Generally speaking, as a westernised society we have a tendency towards not fully appreciating life.
I think one of the many reasons for this comes down to the way that we have been so removed from death and disease. Just as the young prince Siddhartha (Buddha) was removed from these things whilst locked away in his palace, as a society we have had them removed from our everyday lives, hidden from sight. Sick people are taken to the hospital, mentally unstable people taken to asylums, old people taken to care homes. We have such extensive healthcare systems, hospitals and standards of living that it can be so easy to simply forget that death exists at all. Until very recently (in world history terms), life was a constant race for survival, and it seems that we have not yet adjusted to a more placid way of living. Caught in the swing of everyday working life, we can relax into a routine devoid of any perceived threat to our personal safety.
In contrast, when in a situation where death is always around the corner we have a constant reminder to appreciate life. Life really is very fragile. The human body is a delicate balance of many different factors which is all held together miraculously, which can (and often does) fall apart at a moments notice; in the World, on average, 1.8 deaths occur every second. When you examine the amount of activity occurring just on the cellular level in our bodies it is truly staggering. (On the other hand, there are 4.2 births every second. This is a net gain of people so it should actually be a great joy when we realise that the human race is most defiantly dominating, but of course that does not factor in our emotional attachments to other people, which is what makes us sad when people die.)
When faced with your own death or the death of someone else, you have mixed reactions. The primary feeling is usually one of sadness, but it might also prompt you to reconsider how you are living your life and whether you are achieving your full potential, which can lead to increased overall happiness. Regardless of the situation which prompts us to review our lives however, the solution remains the same. No matter what the reason for the ego’s development may be, living your life fully immersed in each moment is always going to be the key to living in a state of inner peace. Just how you get to that stage is your own personal journey. I believe we can use death as a precious gift which grants us a deeper appreciation for life.
It is ironic to think that the pressure of death can be something which really prompts us to live. This contrast between life and death is an extreme one, and similar all-or-nothing concepts can be seen in a range of different scenarios. For example, a person who has lived in poverty can appreciate even the smallest things, but a man with great material wealth will always be seeking new objects to fill the void in his heart.
I spoke to somebody recently who had grown up in one of the most violent and turbulent places in the world. He told me stories of murder, robbery and kidnapping. I asked him if having experienced these things made him a better person and he said “defiantly”. As a result of living through violence and suffering he has developed an appreciation for compassion and kindness and the value of human life. Do you know how lucky we are to be here? How many scenarios had to play out for us to get to the stage we are at now? Scientific and historical pursuits are another avenue to appreciating life.
So does this mean we must throw ourselves into the midst of these chaotic circumstances in order to cultivate our understanding of life and death? I do not believe it is necessary but I think it is something that has the potential to help. There are so many paths of wisdom to walk, or as Osho says, “There are many doors to God’s temple”. Theoretically, is Enlightenment not available right here, right now, and simply a question of degree of willpower? I don’t know.
Either way- if we take as much as we can from all of life’s experiences, I think we stand a good chance of growing in wisdom, compassion and happiness.