persons are getting Memento Mori medallions to have with them in their pockets as a regular reminder that they will one working day die.


Such well-known figures as Tim Ferriss, Casey Neistat, and more have a Memento Mori medallion with them, and even Memento Mori rings are creating a comeback.


I’m a portion of this modern day resurgence.


Memento Mori and The Twelve Labors Task

Memento Mori is the device that I use to prevail over the problems in my existence and locate the inspiration to force as a result of any impediment that I see before me.


When I choose on actual physical problems as portion of my Twelve Labors Task, Memento Mori is what keeps me grounded, focused on the existing, and aware of what genuinely matters in a universe that would seem to be unraveling.


Memento Mori: A Simple Practice for a Complex Time - Fitness, fitness, meditation, motivation, focus, ego, mind-body connection, self confidence, inspiration, procrastination, mindfullness, goal planning, Life Challenges, fitness motivation, stoicism


In 2016, for my fifth labor, I set out alone in the barren wilderness of the northern Mojave Desert to raise recognition of veteran suicide by pulling a 2.5-ton pickup truck across Death Valley.


With a landscape as wonderful as it is bleak, my only companions all over the 22-mile obstacle were being stones sculpted over the millennia by the desert wind and rain, dunes that reflected the sun’s blinding light, the searing heat that burns something that enters the Valley, and my ideas.


Each individual mile that I pulled the truck as a result of the desert represented one of the 22 life that are shed each working day to veteran suicide.


With every stage I took and every inch of ground that I acquired, Death Valley would test a little more challenging to encourage me to choose off the upper body harness and stop the obstacle it only ever bought hotter and drier as the journey progressed.


In a natural way, the solitude that I expert for the duration of the obstacle compelled me to confront the worst of myself – my uncertainties, my fears, my insecurities, and everything I had ever arrive to regret in my existence.


I would choose a stage and listen to a voice, “Give up! There is no disgrace in quitting.”


I would choose an additional stage and notify myself, “Memento Mori! Don’t forget, you have to die! Don’t forget why you are here!”


Reflecting on my mortality and the memory of individuals who we’ve shed to suicide fortified my ways and produced the seemingly not possible, possible.


The dichotomy concerning death and the existing second grew to become more apparent than ever, opening my perspective to perspectives and insights that never ever before transpired to me.


It was the catalyst I required to get back my momentum and embrace my fate second by second with a entire heart and unyielding resolve.


Being alone in Death Valley with a 2.5-ton pickup truck strapped to your back is a surefire way to arrive deal with to deal with with your mortality, and the apply of Memento Mori is what allowed me to keep focused on a intention that was even larger than myself. I was not striving for recognition when I hauled a truck across the desert.


I desired to raise the recognition of an alarming challenge that is plaguing veterans. No matter whether or not I accomplished the labor or anyone else did was irrelevant, so long as folks were being produced informed of the lead to that spurred the obstacle.


I could have died at any level for the duration of my trek as a result of the desert – I could die at any second, definitely – the recognition, the accolades, it would all be meaningless to me just after that.


The lead to, nevertheless, would reside-on.


“On fame. Look at their minds, the nature of their imagined and what they find or stay clear of. And see how, just as drifting sands consistently overlay the previous sand, so in our life what we at the time did is quite quickly coated over by subsequent levels.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.34


How Memento Mori can Spur action

Memento Mori just isn’t just a device to motivate on your own to drag a truck as a result of a hellish landscape – it can also act as a catalyst for motivation and productiveness every working day.


Procrastination is a obstacle that most folks deal with daily, and I’m no exception. Why trouble receiving out of mattress every morning to deal with an unpleasant globe when ease and comfort can be identified previously under the blankets? Why trouble accomplishing something at all?


What sort of existence would that be?


“So it is: we are not presented a quick existence but we make it quick, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.”

– Seneca, On the Shortness of Existence


Seneca understood that we so typically squander existence clinging to idleness and comforts that only provide to distract us from satisfying our greatest potential.


A existence lived in pursuit of ease and comfort whilst putting off our duty is a existence put in wasting the finite amount of time we have. Obtain ease and comfort in the unpleasant, and remember you have to die: why squander your time on trivia when your time is quick?


If you want to satisfy precise health aims, Memento Mori is the motivator you want to get to the gym (or maybe your dwelling gym for now) and attain individuals aims.


When you wake up in the morning, set an affirmation for on your own that you will do what you want to do to satisfy your aims, irrespective of the hurdles you may perhaps deal with.


Remind on your own of your mortality and that you would rather not expend the valuable time you have still left viewing television or sleeping.


That’s what I notify myself each working day before I prepare, and it really is what you can say to on your own, way too.


If your intention is to have a more healthy diet regime, Memento Mori can enable you to create more healthy eating and consuming behaviors. Existence is quick – do you want your final moments put in in a drunken haze? I doubt it.


Sure, we are all fated to die one working day, but that would not imply that we really should use every second we have in hedonistic pursuits. The cake is fantastic, but really should we consume it for every food? Of course not.


Overindulgence in harmful eating and consuming will only provide death faster, whilst healthful behaviors will provide to continue to keep existence long and enable you reach your fullest potential.


A healthful system helps make for a healthful brain, just after all.


Memento Mori and Earth Occasions

The globe is at the moment suffering from turbulence that hasn’t been felt in a long time. Local weather change is creating extremes in climate circumstances that have led to rigorous droughts, huge forest and bush fires, and hurricanes, the like of which humanity has not seen due to the fact biblical times.


We are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, with COVID-19 spreading as a result of towns reminiscent of the Black Plague of the medieval interval. Governments are utilizing the anxiety and distraction triggered by the pandemic to force agendas on each finishes of the political spectrum.


American regulation enforcement is under magnified scrutiny owing to situations in which extreme makes use of of power and lack of human decency resulted in undue death. These points are developing in just an environment of violent riots and peaceful protests in opposition to racial injustice and law enforcement brutality.


Some social concerns are staying conflated with broader types to embolden actions and assaults in opposition to particular teams. In contrast, other essential concerns are staying drowned out by a deafening silence exclusively for their lack of utility or mere ease in just the well-known narrative.


As an American with deep like and hope for this state, who also takes place to be a particular person of color, enable us tread as a result of these troubled waters jointly.


I consider that the greatest adversary to justice and inequality for all folks are the unacknowledged unions concerning indifference and leadership, ignorance and electric power, and apathy and anxiety.


In the words and phrases of the American novelist and activist, James Baldwin:


“Not everything that is faced can be transformed, but nothing can be transformed until eventually it is faced.”


We have to have the braveness to fight and disintegrate these shadow alliances now and hereafter, long just after the media moves on from it, and it is no lengthier trending.


As Og Mandino at the time wrote:


“Tomorrow is only identified in the calendar of fools.”


Memento Mori, as a apply for the duration of this complicated time in historical past, makes it possible for us to deal with our fears, flaws, and failures individually and as a state. These gatherings compel purposeful action with a feeling of urgency, not from a place of dislike or vengeance, but from a place of empathy and compassion under the premise that this working day, this hour, this second is all we have.


Tomorrow is not a assure but a mere imagined—an assumption of an unsure foreseeable future time and place arising in the existing.


These steps contain defending people’s appropriate to criticize our country’s shortcomings and peacefully protest them whilst supporting the constitutional principles upon which The united states stands—all in just the identical breath of enthusiasm and wholehearted conviction.


We are all dying from a serious situation known as existence. In real truth, every second, we eliminate to laziness, procrastination, or indifference forever belongs to death.


Just about every prospect to do fantastic in the globe, irrespective of a person’s race, politics, faith, or social course, gets a gift when we embrace the actuality that every human on earth will one working day working experience the identical reduction of liked types and struggling like you.


It helps make feeling to be sort to every particular person we face for the duration of these elaborate times when we remind ourselves that death is the final arbiter.


Out of the 4 Stoic virtues of wisdom, braveness, temperance, and justice, Marcus Aurelius felt that justice was the most essential of them all.


“And a dedication to justice in your possess acts. Which implies: imagined and action resulting in the common fantastic. What you were being born to do.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31


When faced with a sort of turmoil that we haven’t seen for generations, Memento Mori can be the guideline that can help us navigate as a result of the existing local weather.


Just about every time you enjoy existing gatherings on the news or witness injustice taking place in front of you, you have a selection concerning action or inaction.


Reflection on our mortality can allow us to see the even larger image, deal with injustice like a true Stoic, and existing alternatives based on explanation and sound judgment.


We have to die, it really is true, but have to we die owning carried out nothing for the profit of the increased fantastic? No. Our life have that means when we reside in accordance to our principles and stand up for what is appropriate and fantastic in the globe.


Death will come to everyone, that is for guaranteed – there’s no level in worrying about when or how it will arrive when the most unsure portion of existence is how we choose to reside it.


Right after all, death is only the finish under the presumption that the tale is exclusively about you. Our fantastic deeds and power of character are immortal, standing as residing monuments in individuals we inspire—more highly effective than mere words and phrases on a tombstone can ever be.


You will find a Greek proverb that I really feel superbly exemplifies the level I am attempting to make:


“A society grows terrific when outdated gentlemen plant trees whose shade they know they shall never ever sit in.”


Possibly we’re not all outdated but, but if we want our society to increase, then we have to plant the seeds of justice and like so that foreseeable future generations can delight in the shade of these trees.


Accomplishing so is a selection that we have to make, completely aware of the actuality that death will come to us all ultimately, but the repercussions of our options reside on in the globe and have an effect on the generations that observe.


“You may perhaps go away this existence at any second have this likelihood in your brain in all that you do or say or feel.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.eleven


Using the information of Marcus Aurelius, we can enable the inevitability of our demise tell our way of existence. With every single selection we make and every single action we choose, we can perspective it in light of our death before we make that selection or choose that action. Talk to on your own these concerns:


“Do I want to be remembered as the particular person who turned away from injustice?”

“Am I alright with staying the lead to of inequality and struggling?”

“Do I genuinely really feel indifferent to the plight of the oppressed?”


When society lacks correct leadership, you have to understand to seem to your principles to lead on your own.


Living in accordance to your principles may perhaps lead to you to stand alone in opposition to a crowd it can lead to anxiety and doubt, and will virtually absolutely provide the stress down on you from particular person associates of society – but you have to stand resolute.


If you won’t be able to stand agency in your convictions whilst attempting to increase society and crumple at the to start with indicator of pushback or be part of the crowd when it acts in opposition to your principles, then you haven’t stood for something at all. In chapter 24 of the Enchiridion, Epictetus has the adhering to to say about benefitting communities:


“Properly, what will my job in the group be?’ Regardless of what position you are equipped to fill, so long as you preserve the male of trust and integrity. If you eliminate that in your zeal to be a community benefactor, what use in the finish will you be to the group at the time you have been rendered shameless and corrupt?”


To that finish, we have to stand up to human indecency in the form of violence and rioting.


What would you listen to if you went all around your group and advised folks that you robbed their corporations for their profit and wrecked their qualities to guard their legal rights? It is really not likely that you would deal with gratitude from victims of violence and theft, never you feel?


Memento Mori can be the catalyst for action, but it can also be the catalyst for restraint. Use it to remind on your own of what style of habits you want folks to remember. Just as you can ask on your own concerns to enable you choose action, you can also ask concerns that endorse restraint:


“Do I want to be remembered as the particular person who wrecked someone’s livelihood?”

“Am I prepared to sacrifice my convictions just to satisfy the mob’s lust for violence?”

“Will this enable my circumstance or damage it?”


Memento Mori will be the guideline that reminds you that there is often a even larger image and that it is not often sensible to act, just as it is not often sensible to continue to be inactive. Epictetus in chapter 33 of the Enchiridion at the time again admonishes us to be agency in our convictions:


“Settle on the style of particular person you want to be and stick to it, whether alone or in business.”


When you have resolved who you want to be, Memento Mori will enable you to stick to it, reminding you when to act and when not to.


It requires braveness and sacrifice to do anything for a lead to increased than on your own, but you will never eliminate on your own to the baser instincts of the ego so long as you remember this:


“Look behind you. Don’t forget you are mortal. Don’t forget you have to die!”

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