Professional Student of Life
Adventures in personal growth
It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and – what will perhaps make you wonder more – it takes the whole of life to learn how to die. ~ Seneca
I am in Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebrations this year. Skeletons are literally everywhere, as well as altars with photos of dead relatives and friends. The mood is festive but also serious: this goes well beyond the Halloween customs we’ve adopted north of the border. It’s a time to remember just how thin the line is between life and death, even if we prefer to look the other way 364 days of the year.
For people who are grieving, or facing a terminal illness, contemplating death is unavoidable. The rest of us run like crazy. But living a conscious life also means remaining conscious that none of us leave here alive, and none of us know the date of our departure. Scarier still, none of us know when our loved ones will leave these bodies. But they will leave them one day.
I think there’s a way to hold that knowledge steadfastly and still live life fully and without fear (for the most part). Many people lean on spiritual beliefs or religious faith for this, but even that foundation isn’t unassailable. I have a pretty strong belief in reincarnation and the afterlife, but the fact remains that I could be wrong. A more reliable support is to consciously live my life in such a way that, if I did die tonight, I would be “ready” for it.
That means different things to different people. For some people, having lots of mourners at their funeral is a sign of a life well-lived. For others, having achieved something significant that will live beyond them in their field of work or knowledge is important. For many, pouring love and effort into caring for children is the ultimate accomplishment. You get to choose what living well means.
What really matters is that you choose consciously, and then live your day-to-day life in a way that prioritizes that. It should be a regular habit (even daily) to evaluate how close your actual path is to the path you most value. In a very real sense, the “Day of Judgment” comes every single day, and we are the only judge. If you live a life in alignment with your true values, while you might not feel ready to go, or that you accomplished everything you wanted to, you can at least look around and say, as the Native Americans did: Today is a good day to die.
And when it comes to our loved ones, especially children, we have to look squarely at the fact that they are on their own path. There’s nothing we can do to guarantee that they will outlive us, which is another thing to consciously acknowledge every day. Just as you do with your life path, evaluate your relationships regularly through the lens of their impermanence: are they what you want them to be? Do they reflect your true values? We’ll never get everything right, and we can’t control the other person, but we can be responsible for our own thoughts, words, and actions.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being conscious.
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