Meditation instructions that include contemplating death can be found in the Pali canon, the oldest collection of Buddhist philosophy. Looking directly into the nature of reality is a path to awakening and liberation in that tradition. The Buddha instructs his monks to seek desolate places such as graveyards and cremation pits to remind themselves of impermanence.

Buddhist philosophy advises that we remember that the body is a material thing and subject to all of the changes that matter can undergo. The Mahasatipattana—Sutta directs the meditator to imagine the body as a fleshy sack containing hair, bones, blood, and other bodily fluids. The purpose of these meditations is to embrace the fragile nature of physicality. Nothing that we can hold onto will last forever, and some things can be crushed by being held too tightly. Instead, one should reflect on the value that arises because things because it cannot endure. The next time you drink from a treasured cup, it could be the last time. In thinking about the end, one gains the perspective to appreciate the present moment.

Gothic artists are famous for trysts in cemeteries and other places of the death. Percy Shelley wooed Mary Wollenstonecraft Godwin by reading poetry in a graveyard. Edgar Allan Poe often dwells on physical processes of death and decay in his writing. The contrast between the quick and the dead forms a cornerstone of the Gothic aesthetic. The flame burns more brightly when seen against the shadows. As Buddhist philosophy argues, we appreciate what we have when we appreciate its fragility.

Both Gothic art and Buddhist philosophy channel a fascination with death, decay, and destruction into reflection on happiness, beauty, and life. A common repulsion, the fear of darkness, pushes these images to the edges of our attention most of the time. In turning away from darkness, one turns away from a tangible and inescapable reality. Unrealistic desires and presumptuous neglect arise from the delusion of permanence. The wiser path is to keep both creation and destruction in focus.