Once in a while, something happens in your life that not only reminds you of how important it is to live fully, but it also makes you appreciate everything you already have. Something like this happened to me last Friday, on what appeared to be an ordinary, quiet, sunny morning.
I was at my sewing machine making some dog collars when I suddenly felt a pain shoot through my abdomen, as if someone had just stabbed me in the belly. I fell off my chair into the fetal position on the floor. The pain was so paralyzing that I couldn’t walk, so my partner rushed me off to the emergency room. I spent all day being poked and prodded when hours later an ultrasound revealed the source of my pain – a ruptured cyst on my ovary. I’d never experienced this issue before but apparently it’s common. You certainly wouldn’t know from the pain that this condition is no big deal.
I was relieved that it turned out to be nothing serious physically, but the daylong experience in the hospital really affected me on a deeper level. Since I very rarely visit the hospital, I often forget how healthy I am. The whole incident placed me out of my element – in a bed surrounded by people with serious, sometimes chronic health problems. I had no choice but to catch a glimpse of their lives through the thin curtain that separated us. Even though at that point I still had no idea what was wrong with my own health, I realized that on a daily basis, I tend to forget that I am tremendously blessed.
By the time I received my diagnosis, the pain had subsided and I was discharged. I emerged from the hospital, feeling better than I ever have before. Even though on the outside I reappeared as my usual, healthy self, every cell of my body had been infiltrated with a new sense of gratitude. I was one hundred times more thankful for my health, my body, and everything in my life that my healthy body enables me to experience. The hospital had reminded me of my mortality, my fragility, and a philosophy that I try to live by but sometimes forget. The philosophy is, to “live like you are dying.”
Live Like You Are Dying (Because You Are)
The reason that we should live like we are dying is because in reality, we are. No one is getting out of here alive. We assume that we have years and years left to experience Life on earth, but the truth is that we don’t know for sure. Life can suddenly alter even the best-laid plans… such as my case last Friday. Spending all day in the emergency room certainly wasn’t on my to-do list next to “pick up some bananas.” None of us really know for sure how long it will be until we toss in the hat… and it is possible that it could be tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.
The intention behind sharing this philosophy isn’t to depress or scare you. It’s to inspire you to live more fully, deeply, and richly. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, you would say the things you need to say. You would do the things you want to do. You would pursue your life purpose, even if you had a few months to follow it. You would immediately get your priorities straight.
Live in the Present
One of my favorite quotes is, “Man spends all his life climbing a ladder, only to find that when he gets to the top, it was up the wrong wall.”
The reason that most of us don’t heed the advice to “live like you are dying” is because our minds are constantly in the future. We are never able to enjoy today to it’s fullest because we’re always preoccupied with tomorrow. It starts in public school, when we start to look forward to middle school. In middle school we can’t wait for high school; in high school we’re excited for college. College is spent preoccupied with planning our future career, and when we finally do get a job we focus all our energy climbing the corporate ladder. What’s at the top? Not much, if you didn’t enjoy the climb. If you live this way until you die, you’ll get to the end and wonder where your life went. Whoops! You forgot to live it.
When you live like you are dying, you live in the present, not the future. Remembering our mortality inspires us to live in present time, and appreciate every moment. We start to live the life we really want to live, not the one that’s been dictated to us by society or by our upbringing. When you live like you are dying, you remember what Life is all about.
If you began today to make decisions as though you only have a year or two to live, how would your life change?
• Would you stay in your current job? If not, what would you do instead?
• Would you stay in your current relationship? Create a new one?
• What battles would you choose to fight, if any?
• What would you do with your spare time?
• How many hours would you work / rest / play?
• How much time would you spend with your family?
• What would you choose to talk to your kids about?
• Could you finally forgive yourself? Others?
• Would those extra 5 or 10 pounds really matter?
• Would you watch “American Idol” or sit outside with a loved one and count the stars?
What if it was one of your loved ones who only had a limited amount of time on the planet? How would you treat them differently? What would you say to them on a daily basis? How would you spend your time together? Could you offer them your forgiveness? Those that hurt you only did so because they didn’t know any better. We are all just “victims of victims”, as Louise Hay likes to say.
Once again, I’m not trying to depress you… I’m trying to wake you up. When you decide to live like you are dying, you’ll live fully and richly with no regrets. You’ll live as you were meant to live: with awe, gratitude, and in daily remembrance of the wonder of life. I know it’s corny, but please “live like you will die tomorrow”, because one day…. you will.