Existential Meditation

Posted on in Healthy Living by Taylor Kreiss

Mortality and Life Design


“What is my purpose in life?”
“Shouldn’t I know what I want by now?”
“Man, my Facebook friends seem to be living
so well. Why am I not partying in a giant room
with flashing lights and music so loud I can’t
hear the groupies vying for my attention?”

All classic concerns of a generation Y yuppie. I’ve experienced each of them. Fortunately, I discovered an elixir for my 20-something blahs: existential meditation. EM has helped me tap a well of positivity that has changed me. I’m writing this article because I’m confident it can do the same for everyone.

“YOLO [you only live once].” “Carpe diem.” “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.” We hear these lofty clichés, but they don’t motivate us to get off the proverbial couch. For this practice to work, you’ll need to jolt yourself with vivid visualization and intense introspection. Existential considerations lead to more meaningful living. These questions and concepts are not just idle ponderings—they have the power to prioritize and transform. This is practical philosophy and psychology helping you determine what you ought to do to live a better life.

Here are four reasons to make a habit of existential meditation:

» Extraordinary “livers” and intellectual rock stars like Tim Ferriss, Steve Jobs, and Nietzsche have credited contemplating mortality with helping them design and realize their life paths.

» EM is based on recent research in terror management theory and data collected by hospice workers. Renowned psychologists and social scientists argue that focusing on mortality primes you to help others, gets you proactive about your health, and compels you to re-evaluate your life goals.

» Neuroscientific research has demonstrated that meditative exercise reconfigures your brain for the better.

» My friends and I have found the practice highly effective.

Existential Meditation

Truly living. The data is clear—people on their deathbeds wish they had done things differently. And the science tells us that doing things differently now will not only delay death but also make you a healthier and happier person.

According to hospice workers, here are the top five regrets of the dying:

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.
  4. I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.
  5. I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of doing what others expected of me.

This list sheds light on what it really means to live a good life. Dying people don’t wish they had more money or that they had twerked on Robin Thicke at the VMAs. They dream of more enjoyment and authentic pursuits with the people they love. If we are to live well, we’ll need to re-evaluate how we’re currently living and pursue valuable goals, purpose, friendship, and happiness.

List four goals you could work toward tomorrow that would haunt you if you died next year. (No need for hours of deliberation, just list what pops into your head.)

Are “get rich” and “be famous” on there?

Remember the five points above? We need to set the right goals before we get motivated to achieve them. Is it a new job? A trip abroad? Finishing that creative project? Whatever your aspirations, EM just helped you determine four things you should work toward. It can be difficult to find direction in life, but this quick exercise distills what is truly valuable. You have some goals, now we just need to energize action.

YOLO, so carpe diem. They may sound a bit grave (lame pun intended), but the following mantras are meant to attune you to the dire urgency of living a good life right now because you may not have tomorrow.

Sit comfortably, breathe deeply, and focus on your impermanence.

Let your mind settle on the fact that death isn’t just some abstract concept. It’s a tangible reality that you confront every moment of your life. Don’t fear the reaper, but know that he makes you finite. The hard truth is that if you don’t act now, you may expire without flourishing.

You may not have 1,000 tomorrows to chisel that six-pack. You can’t be certain you have another year to visit a temple in Thailand. You may not even have tomorrow to finish this article. Do you want to spend your limited time being anything but happy and successful—whatever that means to you?

There will be a last moment of your life, and in it you’ll want to say you lived well, so don’t waste your most precious resource: time.

Do one thing today that moves you toward the goals you listed, and you will be moving toward living your good life. Feel proud that you are taking active steps to live a more philosophically satisfying existence. Tell your friends.

Reread this article whenever you would like to reprioritize or if you need to summon motivation to get up off that proverbial couch. Focusing on these thoughts for even a few minutes a day will prime you to get out and live the good life.

Specializing in practical philosophy and positive psychology, Taylor Kreiss is a writer on a mission to share the art and science of the good life. TaylorKreiss.com

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our once-monthly newsletter to get all the latest news & resources

No spam. Unsubscribe any time.