Why would you want to die consciously, and how to go about preparing for that?

How to Die Consciously

Here we look at the psychological and spiritual aspects of dying with awareness. Dying consciously will also include attention to some practical aspects such as creating a will, Advance Decision (also known as a Living Will) and so on. [See Advance Decision and Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare]


If a man can die in the state of consciousness, for him death exists no more. In other words, if a man can manage to remain conscious at the time of death, he finds he never died at all: death appears just a delusion to him. Death proving to be a delusion does not mean, however, that death remains in some form as a delusion. Rather, when a person dies fully conscious, he finds there is no death at all. Then death becomes a falsehood. [1]


Why die consciously?

Let’s start by asking: Why live consciously? – because living-dying is one process but it’s easier to understand dying indirectly, through our everyday living.

We can live on ‘automatic pilot’ – absent in a sense and just going through the routine of our day. But when we are present – that is, open to what is in each moment, fully engaged and observant – our experience changes qualitatively. The joyful, loving moments become deeper and more vibrant. Even the otherwise-unremarkable events take on a new significance.

Unaware, when times are challenging, we are overwhelmed by anxiety. By contrast, when we face anxiety consciously we can watch the worried thoughts and feelings without fighting them. There’s an acceptance that anxiety is simply what is happening in the moment and – as do all other emotions if we allow them to – will pass on.

We may notice too that challenging times provide their own teachings. Through them we find out a little more about ourselves and so they can be the catalyst for waking up a little more.

So: when we know that being fully present to whatever life presents is the most fulfilling and meaningful way to live, we’ll want to live our dying in the same way.

We don’t anticipate, when we become sick, that the soul will be engaged. Yet a life-threatening illness calls to the soul, taps into spiritual resources, and can be an initiation into the soul realm for the patient and for anyone else who is touched by the mystery that accompanies the possibility of death. [2]

Dying can do a similar job to meditation: it, too, jolts us into the present. The past is rapidly fading and there is not going to be a future, or certainly not in a way that we can imagine. Knowing for certain now that our life is going to end, we are more aware of it than perhaps we have ever been. Paradoxically (paradoxes line this particular path!) when we are conscious to our dying, we become more capable of really living.


How to help yourself stay aware when you die?

* At whatever stage you are in life, be as aware as you can.

If you know you are going to have to bail out of a plane, it’s smart to have a parachute with you (and one that you know works) rather than to start making one just before you step outside! In other words: dying is a process that happens not separately from living but as part of it. So if we want to die consciously we need to start living consciously.


Ordinarily, we look upon death as something that happens outside of life, or as some kind of phenomenon opposite to life. No, in fact, it is the final occurrence in the series of events that take place in life. It is like a tree that bears fruit. First the fruit is green, then it starts turning yellow. It turns more and more yellow until finally it becomes completely yellow and falls from the tree. That falling from the tree is not an event outside of the yellowing process of the fruit; rather, it is the eventual fulfilment of the yellowing itself.

So the event of death is but a part of the chain of events belonging to the same phenomenon. The final event is not the end; it is just a separation. One relationship, one order, is replaced by another relationship, another order. [3]


* Be happy with what you have…


You should be content – as if you have reached your goal; as if there is no further journey to be undertaken; as if there is nowhere else to go. No matter what may be achieved, it should be more than enough. There should be no thought whatsoever of achieving more than you already have.

If this happens to you, how will you be born again? You will die fully satisfied. And the man who dies completely satisfied has no reason to come back again. Such a man has known the art of death. The man who dies in desirelessness knows the art of death. [4]


… and complete ‘unfinished business’

Unlived experiences that we’d been hankering to have and issues between ourselves and others that we have ignored, remain hanging about us. They can be a distraction and cause us anguish when we are facing death.


* Have nothing to lose

Osho suggests not accumulating anything; then ‘whenever death knocks on the door it will find you ready. By going with death you are not a loser. You may be moving into a new experience.’ It’s possessiveness that’s the problem, not life itself. With attachments – to people, to experience or to possessions – comes the fear of losing them. [5]


* Die to each moment & live intensely

Start dying each moment to the past. Clean yourself of the past each moment. Die to the known so that you become available to the unknown. With dying and being reborn each moment you will be able to live life and you will be able to live death also. [5]


* Know the time of your death  


* Face your fears

Most of us have fears about dying – whether we are aware of them or not. If we are in the grip of that fear we will be pulled into unconsciousness. There may be anxiety about being dependent on others or being in pain; concern about how those who are left behind will manage without us; or about what we imagine is beyond death, and the fear of judgment and retribution.

Acknowledging our fears and discussing them with a compassionate listener can be greatly helpful. Read some suggestions here. [See Fear]


Spiritually, the transformation in consciousness has the opportunity to begin in earnest only after the stage of acceptance. [5]



Strategies for staying conscious in the moments of dying

* Meditative Methods

As well as living each moment with awareness, acknowledging our fears, completing unfinished business and so on, through specific meditative techniques we can learn how to voluntarily let go, to move inside, and to experience the aspect of ourselves that can observe from the sidelines, as it were, all that we are experiencing.

Such methods also allow us to know ourselves as other than the dying body-mind. See:


* Some outer ‘props’

Taking a certain posture, using fragrances and certain music – these are some of Osho’s suggestions. [See Staying conscious at the moment of dying]



Dying consciously: an entry into ‘Private Ecstasy’

Some people write of their dying in terms of ‘the most exciting and extraordinary journey of my life,’ of their experiencing ‘more moments of private ecstasy than for a very long time,’ and of death as ‘sad but it is also a process of transformation and change and excitement’. And as ‘the opportunity for fulfilment and the experience of extraordinary depths of feeling, and the chance of reconciliation that would never otherwise occur.’ [6]


Those are the words of Philip Gould, as he was dying of oesophageal cancer. He consciously faced and lived each moment as it came and clearly experienced how dying not only need not diminish one but can be transformative. In a videoed interview with British journalist, Andrew Marr he says: ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to die the person I was [before his journey through cancer and into dying].’ [7]

His book is deeply moving and inspiring. It offers great insights into the potential for inner growth that becomes available when we consciously face our death. Read some extracts and commentary here.

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. [8]



Pain and the alchemy of awareness

‘To stay present to what is may be all well and good when I’m feeling okay, ‘ you might be thinking. ‘But why would I want to be conscious of my pain – the physical discomfort and the sadness?’

Try this meditative technique next time you are feeling any emotion that your tendency has been to reject sadness, for instance….

Stay with it. Just accept its presence, without judging it or having an opinion about it. Acknowledge simply that sadness is what is happening in this particular moment. Be with it, that’s all. Not pretending it’s not there, not fighting with it, not wishing it wasn’t there or wasn’t so intense; not trying to distract yourself or to escape from it.

Do nothing at all. Be with the feeling. Allow it to be without taking any action that might otherwise have been triggered by it….

Notice what happens. Unless you are determined to cling onto it, you’ll see a change.

This is the magic of mindfulness, of meditation – it helps us to understand the nature of pain and to have various ways to consciously be with it. read more


The mystic’s eye-view

Mystics know what death is really about. That is, that entered consciously it is an opportunity for self-transformation and even self-realisation. Not only that: They see death as a joke.

Zen masters are notorious for their zany, unpredictable behaviour – throwing disciples out of windows, conjuring up weird conundrums and making enigmatic pronouncements. There are stories from their moment of passing on which give you a taste of their altogether different take on what death is.


Enlightened Exits

Be inspired – even amused! – by the anecdotes of mystics in their last moments. read anecdotes



1,3) And Now And Here    Osho (Rebel Publishing House)

2) Close to the Bone         Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D (Conari Press)

4) The Great Secret             Osho (Rebel Publishing House)

5) The Grace in Dying       KD Singh (HarperOne)

6) When I die; lessons from the death zone Philip Gould   (Littlebrown)

7) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKbMzImJpte

8) Emily Dickenson


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