I don’t know what happens after death. I have two friends who have died and lived again to report. One says there was nothing, another had a classic near death experience. After reading a lot of case studies, I’m inclined to believe that reincarnation is fairly common (why everyone should have the same post-death experience is beyond me), but certainly it could be that death is the END, or one goes to the happy hunting grounds, or any of a number of any other possibilities.

What I do know is that when you die, you have to leave a lot behind. Everything you’ve owned, your physical body, and all the people, though perhaps some will rejoin you later. I rather suspect that, if oblivion isn’t what happens, that on losing the physical body you will also undergo some significant changes to personality, memory, and perception. (One advanced spiritual teacher told me that when you die, your physical life seems like a dream. I don’t know if they were full of it or not.)

But forget all the stuff about what may or may not happen. For sure, we’ll be leaving a ton of things behind.

When I was in my 20s, I spent three months in the hospital, and then a few years recovering. The hospital stay was so awful, including days of screaming, more dry vomiting than I can count, and complete inability to move for almost a month, that after I got out I swore that I’d never let it happen again.

I was very close to death for a few weeks while in that hospital, and the doctors actually didn’t think I’d make it. I had plenty of time to contemplate it, and when I came out I had no fear of death, because I knew that truly awful things happen in life.

Something changes when you face your mortality, not for an instant, but over a period time. I had to do it again later when I had heart problems (serious enough that I couldn’t catch my breath sitting down), and so I’ve done this more than once.

Add in my meditation training and something odd happened: I find the thought of death soothing. When I think something bad will happen or something bad does happen, I remind myself that, like Socrates, I’m human and therefore mortal, and I’m going to die one day. If I lose something, odds are it was something I was going to lose anyway.

And then I ask myself, “Am I scared of death?” and the inevitable reply is a chuckle, because the idea is absurd to me. Maybe there are hells and worse things can happen, but I know for sure that really, really bad things happen here.

And then, perhaps, I think back. The happiest year or two of my life were when I was around five, living on the beach with my grandmother and mother. I had virtually nothing then except clothes and a place to sleep: no possessions I cared about except a tiny heart-shaped booked my grandmother gave me in which she had written a story.

Happiness requires very little; remove misery, and happiness should bloom.

So when I’m anxious or scared, I move on to the ultimate anxiety or fear, and I find it empty, and then perhaps I keep it in mind for a time, and, for me, that is a near sure cure for anxiety.

Death can be your friend and your teacher. You’re going to have to face it one day; perhaps if you face it now, and ask yourself if you can be okay with losing all the things it takes, it can help you be free and happy.