Monday, March 7, 2011


The late comedian and writer Groucho Marx (pictured opposite), my all-time favourite funnyman, was not afraid of dying. “I hope they bury me near a straight man,” he quipped. (Poor man. He was cremated.)

A George Mason University study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has suggested that being a mindful person not only makes you more tolerant, but it can also neutralize fears of dying and death.

"Generally, when reminded of our mortality, we are extremely defensive. Like little kids who nearly suffocate under blanket protection to fend off the monster in the closet, the first thing we try to do is purge any death-related thoughts or feelings from our mind," said Associate Professor of Psychology Todd Kashdan of the George Mason University.

"On the fringes of this conscious awareness, we try another attempt to ward off death anxiety. We violently defend beliefs and practices that provide a sense of stability and meaning in our lives," he said.

Kashdan wondered what might prevent these defensive, intolerant reactions from occurring. He and his colleagues looked at what might happen when mindfulness and the terror of death collide.

Less mindful people showed an intense dislike for foreigners for example mentioning what's wrong with the US, greater prejudice against black managers, and other things. They sought harsher penalties for social transgressions such as prostitution, marital infidelities, and drug use by physicians that led to surgical accidents.

Conversely, mindful people showed a lack of defensiveness towards people that didn't share their worldview.

Mindful people were diplomatic and tolerant regardless of whether they were prompted to think about their slow, systematic decline toward obliteration.

Death is inevitable. It is the direct consequence of living. As Groucho Marx said, “If you keep having birthdays, you’ll eventually die.” Face the fact that you will vanish from view some day. Face it ... honestly and mindfully. And never pretend that death is less than it is ... nor more than it is.

NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.


Niemiec, C.P., Brown, K.W., Kashdan, T.B., Cozzolino, P.J., Breen, W., Levesque, C., & Ryan, R.M. (2010). Being present in the face of existential threat: The role of trait mindfulness in reducing defensive responses to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 344-365.

Kashdan, T.B., Afram, A., Brown, K.W., Birnbeck, M., & Drvoshanov, M., (in press). Curiosity enhances the role of mindfulness in reducing defensive responses to existential threat. Personality and Individual Differences

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