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Die on Purpose

chair in the desert

I think it’s really helpful to forget you exist, and often.

It sounds impossible, but it can be done.

Here’s an exercise I do sometimes to achieve that perspective:

Wherever I am, whatever location I am in, I picture the situation exactly as it would be if I wasn’t there. I just watch it like it’s a movie, and the people still in the scene are the actors. Or maybe there’s nobody around at all, it’s just an empty corner of the world sharing a moment with itself. Whatever the scene, it feels like I’m watching it remotely from some far-off theater. It’s all still happening, but I’m not there.

I absorb myself in the details of how it looks and sounds. The characters’ tones of voice, their gestures, the room around them, the background noise. I can let it be whatever it is without any apprehension, because I’m not there, so I have no means — or reason — to stop it or control it, or to wish it was different.

And something amazing happens: all of my concerns and interests just disappear. I watch the moment unfold however it pleases. No part of me is invested in the moment, it just becomes whatever it wills to be, and it doesn’t matter what happens. The effect is exhilarating and liberating. It seems to be quite a miracle that there is even something happening at all. And it’s always, always beautiful.

Think of it as dying on purpose.

Imagine you just died, right now. All of your responsibilities, relationships, plans and worries would vanish like they were never even real, and the world would go on perfectly fine without your input, just like it did before you existed. It’s nothing personal, just the plain truth.

Your hopes and worries never mattered anyway. They only appeared to be so critical because while you were alive you had the insidious (but normal) human habit of seeing things only insofar as they relate to you and your interests.

Really, try this. Imagine you’ve died but you can still watch what happens. You can even wander around the house or the neighborhood like that. Suddenly, the spectacle of what happens is all that’s important, and how it might affect you has nothing to do with it whatsoever, because there is no you.

If you can achieve that mindset of being utterly absent — and it’s not difficult — you will experience no self-consciousness, no worries, no angst, no fear. Just stuff happening. Interesting stuff. Poetic and absurd and compelling all at the same time.

The sensation of “not being there” is one of utter clarity. It will feel as if you’ve dropped a weight you never knew you were carrying.

Once you get a feel for that state, you will realize how much of your everyday thoughts are not about what actually happens, but about what’s in it for you or not in it for you. Those thoughts are the source of all self-consciousness, fear, longing and existential pain.

There is no sufferer, so there is no suffering. Curiously, beauty survives.

You will find that what happens around you is always beautiful and painless if you can watch it without evaluating it against your personal interests. And that’s easy to do when you’re not there.

So die, often.


Photo by David Cain

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Dave X Robb February 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I like that this is a simple exercise that really gets at overcoming our self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering. There are a lot of ways to try and do that, but this seems like a particularly good one. Thanks!

kerin gordon February 25, 2013 at 3:51 am

How do you even start this mindset. I consider myself a deep person as opposed to a shallow one….but I think I would have to be in an altered state for this one…like when you sit and look at the stars, 18, high as a kite and the idea that space goes to infinity blows your mind. once that high is gone, yeah nice moon. im gonna start small….tomarrow i will walk across a parking lot….and the next day it might be the walmart parking lot….i will be a better person….baby steps. im planning on cleaning my room tomarrow and going to donate to the human society second hand shop. this is kind of like dianetics by ron l. hubbard, take notes in the beginning, build confidence as you go along, although this will differ by me not taking the book and using it as a doorstop because that was the best use i could get out of that book.

kerin gordon February 25, 2013 at 3:57 am

this is not found….i wanted do see it so bad

kerin gordon February 25, 2013 at 3:57 am

this is not found….i wanted do see it so bad

April 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm
gee Andrew~ the imagery with what you say >_<
.-= Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor)´s last blog ..Item #7~ Cardboard magazine holders =-.

Jesse March 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I enjoyed this post, and I have actually tried to do something like this from time to time to ground myself, by imagining I’m not there, and really fully listening to the world instead of my thoughts or the song stuck in my head or whatever inner noise and distractions keep me from fully experiencing reality.

Once I achieve this state, and thoughts inevitably start to come back, I sometimes try to keep it going and experience my inner world as if I’m not there. It’s much harder to do, and even hard to explain, but from that same perspective of the detached observer, it is somewhat possible and gives an interesting perspective; as if I’m not the one doing the thinking or taking action, but someone experiencing my point of view separate from my ego, sort of like the movie “Being John Malkovich”.

Pedro Fonseca April 12, 2013 at 5:57 am

Hi David,

I know this is an old post, it even doesn’t make any sense for me post on it since it’s 3 years old. I found your blog earlier this week and I am very grateful for that. Many things and problems you write about are related to my life in such a precision I would have to consider you were spying on me. But turns out it’s easy to understand: I (or you, or whoever) am not special. The same problems have to be dealt with by everyone in slightly different ways.
My real input on this is actually that I am also deeply interested in the Buddhist philosophy as well. Although a “freshmen” student on the matter this text of yours is somewhat connected to Buddhism in the way of thinking. I would just like to know if you have read any Buddhist books or have had any contact with Buddhist philosophy. If you haven’t, I would definitely suggest it.
Sorry about my English writing, I’m not a native speaker. Haha.

jon baca June 21, 2013 at 1:11 am

this is truly brilliant David. its such a poetic yet practical way to be fully present, and to essentially let go of ego. continuing your metaphor, our internal dialouge about whats going on in front of us is like the audio commentary on a dvd movie. how annoying would it be if we couldnt switch it off when we are trying to watch a great film for the first time! if we could just learn to shut off our own constant commentary of the world, we could finally just sit back and enjoy the show. brilliant!

traveler August 28, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Look to the stars and contemplate the vastness of the cosmos, and your true insignifigance, it is quite liberating….

Anya November 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I bookmarked this page, as it’s something I will keep in mind. You’re a brilliant writer, I’m sure you’ll appear on TV sometime soon.:)


Jenn December 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I found this to be a very interesting way of looking a just how unimportant our one little life really is. In one sense there’s a saying that says; we couldn’t even imagine what our lives do for others, just that one meeting, one word, one touch, but yet
The fact is exact as you out it, if we weren’t there or never even won

Jayce December 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I am fascinated by the concept of seeing the world around me without seeing myself as a part of it. I’m going to try this in a lot of different situations as I think it will help me be less self conscious and more at ease as well as helping me be more aware of what is going on around me.

After reading David’s blog (is that the right reference?) and the many related comments, I was reminded about a short (and free) Kindle book I had downloaded a few months ago. “It’s Not All About Me” by Robin Dreeke. He discusses several techniques for being a better communicator. He identifies, “ego suspension” as one of the most effective of these. Many will probably recognize the “egotistic” tendency to immediately respond to anything someone says with a similar experience or story of our own without giving the other person a chance to talk more about their own experience. The concept is basically the same as David’s idea…….sometimes, we need to get out of our own way. I think practicing David’s “dying on purpose” will help me apply “ego suspension” when I talk with others.

This is a great website…..glad I found it …..looks like I’m a few years behind though.

David May 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Big fan of the site, check it all the time, but…I’m not sure if you know this or not, but this post (and others) have been translated into Japanese. o-O


It’s a pretty good translation too.

Just thought you might want to know!

kate June 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

this post reminded me of something i have discovered, maybe a year ago, or so. And that is, when i want to say something, give some information,or ‘interrupt’ someone, or do something that will have an impact on someone, i stop, and think to myself ‘i don’t need to say that….or give my opinion on this topic’…or tell someone what I think, etc. as it will have an impact on their destiny, and i start thinking that I just want to remain neutral, let them be, …..as everything affects everything . whatever we do affects the whole world…i began feeling like i just wanted to shut up, and leave it all alone. i do this with my son a lot now. Does anyone understand what i’m saying here??

インデックス June 28, 2014 at 2:03 am

満州矢追純一、ハローバイバイ関、モルモン飛鳥昭雄  中国・インド・アメリカ・ロシアは宇宙に比べたら矮小だ。 宇宙人はコーカソイド・中国人よりも優秀だ。 
ゴシックに使うカラコンを探しているのですが、瞳孔の部分がグラデーションになっているもの 影響 : 石平。 黄文雄。 呉善花。

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