V. 1."To Live Like You Are Dying"
A simple question to start and shape our day: "I am dying. How can I be most truly alive on this precious day?"
It is never too early, nor too late, to begin the journeys required to be truly alive by facing our pain about our death. If we are younger, deciding to do so can help shape our entire life, adding years of immeasurable richness and depth. If we are older we can develop the parts of ourselves that have lain dormant for most of our lives, rather than simply continuing as we have until the grave, experiencing levels of previously unimagined aliveness and love.
A refrain from Tim McGraw 's hit song beautifully summarizes the challenge: "Someday I hope you'll get the chance to live like you were dying."
Each of us lives out the description in The Mahabaratha . Though we see death all around us, we consciously live and feel as if we will live forever. It is as if we are all spectators of the movie of our life, watching a fantasy on screen that we know intellectually is untrue but to which we happily spend disbelief. The problem is, of course, that our life is not a movie. To live as if we will never die is to live a lie. And to live a lie is not really to live at all. A beginning point to being truly alive is to live as if we will really die, i.e. to live in truth.
This does not mean that it is necessarily desirable to feel our full death-anguish, even if we could. Whether Ernest Becker was right in suggesting that if we did so we would be reduced to animals howling in the wind is speculative, however. For most of us have the opposite problem. We do not feel our deep sadness about dying too much. We feel it too little.
Even those who regularly find themselves feeling their sadness and anguish about their mortality usually do so only a small portion of their time.
When we take a journey to becoming more truly alive we increase the moments in a day when we consciously allow ourselves to fully feel our sadness about our eventual death, and to see that feeling transformed into the deepest possible love and appreciation for life. When we make this effort, we see those moments of sadness and anguish, about our death that arise as precious in and of themselves, because we understand that they are gateways to deeper feeling for and involvement in life.
There is one key above all to taking our journeys to true aliveness: feeling our pain about our mortality as fully as we can . If we can feel our pain in the moment, experience an anguish in which our muscles decontract and our body opens up, the anguish usually transforms itself into the deepest possible appreciation for being alive. We are, in that moment, truly alive.
Very often, however, as our sadness begins to arise, we tend to push it away. If we are aware in that instance of the pain that has managed to surface, it is useful to try and actively transform it into love for life, e.g., by consciously thinking and feeling, "and this makes life all the more precious! This pain reminds me of how much I want to appreciate and love the life I have left!"
One way to develop this kind of consciousness is to look back at any previous point in our lives, say ten or twenty years ago. When we look backwards that way, it as if ten or twenty years has passed in an instant. When we are on our deathbed looking back to this moment in time, it too will have seemed to have passed in an instant.
It is useful to practice "looking back" if we do so to increase our appreciation of the preciousness of the brief life we have been granted, and to increase our resolve to make the most of it. It may seem that we have time to waste, or to spend in activities that do not really make us happy. A "looking back" practice reminds us that we do not.
We do not.
It is useful to begin each day, or even each hour within each day, with an exercise such as experiencing the poignant feels that arise from such thoughts as "I am dying, I want to fully live every minute I have left."
The experience of so many suggests that if we were forced to begin each day with such a thought, e.g. after having received a terminal diagnosis, it might well transform many aspects of our present life. And this realization leads to a basic question: why wait for the terminal diagnosis we will one day receive to transform our lives? Why not begin the journey now?