When I asked group after group after group of yogis whether they are afraid to go to sleep or not, there was a consensus. Not only are we not afraid to go to sleep, we all quite enjoy going to sleep. It gives our body time to rest. I asked the same yogis whether they are afraid of death- whether it's his or her own death or the death of another. Again, there was a consensus. Almost everyone- if not everyone- is afraid of death in one way or another.
In yoga philosophy, we speak about having different states of consciousness. Jagrat is the waking state, swapna is the dreaming state, sushupti is the deep sleep state, and turiya is the state of being enlightened, awake beyond awake. The first three states of consciousness are something we all have access to.
Why is it that we are unafraid to sleep but afraid of death? After all, in deep sleep, we do not really know where the consciousness goes. In the same way, none of us can say with certainty where the consciousness goes after death, not through our own experience anyway. I think it is because we perceive sleep as part of the cycle of life. We wake up, go about our day, go to bed, dream, sleep, and wake up again. We assume that when we go to bed we are going to wake up. And yet we perceive death as a disruption to the cycle of life. When someone dies, no matter the age or circumstance, we often think of how they are "missing out", what it is they can no longer do or experience. We think of their lives as being "cut short" instead of seeing death as part of this cycle.
Why then is it important for yogis to contemplate death? To deny the reality of death as part of the cycle of life is to live with false pretenses, and many of us do just that. We live as though we were going to be in this body forever. We accumulate things as though we will have forever to use them. We postpone things as though we were sure we have that much time. We hold back on living life authentically with this false pretense. To accept that death- just like sleep- is part of the process of life is to start to let go of the fear of losing this physical body. To let go of fear is to start focusing on things that matter.
I had heard this story told of two raindrops that were about to fall into the ocean. The first raindrop was full of fear, anxious that he will lose who he is when he falls. The second raindrop had a very different take on it. This second raindrop had no fear. He thought, if I fall into the ocean, then I become the ocean.
Physics says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it merely changes forms. What was once there will always be there, just in another form. Yoga says the same thing. May we all be like the second raindrop who understands that when we lose this physical body, we go back to our source, whether we call it energy or Earth or God or by other names. We do not lose who we are. We become who we truly are.