You may prefer to ignore thoughts of death, and go on living as if it will never happen to YOU, but deep down, you know that’s a lie. There’s nothing wrong with living for the now, and avoiding needless worry, so on the one hand, not thinking about death and living in the present moment is actually brilliant, so well done.
On the other hand, it’s coming for all of us, whether we like it or not, and it seems to pick up speed each year, doesn’t it? With Coronavirus sweeping the nation, the last thing I want to do is try to instill fear in you.
What I do aim to ignite in you, however, is an awareness, an appreciation, and the guts that come from knowing that one day everyone you know, yourself included, will die, and have that knowledge inspire you to live better, more fully, and with fewer regrets.
Fear of death is normal, so if you want to stop reading, I encourage you to keep going, get a little uncomfortable, and realize that if we don’t acknowledge the brevity of life, we risk living on autopilot, missing out on opportunities, connections, adventures, and living out our full potential.
If you mistakenly think you’ll live forever, you’ll keep putting off those creative projects, you’ll keep postponing that vacation, you’ll keep saying, “ahh, I’ll get ’em next time.” Essentially, you’ll keep chickening out because you’ll convince yourself you have unlimited next times. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you don’t. You have a finite number of “next times.”
You don’t have to go streaking in your neighborhood or spell out “I Love You” in rose petals on your crush’s lawn, but if you are sincerely and deeply compelled to do something like that, well, you’re gonna die, so here’s your exercise:
Picture yourself on your death bed. While we of course cannot know when we will die, and we should acknowledge the fact we could be unlucky and go tomorrow, picture a best-case-scenario. For me, I’m in my nineties, at home, in bed, pretty thin and worn looking, but still have my red lipstick and jewelry on, still keeping a sense of humor, and am still quite sassy.
I consult this lady a lot. And more often than not, she says yes. She says do the thing, life is short. Fill it with the things that feel good, follow your gut, follow your heart, and don’t waste your time on things or people that don’t feel right.
I’ve been regularly consulting my death-bed self for years, since in the moment, problems and decisions can get blown out of proportion and fifty years imaged experience, facing the end of life, can lend some valuable perspective.
I also like to ask myself, “Will this matter in five years?”
So, while I don’t want to alarm you, or fill you with despair about potential death, the reality is, death has always been a part of our world, and kind of part of the whole deal as far as this life thing goes.
We are always faced with the potential of death.
So I encourage you to take this as an opportunity to think about what’s important to you, and what you’d like to do, before you die, if you haven’t already, and adjust accordingly.
Is it important to you to express your creativity and leave your mark on the world? Is it important to you to spend time with family, and to let your friends and loved ones know how much they mean to you? Is it important for you to travel the world? Is it important you leave your soul-sucking job and create your own income? Is it important to you to live off-grid, tiny-house style, and commit to a minimalist lifestyle?
Use this time to get really clear on what’s important to you, and start living it. Get in the practice of talking to your death bed self. It doesn’t have to be scary and dramatic. Use a little dark humor and make it funny.
When you are at a crossroads, or feel your fear inhibiting you, learn to consult with the deathbed version of yourself, and see what she says. You might be surprised. She can be like the fairy godmother you never had but always wanted, offering you a little extra moxie when you need it.
I encourage you to make two lists. One in the short term, doing what you can with the options you have now, and one that is longer term, where you have a little more time to plan, save money, and decide.
Life is happening now. Life is also short. Life is a gift, and life is exactly what you make it. What do you want to make of your life? How can you make adjustments now so that when you do wrap up your life as we know it on this earth, you can smile and say, that was fun.
I like to have a general bucket list handy. My death bed self has a very “ah, fuck it” attitude, but a calmness, and a consideration. She doesn’t need to think too long about things because she has lived a lot of life.
But it might be time to revisit that bucket list, and edit it into a version that fits our changing world. Because we don’t necessarily know enough to assume it won’t be us.
Also, many of us have more time on our hands. How do you want to use it?
You can hold space for grief, for processing, and if you don’t feel like a million bucks, that’s ok, too.
But consider how limited our time here is. Just consider it.
Ask yourself these questions:
How can I fill my time with joy and pleasure?
What mark do I want to leave on the world?
Who would I like to connect with, whether to make amends, express my appreciation and gratitude, or maybe even, the love in my heart?
What am I looking forward to?
If I knew my time was limited, how would I treat those closest to me? What would I do for them, with them? What would I want to say to them?
This isn’t to say we all need to panic, live as if there’s no tomorrow, and go streaking in the streets yelling out our life’s confessions, (although if that strikes your fancy, this may be your window of opportunity.)
This is to say, how can we cherish what we have, and life as we know it, right now? How can we live in the knowing that life can end for us and those we love, but still go on living with the hope of a better tomorrow?
We’re never guaranteed tomorrow, and we always know this logically. I encourage you to remember, especially now, that we are never guaranteed another breath, but my wish is that you remain hopeful for many more.
If all we ever have is now, how can we better embody, appreciate, and live in the now of our current reality? What can we do know, so that when we look back on our lives we can say, “I lived a great life.”