Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, For Today We Learn How To Die

The utterer of the phrase “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is statistically more likely to be wrong than right. If one were to continue to utter that phrase every day, however, one day they’d eventually be right. How often do you think about that? How often do you go through the motions and take life for granted? One day you’ll have your last cup of coffee, your last meal, your last glass of wine, your last encounter with your friends and family, and your last embrace with your spouse or lover. Alas, the truly tragic thing is that most of us probably won’t realize we’re enjoying these things for the last time at the precise moment when we are. We may never get to say a last goodbye and we may not understand how short and fragile life really is, until it’s too late.

These thoughts are not meant to cause an existential crisis, but rather I think they help us in our study of learning how to die. After-all, according to the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, we can’t really learn how to live until we’ve learned how to die. Or as Leonardo Da Vinci put it, “While I thought I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Learning how to die is all about understanding the nature of time. It is about embracing the preciousness of the present moment, although not necessarily in a reckless or hedonistic kind of way. The future may indeed come and I think it’s wise to be prepared for that as well.

Time is, however, one of our most precious gifts, but it’s a truly scarce resource. It’s scarce in a way that many other things are not. Trees are scarce, but yet we can always grow more trees. Money is scarce, but yet we can always make more of it. When you waste time, it’s gone forever. Strangely, many people fritter their time away as if it were some superfluous commodity that we can manufacture or grow more of. How differently I suspect each of us would live if we knew exactly how much of this scarce resource called time we had left.

In his essay, “On the Shortness of Life“, Seneca said: “Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day.” In other words, there is no reason to be afraid of tomorrow unless you’re living poorly today. If tomorrow were your last day would you be happy with how you’re spending today? If your answer to that question scares you, I suspect you haven’t learned how to die yet. Fear not, today is the perfect day to learn how to die.

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7 Comments on “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, For Today We Learn How To Die”

  1. Jenzendo says:

    Nice essay Greg.  Only those who are willing to die can truly live….a line i am stealing from Sadhguru.  I’d like to think i’ve made more peace with this mysterious unknown…but in a last moment would i really be willing to give up my breath?  Hmmmm.  I don’t know.  That’s what fuels me to live a more intense, rich, meaningful life every day.

    • Greg Linster says:

      @80b1c4dcb239db07028a39eb9830ac9b:disqus I like that aphorism from Sadhguru.  I think you make a great point:  learning how to die certainly shouldn’t be confused with wanting to die.  Part of what I like about Stoicism is that the Stoics would advocate that we do everything in our power to control our future (at least the parts we have some control over) and to make peace with the things we can’t control.  Making peace with your ultimate and inevitable fate is, in my opinion, different from wanting or inviting death to come prematurely.  I think we should be ready for death to happen at any time, but we should not long for it.  We should take care of our bodies, minds, and souls to the best of our abilities.

      Learning how to die, as you eloquently put it, can fuel us to live a more intense, rich and meaningful life.  Each day is a gift that we will never get back and one of life’s great challenges is to wake up in the morning with this in mind.

  2. Ritu says:

    Hi Greg, 
    coming over to your Blog from ‘The Financial Philosopher’..I’ve just started exploring your Blog & I must say I’m loving what I’m seeing..I’ve recently started giving the Stoic Philosophy an In depth thought, this is a philosophy that appeals to me, it speaks to me, it is my kind of positive thinking ( accepting the nature of life including the so called negative)…right now I’m focusing on Epictetus, he has said quite a few things about death ..I’ve weaved this with Buddhist thoughts on impermanence…come n have a look. 🙂
    http://ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/finding-happiness-the-epictetus-way-2/
    Regards,
    Ritu
    http://ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com/

    • Greg Linster says:

      @23dc4ea34e2265305bea0ce6bc11172d:disqus Thanks for the kind words!  And, yes, there are indeed many similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism.  However, I’ve found that Stoicism fits my analytical nature better than Buddhism.

  3. gunnarseven says:

    wonderful. Thanks!

  4. Kenzzo says:

    Hi Greg,
    i’m a bit late with this comment, but since i just started reading your blog after discovering it on the rationally speaking’s contributors page, i wanted to point you to Irvin Yalom’s book “Staring at the Sun: overcoming the terror of death” which treats exactly the same subject as your post and is also quoting Seneca, as well as Epicurus.
    cheers


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