Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
—an axe age, a sword age
—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.
I like mythology in general, and one of my favorite stories comes from the Norse Prose Edda, Ragnarok. It generally translates to “the fate of the Gods” or “Twilight of the Gods”, something like that. Essentially, it’s when almost all of the Gods die fighting and various cataclysmic horrors befall everyone and everything. Pretty fun.
There a few worthwhile things to pull from Ragnarok in regard to living a mindful, meaningful life, and you don’t have to literally believe in it to do this.
We’ll look at them this week, starting with the understanding of death we can find in Ragnarok.
My favorite aspect of Norse mythology and Raganrok is the idea of these Gods living their lives knowing they are going to die. In fact, each knows how they will die: Thor dies fighting the serpent Jormungandr, Loki and Heimdallr kill each other and Odin is devoured by the wolf, Fenrir, just to name a few.
Apart from not knowing how we will die, our lives are really no different. In fact, I think the Gods of Asgard get a little bit of an advantage in knowing how they are going to die and a general idea of when. We only know that we will die at some point in the future. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe years down the line. It can be nerve-wracking, especially if we aren’t living our lives in a worthwhile manner.
The entire purpose of this blog and much of my work as a counselor and meditation teacher is to help people come into this moment, right now, because it is all we have. We live on this thin edge between the immediate past and the immediate future, and the present is the only thing we have ever actually experienced.
We have a clock on us, yet we act like we are going to live forever.
Seneca explores this idea better than anyone in his essay “On the Shortness of Life” (click here for a great version with bolded passages). Essentially, he talks about how we wouldn’t let someone take our money, even though there is always more money, but we give away our time, even though there is never more time. Throughout Norse mythology you see stories of God who know their time is coming, and they make the most of life.
You have your own Ragnarok, a time you will die, and there is nothing you can do about it.
You can eat healthy, wear your seatbelt, never smoke or drink and always double check the stove, but you are still going to die someday. Dress yourself in bubble wrap or live in a bacteria free dome and you will still die. You may not know when or how, but it will happen.
What would your life look like if you let this understanding permeate your choices?
What would be truly important, what would you allow to fall to the wayside?
Who would you give more time, and who would get less of your time?
How much time would you really want to spend in the past or the future, when the present is all that ever really exists?
These are the questions I find make my life better, and shift how I treat people and situations.
As always, thank you for reading.