Death and Spirituality

Death is not something we like to think about, talk about or face up to. And yet the truth of our mortal condition is always lurking just outside of our thoughts, conversations and awareness.

As human beings, we know that we will die and that we have no control over when or how. When I was younger, contemplating death caused me intense physical and emotional anxiety. I didn’t know how to address this anxiety so I did my best to distract myself and to push it out of my mind. It wasn’t until I travelled in developing countries that I began to face my fear of demise.

Real human suffering, on a large scale, forced me to face the reality of my own condition and that of everyone I’ve ever known: we will all get sick, we will all suffer and we will all die.

When trying to accept death and suffering as an individual, it’s overwhelming. Chaos seems the only answer for why good people suffer and die. However, it was amongst the chaos of Africa and Asia that I found a release for my existential anxiety: spirituality.

I was discussing my spiritual beliefs today with my boyfriend. We were sitting on Bernal Hill overlooking the beautiful city of San Francisco. Kyle wanted to know how I can be so sure that this world isn’t just random chaos.

My answer was, of course, that I don’t know. In my opinion it is arrogant for a person of belief or non-belief to claim to know the answers to the biggest questions of the universe. My answer was only that I know that I do not control much in this lifetime. I can’t stop bad things from happening to me, any more than I can stop famines in Africa.

What I can do is, with humility, give my worries to something greater than myself. In this way I say, “I can’t hold all the unknowns of my world by myself. I give them over to The Great Mystery with faith that I am an integral part of a divine plan.” I let go of a control that I never had.

In my view, this is the essence of all religion: a recognition that our tiny life really has no power over the destiny of ourselves, our loved ones or our world. What we do have is a bond to every human being that has ever walked the planet and asked “what does it all mean?” It is this question that connects us to the essence of ourselves and also to the essence of every person living and passed.

It’s easy in our ego-driven world to lose site of this connection. But today as I sat with my boyfriend above the city, I began to cry. I told him I have faith because this world that I love will all be taken away from me too soon. I don’t know if I will die today or 50 years from now, but I do know that in my last moments I’ll be thinking about how much I’ll miss this crazy and beautiful life that I was so generously gifted.

Now when I contemplate my death my heart fills with gratitude and I feel an aching to become more present to my passing days. In the light of death, I experience how much I really love my life. That’s enough for me to hold onto. I hold my life as sacred and believe deeply that I’m a part of something divine. I have control over that much: my choice to believe. Everything else I release to the mystery of the universe.

Jessie Curtner is an Integral Coach based in San Francisco. More about her at