A new birthday arrives, another year to live departs. And so it goes until it no longer does. With each passing year, I increasingly spend more time contemplating death, especially my own. Not in a morbid manner, more with a sense of investigation, curiosity and intrigue.
The more I come to terms with death, the more I am able to live a rich, deep and full life. It’s one of the unexpected ironies of life that I take particular delight in. But with less time ahead of me than behind me, there is also a certain amount of urgency to explore the Great Mystery of Death.
I’m not sure how I will feel when my moment of passing arrives. None of us really know.
But what I do know is this: everything that has a beginning has an ending. That also applies to us humans.
We experience so much loss in one lifetime – relationships, jobs, health, self-image, youth and loved ones. How we meet these endings shapes to a large degree how we will meet new beginnings.
I’ve seen a lot of life through these blue eyes. They’ve witnessed birth and death and so much in between and I’m in no hurry for it to be over. It’s my longtime meditation practice, however, that has enabled me to come to terms with the inescapable reality of impermanence and the brevity of life. It has helped me to fully understand that I am much more than a fleshy human shell that temporarily houses my eternal, timeless soul.
If our image of ourselves is limited to our physical form, then our experience of aging and ultimately our mortality will likely be one of panic and dread. There is only so much preservation of the human body that one can do, only so much time we think we can buy.
Yes, it’s hard to see the aging of our bodies and the passing of our youth, and yet the older I get the more tenderness I feel towards my own aging process. I look in the mirror and I see both the young girl I once was and the wise elder I one day hope to be. I feel so much love and gratitude for and from both of them. They are both intrinsic parts of me. If I’m fortunate to live a long life, the essence of my spirit will remain unchanged despite the inevitable physical aging of my body.
I’ve spent many hours this past decade bedside with dear loved ones as their final moments approached. It is always love and love alone that they find comfort in as death arrives. It’s not about the things they ticked off on their bucket list, it’s about how deeply they loved and were loved in return.
These bedside experiences, both exquisitely beautiful yet savagely terrifying, have been sacred reminders of how to live the remainder of my life. All my life I’ve innately understood this wisdom, even from an early age.
I do not wait to tell people I love and care about them.
I am not afraid of risk, change and uncertainty.
I do not postpone the experience of pleasure for some future time that may not arrive.
I am fully invested in the immediacy of the present moment.
I do not live by anyone’s rules or guidelines but my own.
I am as curious about death as I am about life.
I do not ask for permission to take care of myself and my desires.
I am not afraid to raise my voice or claim my place in the world.
I do not live with regrets, shame or guilt.
I am an active practitioner of daily gratitude; a grateful heart changes everything.
This is it. Right here and now.
Life goes by very fast and is no dress rehearsal for some future incarnation. We will never know when our time is up. Our days are numbered and that anointed date is not up to us. The time to start preparing is now, not tomorrow or the next day.
Everything you need to know and learn from is right where you are. You are your own best authority – trust this with every fiber of your being and live accordingly. Be your own wise guru, your own trusted advocate, your most loyal ally and beloved friend. Decide for yourself, how will you live your one wild, extraordinary and precious life?
Sometimes I wonder why people are so guarded, so full of caution and restraint. Why aren’t we all running heart-first into life drinking the marrow of every fleeting, impossible, gifted moment? It’s not about how much you do or achieve, it’s about being fully awake and present to all of life no matter how it shows up – the effervescent lightness of being and the dark nights of the soul.
Immerse yourself in both pleasure and sadness without judgment, regret or hesitation. Pain in life is inevitable, it’s part and parcel of being human. But so is joy.
Sometimes I am so moved by the sheer beauty and sorrow of life that I cannot stop the flood of tears that overtake me, nor do I try. But we do get to choose the degree of suffering we experience by what we give our attention to. It’s your story and you get to write and rewrite each chapter. We do not get points at the end of life for depriving ourselves of pleasure or perversely wallowing in unnecessary pessimism and worry.
Every morning we get to begin anew until there are no more tomorrows. There is no escaping the truth that (for most of us) the way we live our life will affect how we die. Open heart, open mind; closed heart, closed mind. You choose.
So here’s a thought: say what you need to say while you still have time. Love and care unceasingly for others, but always keep a part of yourself that is yours alone. Laugh and cry in equal measure and rest more. Learn to give yourself pleasure and self-soothe. Kiss with such presence and tenderness that your heart could break and mend all at once. Make love as if you truly feel it with every tremor and sigh. Practice the power of forgiveness towards yourself and others and never underestimate the grace of a sincere apology. There is such enormous freedom and healing in both.
As I celebrate another birthday, I vow to keep on dancing ‘till I’m shattered, make love ‘till I’m devoured, love ‘till my heart explodes and live with unpredictable, joyous, complex, contradictory and serene mindfulness ‘till my very last breath.