One of the many devices on our path that we use in order to clarify our intent and to polish our hearts so that we could experience the proximity of the Rabb is remembering the proximity of death. By definition, for the living, the proximity of death will always be a reasonably speculative idea, because if you aren’t dead, then you are speculating about being dead. If we view it from that point of view, then it’s very important to regard the proximity of your death with great gratitude, because it is so easy to make this matter a speculative matter. I find that people answer ‘yes’ to the question, “You think you can die now?” surprisingly easily.
But sometimes it comes too quick. So much so that I am tempted to ask, “Do you REALLY think you can die now?”
One must beware that when you are reminding yourself of the proximity of your death, it doesn’t happen in an offhand and a cursory way. This is a practice to be done with utmost gravity and gratitude. The most useful time to learn how to use this device is when you’ve had a near miss, because then its somehow less speculative. When you’ve almost fallen off the motorcycle. When you were one step away from stepping over the edge of the building. When you were just standing next to the snake and it struck but it got your trousers.
He took you to the edge so that you could look down the abyss.
When these events happen – these near misses – this is your Rabb’s great generosity to you. Not because He saved your life, but He took you to the edge so that you could look down the abyss. You could reflect on the proximity of your death, with some real gratitude. And after that, the device becomes far more powerful, because you’ve smelt it. You’ve smelt death. It is not speculative anymore. There’s a real force to it.
Why is it that we should do this, when other people would consider this a morbid thing to do. From one point of view, if you want to succeed at the play, you rehearse. And if you consider the grave the final examination that we’re going to write, then maybe we should afford ourselves the opportunity to rehearse for the event. In the first instance, it is about taking from your life for your death. It is about dedicating a portion of your life for rehearsing giving up.
All the practices of our deen are rehearsals for giving up. Your salah is a rehearsal for giving up. For submitting and becoming defenseless. Your saum is the same. Going to sleep is the same. The rasul (peace be upon him) has reminded us that sleep is like death, because in both you get overwhelmed by unconsciousness. You disappear from consciousness.
There are a lot of periods in our lives, that are like rehearsals for dying. And this is a useful rehearsal to do because your death is the most predictable thing about you, and if you fail at the event – not that anybody fails at dying, but they fail at the proper engagement of death – then the horror that you engage death with is an eternal horror. When you die, there is no moment behind that, so if you take terror at the loss of everything into that moment, then that terror would last forever.
Therefore our insight is that the fire is not a metaphor, it is the reality, faced by the one who cannot lose everything unconditionally and is asked to do so. That horror of having everything ripped out of your hands, that your entire life is negated, with no other moment to follow. That moment ruptures into an emptiness that is outside of time. The clocks have stopped for you. Forever. If you take horror into that forever then by definition the horror lasts forever.
That moment could also be a moment of delight because if you have practiced submitting. This submission is not just in terms of making all the right noises in Arabic. Rather, when you’ve done your salah you’ve given in. You have used you salah to learn to give in, to submit to what Allah wants from you. When your neighbour comes to you with a problem, you help the neighbour. When the lady was being assaulted, you intervened in her interest. You put yourself in the service of your Rabb, you gave over what your Rabb asked of you. Then when He finally comes for the big prize, sewnding death to fetch it all, unconditionally, the giving over is easy. The delight of knowing that you’re able to hand over unconditionally to your Rabb, is also delight with your Rabb.
The rehearsal of death is taking from your life for your death. This is from the Rasul (peace be upon him). You must take from your life for your death, but he also said you must also take from your death for your life. In other words, this rehearsal of your death is somehow extraordinarily empowering. When you rehearse for your death, you realize how many of the things that you pursue and make important to yourself are frivolous and of no import. They are silly. In the face of what really matters, is it really an issue what colour the car is? Or that somebody threw a stone through your window?
When you look at the proximity of your death it becomes apparent that you should strip away the inessential and to focus on what your Rabb wants from you here, now. Your death therefore enables your life, because it means you stop wasting your energy in frivolous activities that are just going to bleed your life and energy in futile pursuits. Every one of us have come into this world with a charge from our Rabb. This charge is of such gravity, that the entire universe depends on it.
And how can I claim that?
Are you going to rise to the occasion? Or are you going to waste your life energy in frivolous, inessential pursuits?
Because every human being alive is the epicenter of existence. This is one of the miracles of how consciousness is structured. Be conscious means to be in the middle. The rest of the universe stretches to infinity in every direction. You are therefore in the middle of everything. Amazingly, the same think is true for someone in China. Right now. You are in the kiddle of you universe. You are its epicenter. You are its point.
You are here for an extraordinarily significant purpose. It might not be extraordinarily significant in the eyes of other people. But they are irrelevant in terms of the view of Allah subhana wa taala. He has made you as the keystone, as the one element, that is crucially necessary for this drama to unfold with the highest degree of beauty and eloquence that it can.
Are you going to rise to the occasion? Or are you going to waste your life energy in frivolous, inessential pursuits? What you will find is that when you do what your Rabb has called you into existence to do, He allies the whole of existence behind you. All of the help that you need will be given to you. But if you waste the opportunity because your head is so busy with all sorts of things you can’t even work out what the priorities are, you find that the whole universe finds you ugly, and objectionable. It resists you.
The experience of that resistance makes us depressed. We have a sense of powerlessness and meaninglessness in our day-to-day lives.
So the practice of using our death as an advisor has two benefits. It has a benefit of the taking of your life for your death, because there’s nothing like studying for the final exam. There is nothing like reciting to yourself the propensity to lose unconditionally, so that when you’re asked to do that, you do it eloquently, with no arguments.
Secondly, when you use your death for your life, it helps to clarify your priorities. So, your Rabb says to you, “Now that you’ve had the near miss, and the bullet has graced the bridge of your nose, what are you going to do with the rest I’ve left you, because you don’t know when the next bullet’s going to come.”
What are you going to do with the rest of what is left to you?
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May Allah grant us annihilation in Him.
May Allah grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 9th of March, 2013.