You have the possibility to affect, change and inspire others from the grave. Most people die unexpectedly, because they never think about death. The only thing they leave behind is a name inscribed on a tombstone in a cemetery nobody visits. Do you want to be another person like this, or do you want to leave behind something meaningful? It’s your choice.
If you choose to create a legacy, you have to start right now. It is never too early, because you can never know when your time runs out. If you consider that your ever-lasting legacy could be more impactful than your life itself, the choice will be easy. Prepare for your own death, and add something to your legacy every day. Every decision should be taken with the end in mind.
I am not saying to sacrifice yourself for your legacy. I am not saying to trade the future for the present. I am not saying that some fantasy heaven is more important than the earthly reality. Please, don’t misunderstand me. Creating your legacy should be fun in itself, and always approached from a mindset of pleasure and passion.
However, you have to be very careful here not to use your legacy as an immortality project. Ernest Becker defined the term “immortality project” as a symbolic belief system to escape death. It is a fairy-tale for the ego to feel important and heroic. It is a way to deny death and defend yourself against the knowledge of your mortality.
In the face of death, people want to be remembered for something. For creative people, the immortality project takes the form of a creation. This could be a piece of art or any other form of creative self-expression. Creators channel parts of their selves into the works they create. If the creation lives in others’ minds, they will also be associated with it, thus remembered for it, even after death.
Perhaps the best examples of immortality projects are the great pyramids in Egypt. The pharao wanted to be remembered, so he had a tomb built that would stand forever. His belief in the afterlife and the preservation of his body was not enough, he wanted to immortalize himself with a stone building. It has been standing for thousands of years, so he did quite a good job.
It gives its visitors a feeling of awe and wonder till this day, and archeologists a mysterious puzzle to solve. But did it reach its original goal: to bring real immortality for the pharao? Did the pyramid itself bring anything of value for others, or only suffering to the thousands of slaves who built it? To both questions, the answer is probably no.
The problem is that it was built to immortalize the ego of a megalomaniac. Compare this with the legacy of the Buddha, and you will easily see the difference. Buddha’s legacy comes from his higher self, and its source could not be his ego. He did not want to escape death, his teaching was just the opposite. He urged everyone to achieve total death, to become a nobody.
The same way, your legacy should be something that comes from your higher self. You should create something that adds value to the world, that helps people somehow. It has to stand on its own, it has to remain valuable even when you are gone.
The more useful it is, the more people will like it, and the more they will remember you anyway. So, you cannot be egoistic when creating your legacy, because you are planning for a time when your ego won’t exist anymore. It still has to stay relevant and meaningful after your death.
One more thing. Your legacy should not hinder anybody in theirs. If it does, it is a sign of being just an egoistic immortality project. Let others be themselves too, let them be creative just like you but in a different way. Live and let live. Be free and let others be free, as well.
However, you have to be aware that ultimately, both your creation and you will be forgotten. Don’t be sad about it, it is natural. You cannot live in people’s minds forever, mental immortality is just temporary. The only real immortality is existential, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive for creating a legacy.
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