19Tue

From Contemplating Death to Embracing Life?

On New Years Eve, my friend and I perched ourselves atop a large rock and witnessed a beautiful bay area sunset. Eyes on the rapidly evolving color gradations surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge, my friend shared with me how she was responding to a particularly challenging period in her life. In the midst of enduring a break up, she discovered that she would need to vacate her home. She was also processing the recent decision she had made to take a leave from her doctoral work. While on vacation, she had begun revisiting Buddhist teachings. This had resulted in her contemplating death.

She revealed that she had determined how she would spend her last day of life. Her day would commence with cooking breakfast at her home with her closest friends and family. Everyone would participate in a long hike, which would end at the ocean. During the evening, she would host a huge dance party, from which she would depart to meditate independently. Hearing my friend’s plan for the last day of her life left me in a contemplative state. If you’re anything like me, your initial reaction to the idea of meditating on death or the finitude of life, elicits fear and general discomfort. In spite of my initial hesitations, however, following the sunset-preparation-for-death conversation, I found myself reflecting on how I spent my time, and whether it reflected the activities and people that fulfill me. The subsequent week, when the NY Times posted Arthur C. Brooke’s piece “To Be Happy, Start Thinking More About Your Death,” I was reminded of my dissertation. One of the components of the study – an exercise in which participants write their own eulogies – is intended to help individuals to identify their core values, and assess to extent to which their current choices and lifestyle align with those values.

This sequence of events also brought to mind teachings from my yoga teachers, and collectively signaled that I needed to pause and to explore this notion of contemplating death as a means to building a more vibrant, values-based life. I thought I might share with you some of the questions that I have been mulling over, and see how exploring them lands with you.

  • What are the activities, and who are the people that bring you energy and joy?
  • How much time do you spend engaged in those activities and with those people?
  • What would it look like to approach some of your days as if they were your last?
  • For what do you want to be remembered?

If you’re at all like me, approaching these questions is a bit uncomfortable. At the same time, maybe accompanying this discomfort is a sense of freedom and inspiration. Would you be willing to pilot an experiment during the remainder of this first month of 2016? Does holding these questions in mind change anything in your daily life? What happens during those times spent participating in meaningful tasks?

What would it look like to devote even 5 minutes of your each day to these activities and individuals that create meaning in your life? Below are several suggestions what this might look like:

  • Texting friends you haven’t spoken to in some time
  • Maintaining a gratitude journal, in which you record five things for which you are grateful that day
  • Meditating for five minutes before bed or upon waking
  • Planning/or actually creating an art project (ie: creating jewelry, water coloring)
  • Looking at pictures from sweet moments
  • Reflecting on thoughtful gifts you will give to love ones.
  • Joining an interest group for which you haven’t had time

Further Reading:
NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/to-be-happier-start-thinking-more-about-your-death.html