Memento Mori: Why Remembering Death Will Change Your Life

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius

Memento Mori is a concept that dates back thousands of years but that has been mostly associated with and popularised by the philosophy of Stoicism. Literally meaning “Remember You Must Die”, it is a sobering reminder of the finite nature of our lives. 

The power of Memento Mori was captured by a number of Roman military generals and leaders. Their return from battle was always an extravagant and glorified event. Exotic plants and animals were on display from the conquered territory, musicians lined the streets and the successful general would ride through the crowds on his chariot. 

Hidden in plain sight amongst the festivities would be an aide of the general, whispering repeatedly in his ear: “Remember You Are Mortal.”

Countless leaders, commanders, emperors, kings and queens across time and space have believed themselves to be immortal gods and have committed horrible atrocities as a result. Memento Mori was used to keep the emperor’s head from soaring to the clouds and his feet firmly planted on the earth with the rest of his people.

Memento Mori Meaning

 

Although we may not be riding chariots through the streets, returning from triumphant battles or parading exotic animals, the power and value of Memento Mori in our own lives is not too difficult to see.

While it might appear morbid on the surface, Remember You Must Die is the perfect antidote to the various poisons of modern culture: stress, anxiety, busyness, wastefulness. 

The meaning of Memento Mori far extends the fact that you must eventually leave this world, but that it is the fate of everyone else too – including close friends and family. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind rather than daydreaming your way through life is the most effective way of finding appreciation, joy, peace and love for everything that is here now but won’t be here forever.

Memento Mori in Stoicism

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The Stoics are arguably the ones responsible for popularising this term and bringing it to prominence in the West some 2000 years later. All of the most well-known Stoics pondered, meditated upon, spoke and wrote about death frequently.

Marcus Aurelius – perhaps the most famous Stoic – was one of those people who would ride through Rome. The emperor was one of the most powerful men on the planet at the time, yet he did not let his mortality get out of sight. The emperor kept a personal journal with many of his contemplations revolving around death and life. Staying close to the concept of ‘Memento Mori’ was one of the main reasons why the emperor was so effective as a leader and why he is still talked about 2000 years after his death.

Seneca was another one of the most well-known Stoics to emphasise the importance of Memento Mori as often as possible. In his Moral Letters to Lucilius, Seneca wrote Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.

Epictetus didn’t speak as prominently about Memento Mori as the likes of Marcus Aurelius so famously did, however, it is not something that evaded him either. He was known to remind his students that whenever they kissed their child, brother or friend, they should remind themselves that they are mortal.

Memento Mori Quotes

 

Between all of the Stoics, they came up with plenty of pearls of wisdom with regards to life, death, mortality and Memento Mori.  Below you will find a selection of some of the best Memento Mori quotes from the great Stoics…

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes. But chiefly death, and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.” – Epictetus

“If death causes you no pain when you are dead, it’s foolish to allow the fear of it to cause you pain now.” – Epicurus

“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can, become good Now.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Death: There’s nothing bad about it at all except the thing that comes before it – the fear of it.” – Seneca

 

Across Time and Space

 

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It isn’t just the Stoics that see death as something extremely valuable, many traditions across the globe and over centuries have honoured and even glorified death. In fact, it is quite rare historically to be living in a society where something as common and as certain as death is something that is so taboo.

The most common example is the “Day of the Dead” that is celebrated in many Latin American countries. Death is seen as merely a transition and the love of the the relatives of the deceased far exceeds and surpasses death. It is what is fated for all of us so there is no need to hide away from it.

Many older spiritual traditions see death as liberation. In Sufism, there is a popular quote that reads “People are asleep and when they die, they are awake.” This is in reference to the dream world that many of us get caught up in of desires, fears, limitations, beliefs, projections and interpretations – all of which are simply creations of the mind.

Many of the Buddha’s teachings are centred around the impermanence of things and he himself described death as the ‘greatest of all teachers’. This is very similar to the Stoic’s message of Memento Mori – that death is the strongest reminder of impermanence.

 

Application

 

So how does one apply Memento Mori and its associated teachings in their own life? As is the case with any sort of philosophical teaching, at some point it must be applied. Otherwise, it is useless.

Luckily, the application of Memento Mori is very simple. Simply keep the idea of death, impermanence or change at the forefront of your mind. 

Knowing that you will one day leave this earth and so will those you love, you can cherish each moment that you get to spend with them.

Trivial worries, fears and arguments suddenly lose much of their importance. Remembering that you must die doesn’t mean that these things won’t happen, it simply means they lose their heaviness and makes difficulties much easier to bear.

When death is kept in the background, life comes to play in its inherent fullness in the foreground.

This is the true power of Memento Mori.

 

Memento Mori Products

 

It’s important to keep the message of Memento Mori at the forefront of your mind at all times. 

How can this be done though amongst the busyness of everyday life? How can one remember such an important message throughout the stresses of modern day living?

The answer, from personal experience, is that it is very difficult without a little bit of help. This is why we created these Memento Mori products. This is why we created this entire store.

Remembering your philosophy is much easier when it is manifested as something in the world, rather than something to just remember in your head.

Below you will find just a few of our Memento Mori products including Memento Mori coins, rings and t-shirts.

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Coins

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Memento Mori Rings

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T-Shirts

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