“So, this is it. We’re going to die.” Arthur Dent – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Arthur is right; we are going to die. It’s unavoidable, no one gets a pass. While many would consider his view overly dour, I would argue that it is neither positive or negative. It is simply true and powerful.
Our Relationship With Death
We celebrate birth yet fear death, even though they are indivisible parts of the same process with the latter being the inevitable consequence of the former. The only unknown is the amount of time between them.
Those are the rules of the game. Were born, we live, we die. So why do we spend so much time pretending otherwise, ignoring the fact that there is only one way out of the world?
But if we can instead look at death as both normal and natural, it can completely change our lives. One simple step to a better life. If that is true, why aren’t more people happy? Because while it’s simple, it’s anything but easy.
Our Blind Spots
As a species, we seem to have issues dealing with things we don’t like. We deny them, push them away, and pretend they don’t exist. When it comes to our mortality, we might as well put our hands over our ears and say “nananananana…I can’t hear you.’ for all the good it will do. And by doing so, we miss out on of much of the sweetness life has to offer.
This is because we tend to value things that are limited in quantity and have a reckless disregard for things that seem appear plentiful. Ignoring the fact that we are going to die at some point can make our lives seem boundless. And once we buy into the idea that life is infinite, it becomes stale, faded and lifeless. There is so much of it, none of it is precious.
Another Point of View
But what if you see life as limited? You may have heard, or read, something like “I would give anything for one more day with my (wife, kids, parents, etc.)”. This is the kind of thought that occurs to you when you finally wake up to the limited nature of life. At that point, you realize that every second is precious beyond all else because you can’t buy more, at any price.
If you doubt this, find someone who has had to face their mortality. Perhaps they had a near-death experience or a potentially fatal illness that they defeated. Ask them how their perspective on life has changed. It’s illuminating.
So how do we achieve the appreciation for every moment of our lives without having to go through an imminent life-threatening event? We need to acknowledge and believe that we are going to die. That living is itself a life-threatening event.
A Way Forward
To do so, we must overcome the instinct to ignore what we can’t understand or control. We also need to have the courage to stand apart from an entire culture built on distracting us from anything that might wake us up to what is truly important in life. We need to stop denying that death will come to us all. It could be today or seventy years in the future, but either way, we are dealing with a precious limited resource. Once we can accept this simple fact, our whole world can change.
From a perspective of scarcity, we can better judge what to spend our lives doing. By understanding that life is finite, you now have a baseline to measure the value of your time against and use that to make better choices of how to spend it.
Because we know there isn’t always going to be a tomorrow, we can choose what is most important to us right now, and act on it.
Living In The Present
At times, this new awareness can be accompanied by the sorrow of realizing how much time has been wasted, or in fear of death itself. These are not productive thoughts. What is past is past and death can’t be avoided. If you find this happening to you, you could choose to spend time worrying or feeling sorry for yourself, but don’t you have better things to do?
I know I do.