I love summer and admit to getting a bit sad once winter descends! I find myself desperately grasping onto eachsunny day and trying to make the most of it at this time of year, wishing thedays were longer and warmer and wishing I’d made the most of the summer whilstit was here! Crazy when we know thatsummer and winter come and go each year as the seasons change. There’s some interesting parallels here onhow we live life and something I’ve been contemplating.
This weekend I went to a course on, wait for it – death! Not the most enjoyable way to spend a weekendyou’d think and not at the top of most people’s list, but it was reallyinteresting which has led to this article on my take aways and how it can helpus. Those who follow me know I’ve spentyears studying Buddhist practices and philosophies on life and this oneintrigued me having experienced loss a couple of times already this year.
You see one thing we all know for sure is that we will die, there’s nogreater certainty and we’ve no idea when really. Because of this it’s so important we livewhilst we’re alive. Some of us might getit pointed out in advance if we’re sick or receive a terminal diagnosis butwe’re all on the same conveyor belt whether we’re aware or not.
How can this help us though rather than send us into a state of panicor depression? We never think aboutdeath in our western world. We live likewe’ll be around forever and then when it comes (as it always does) we’recompletely unprepared, scared and desperately hanging on to life, wishing we’dactually lived it – like me with summer!
Here’s the thing from a Buddhist perspective though. If we consider that we will die one day(fact), it changes the way we live, it changes our perspective. If we thought we may die today ourinteractions become different with people, we do the things that matter, wetreat each other with kindness and the little things stop bothering us.
For anyone who’s been close to death, lost someone dear or been in themidst of an earthquake or natural disaster this may have become clear. It doesn’t need to take those things thoughfor us to have the perspective and awareness and to live each day with meaningand appreciate more of what we have. Thescary thing is that each day we live is a day closer to our death.
Yet we live like we’ll be here forever. The Buddhist nun this weekend likens it to staying in a posh hotel. We know we’re only there for short time, wemake the most of the fine white sheets, the fluffy bath robe and freeshampoos. We enjoy it, appreciate it butwe don’t believe we’ll take any of it with us or cry when we leave because weknew right from the start that we’d be checking out.
When we think about our death we stop chasing after the things that wecan’t take with us – money, status, material possessions and we focus on thethings that make life meaningful. Westop putting things off “I’ll be happy when I get… (the job, house, car,partner)”. We learn to appreciate whatwe have and live in the moment rather than postponing our happiness to a pointin the future.
When faced with death we stop worrying about getting it all perfect –our career, our house, the way we look. Wetend to not want to think about death, it’s a morbid subject and we certainlydon’t want to think about the death of loved ones – we hope they’ll liveforever.
Let’s face it though; it’s only when something ends we talk about howmuch we enjoyed it, miss it and how lovely it or they were. This is true of holidays, leaving speechesand eulogy’s at funerals but why wait until then. If, like Buddhists, this was our every dayand not just in the face of something ending we’d learn to appreciate what wehave, we’d spend our time doing the things that matter, with those we love andwe’d tell people what they meant to us and what we appreciate about them.
Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, talks of this in her book Top 5 regrets of the dying. What is it that people regret most lookingback on life? That they’d worked less,appreciated more and lived more true to themselves.
And when our final day comes, because we don’t always get the warning, we’ll have fewer regrets and we’ll have lived each day like we’d have wanted.
Find out more about beating the overwhelm and living life more meaningfully here