I find myself thinking about death a lot–not in a morbid or dark way, but as a motivating factor.
I lost five people in my life this year. Their deaths caused me to question my own mortality and help me question how I want to live. Most of them were hit by the proverbial bus. The proverbial bus is that experience that takes your life away–suddenly and without warning–like a city bus knocking you out of your shoes as you cross the street to greet a friend.
One friend died while hiking alone. He fell off of a cliff. Another friend had a heart attack at the age of 36. I certainly did not see that coming. Another friend, who my wife and I have based our philosophy of lifestyle and career on, died very suddenly from lung complications. I lost two of the most important people in my life this year–my grandparents. Finally, though this individual did not die, many of us thought he would. My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, flew off of his bike while cycling and landed into oncoming traffic, sustaining injuries that will, no doubt, leave him indefinitely changed.
When I was a child, my mom visited San Diego and returned with a jar of beach sand and ocean water, which she gave me as a gift. It was in a Sanka coffee jar. I loved that gift and felt like I had a piece of the ocean. I would shake the jar, furiously and would watch the sand cloud up. Then I would set it on a shelf and would watch the sand slowly fall to the bottom of the jar, returning the cloudiness to crystal clear water.
Death has a way of shaking our minds like this jar of water and sand. The shock of a friend or family member’s death can make us feel so very confused. However, over some time, death can also provide a clarity of mind–the type found when the jar begins to settle and the water again becomes clear.
What have the many deaths in my life afforded me? Perspective. I have come to realize that I do not want to live my life flippantly. Rather, I want to LIVE life as fully as I possibly can.
The very nature of life is so strange. None of us really understands it. Why are we alive? Who are we? What is consciousness? These are questions that we can theorize about and even come to believe, but cannot answer, definitively.
How can one live more fully? Well, we can start by realizing that we can, in all reality and honesty, die tomorrow. None of us know when a bus has been set into motion and when it might make collision with our path of motion.
The Buddhists of Bhutan choose to meditate daily on the impermanence of life. They do so, as to meditate in such a way, one tends to live a little more fully. Coming to the realization that you can die tomorrow, can help you to live today as though it is your last, which it truly may be.
For me, this is not a depressing thought. Rather, it is a motivating one. It helps me to take perspective and create a plan of action, to set goals and to live in a meaningful way and in a way that is in line with my own value system and to the beat of my own drum.
I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau