You're going to die. I'm going to die. Everyone around us is going to die.
The reality of death is, of course, both obvious and daunting for most of us. With the recent tragic events in Japan, and some very serious health news I received from someone close to me, I've been thinking about life and death a lot this past week. I was on a run a few days ago and thought to myself, "I wonder what it's like to know you're going to die?" Then I thought, "Wait a minute, we're all going to die -- we just don't act like it."
As simple as this thought was, it was profound for me. I don't live my life all that consciously aware of my own death. My own fears about death (mine and others) often force me to avoid thinking about it all together. I do catch myself worrying about dying -- sometimes more often than I'd like to admit, especially with our girls being as young as they are (Samantha's five, and Rosie's two and a half).
I also don't talk about death that much because it seems like such a morbid topic, a real "downer." I worry that it's too intense to address, or, superstitiously, that if I focus on death, I will somehow attract it to me or those around me.
As a culture, we don't really like to talk about death, or deal with it in a meaningful way, since it can be quite scary and is the exact opposite of so much of what we obsess about (youth, productivity, vitality, results, beauty, improvement, the future, etc.).
But what if we embraced death, talked about it more and shared our own vulnerable thoughts, feelings and questions about it? While for some of us this may seem uncomfortable, undesirable or even a little weird, think how liberating it would be if we're willing to face the reality of death directly.
Steve Jobs gave a powerful commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 entitled, "How to Live Before You Die." In that speech, he said, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
Contemplating death in a conscious way doesn't have to freak us out. Knowing that our human experience is limited, and that at some mysterious point in the future our physical body will die, is both sobering and liberating.
The reason I've always appreciated memorial services (even when I've been in deep pain and grief over the death of someone close to me) is because there is a powerful consciousness which often surrounds death. When someone passes away, we often feel a certain amount of permission to get real in a vulnerable way and to focus on what's most important (not the ego-based fear, comparison and self criticism that often runs our life).
What if we tapped into this empowering awareness all the time, not just because someone close to us dies or because we have our own near-death experience, but because we choose to affirm life and appreciate the blessing, gift and opportunity that it is?
Here are some things we can think about, focus on and do on a regular basis that will allow us to live like we're going to die, in a positive way:
- Don't sweat the small stuff. As my dear friend and mentor Richard Carlson reminded millions of us through his bestselling series of books with this great title, life is not an emergency, and most of the stuff we worry about, get upset about and obsess about is not that big of a deal. If we lived as if we were dying, we probably wouldn't let so many small things bother us.
Death can be difficult and scary for many of us to confront. There is a lot of fear, resistance, and "taboo" surrounding it in our culture and for us personally. However, when we remember that death is both natural and inevitable, we're reminded that everyone's life (whether it lasts for a few days or a hundred years) is short, precious and miraculous. This awareness can fundamentally and positively alter the way we think, feel and relate to ourselves, others and life itself. Living as if we're going to die (and remembering that it's guaranteed) is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and those around us.