Our society has progressively exiled the four defining moments of our life experience: birth, disease, aging, and death.
We are born, are ill, and die mostly in hospitals, and the old live in institutional ‘homes’ or artificial aging communities, separated from their families due to geography or the dominant culture of age segregation.
We value youth and the appearance of health above all else, and attempt to avoid at all costs all contact with whatever reminds us of the precariousness of our lives. Specifically, the fear of illness and death has led us to separate ourselves from these experiences, as if ignoring them will postpone them indefinitely, or prevent them altogether.
The Dharma, however, invites us to contemplate these four moments and integrate them in our experience, because without them our view of life is narrow and shallow. Maintaining close contact with sick friends and family members, and cultivating a relationship of gratitude with our dead, are essential practices on the Buddhist path.