Guest Column: “Think of yourself as dead” – Finding a Philosophy in the Post-Modern Age

by Edward Reid.


We live in a turbulent world.  Perhaps it appears slower these days due to Covid-19 – the virus enhances the perplexing and stressful nature of our lives. With isolation and social distancing we are dealing with something increasingly complex.  The burden of not being able to socialize can be devastating. If you’re accustomed to going to work, to talking within intimate proximity of each other, to being around people most of the day – when that is taken away, it is truly hard to cope.

On any given day a sizeable portion of society find they are living on an unforgiving edge.  They are depressed, living in the past, or anxious, in their mind compulsively thinking about what is happening in the future. An individual may dwell on her or his mistakes…and regret many things they cannot take back.  Otherwise they might become caught up in the maelstrom of emotions about the days that are coming at them so fast, the bills, the worries about health of themselves or their loved ones, food on the table and so much more – all coming at them like a freight train. 

How does one cope with all this?  Drugs and drinking are abundant as are self-help books that promote positive thinking for the sake of “to endure”… looking for a way out of or at least assuage our circumstances.  People are seeking something that is elusive.  Some do well with religion, finding God and meaning in a power greater than themselves.

Mindfulness and meditation are increasingly called upon – seeking to find peace in the moment. And to me that is a beginning.  The moment is what matters.  We lose so much in dwelling on the future and the past.  All what we don’t have control over.  The reality of life is that we don’t have control over much and acceptance of this is also a gateway to better future. 

One often overlooks history and how those in the past lived and dealt with life. We may ask do people change. How so? We know circumstances change. How do our circumstances effect the human condition? Or, is the human condition the same as it has always been and do people feel the same as we feel –  three or even ten-thousand years ago?  How did these individuals cope?  How did they react to life?  

Looking at history we will find extraordinary people who lived in challenging times – more brutal than ours.  Thankfully individuals wrote down their thoughts to study, to learn from, to dwell on and to apply to our lives.

Our modern philosophy and way of thinking, the standard is that we should always cherish life and use that as our motivator to “keep going”.  Being grateful for being alive.  Stoics believed the same, but viewed it differently.  They often cherished death.  They thought of their own mortality and meditated on dying.  This is a stark contrast to the current narrative. 

“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.” — Marcus Aurelius

Imagine if more of us thought of ourselves as dead. As though we were already on our death beds, that we had lived out lives and come to the end.  If we took time to meditate on our own demise and then “awake” from that moment and realize how much really matters at all?  What is so important?  What matters the most?  Why are we so bothered?

Much of life is about perspective and living life as though you are already dead or close to death can be a start to living a different life.  The things we hold so dear, our worries, our anxieties and the depression, the mistakes we’ve made seem so minute in comparison when considering that we are living on the brink. 

Whenever I travel I try and visit cemeteries.  For me it is not just the artwork, serenity, and history that I find insightful, but I can sense my mortality and feel gratitude for being alive.  Being amongst those that have passed for me can be a very spiritual and special time to think about my own life.   

Stoics were onto something and much of our modern philosophy is based on stoic thinking and the foundations they’ve laid out.  It is not a dark and despairing way of thinking.  Again, it is more about perception and how you apply philosophy to your life.

Finding a philosophy that works for you, whether blended with your religion or blended with other philosophies may change your life and your outlook.

For several years, lost in depression, I studied different philosophies and blended them with my core belief in Christianity coming out with a mix of existentialism, stoicism, pragmatism, and American transcendentalism.  I’m not always happy, but I have something to go to and I have a foundation I can rely on.  

I am able read from individuals who felt exactly how I feel and were in the same dilemma and found a solution for that.  Again, the human condition and suffering is universal and people have always sought ways to overcome that.  We have an abundance of wisdom and theories that address that at our hands. 

Healthy minds are capable of seeking and growing personally and spiritually, but there are no shortcuts that I am aware of. Studying philosophy takes time and effort and finding what works for you may not be easy, but when you find that source of inspiration, when you hear those words that click it is like an epiphany.

Socrates said that the “The unexamined life is not worth living” and I find that to be true in my life.  At least due to my conditions, I had to examine my life to feel better.  I had to find something to alleviate the mental and spiritual pain that I felt so deeply in my soul and I could not find that with medication or talk therapy.  I had to find it on my own personal journey into history. 

Our modern world offers quick fixes for the human soul that will never work.  We are spiritual beings, unique, that suffer and struggle.  For most of us, we have to find our own way in the universe, but we have guides.  We just have find and use them.