We are each going to die. Ouch. What a first line to a blog post. While this is not a popular thing to acknowledge or discuss, it is a simple truth of human existence. Unless we have been diagnosed with a terminal illness or we have decided to take our own life, we do not know when or how it is going to happen. This is what we live with in every moment. However, we go to great lengths to keep this reality at arm’s length or to pretend that we can somehow skirt around it with fresh squeezed juices, exercise, and elective surgery.
Four years ago I spent a week in an isolation room waiting for my cancer diagnosis. I am so grateful for that week. I had a lot of time alone to reflect on my life. I felt fear, sadness, anger, and confusion. And I gained a lot of clarity about what matters. The ever-present reality of my mortality was a gift. The seemingly endless needle pokes and chemotherapy that followed were a small price to pay for the reminder of how precious life really is.
Acknowledging death does not have to occur as paralysis or resignation. We can use the fleeting nature of life as motivation for living well. We can ask ourselves if we are living our greatest life given the circumstances in which we find ourselves at the moment. Are we cultivating the love, joy, and peace that we seek – the love, joy, and peace that we believe we would experience if our situation was just right?
When we try to ignore the finite nature of life, we run the risk of waiting. We keep scanning the horizon, hoping for our ship to come in so that we can really enjoy our life. We overlook the miracle of existence that is unfolding in the present. We overlook the opportunity to respond to life with joy and wonder. We miss the chance to cultivate unconditional love through small acts of kindness for friends and strangers. Now is our chance to live life fully.
As a coach, I work with bright, capable, accomplished people who are struggling to savor their lives. They see their experience through the lens of “not enough.” They see themselves as not enough or not worthy of love. Everything gets distorted through this lens. Accomplishments are not enough. Wealth is not enough. Fame. Praise. Promotions. Affection. Admiration. Of course there are brief moments of pleasure, but then the fog of not enough settles over the landscape and the struggle continues.
Most of us are never taught how to work with our mortality. We are not trained in how to work skillfully with the inevitable discomfort that comes with being human. We are not trained in how to cultivate gratitude, love and joy. So, we look away. We distract ourselves by acquiring shiny things and looking at colorful screens. We self-medicate with food, drugs, and money. It is never enough, but we keep trying.
What if we spent time everyday:
Identifying, accessing, and acting upon what is most important and meaningful to us?
Connecting deeply with, and being supportive of, others?
In silence cultivating a peaceful approach to our internal experience?
Cultivating acceptance, gratitude, compassion, wonder, love, and joy.
If we lived this way, perhaps we would spend less time trying to keep the reality of our mortality at bay. Perhaps we would fill the time we have between birth and death with priceless experiences that do not depend solely on our circumstances. Perhaps we would know, at some gut level, that who we are – as we are in this moment – is enough.
Dave is a coach and consultant who partners with individuals, couples, and organizations to help them get the most out of their lives and work everyday. He combines modern science and enduring wisdom to help people work peacefully and powerfully with the human condition. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.appliedattention.com