Death: the awareness of the possibility of death as the access to owning one’s life and living powerfully

“The life of riches, ambition, pleasure, is in reality an intolerable servitude in which one “lives for what is always out of reach,” thirsting “for survival in the future” and “incapable of living in the present.””  Thomas Merton

This week I came across TED talk, titled “Before I die I want to….”

Watching/listening to this talk I was struck by the fact that someone had written “Before I die I want to live.”

When I saw this, sadness gripped me.  It occurred to me that you and I are given a tiny window of opportunity to partake in the glorious drama called existence.   As far as I know we are on the only planet that supports/generates life as we know it.  Just compare the images of Mars to those of Earth: ours is a breath taking world!   Yet, so many of us are totally not present to this.  We do not experience this beauty.  We do not experience this gratitude. And our living does not reflect any urgency in living well.   And for the most part we do not live well.  If we are honest, brutally honest, for most of us, our lives do not show up, in experience, as lives worth living.  Why because we are chasing those riches and/or engrossed in surviving/fixing.

Is there a way out of the trap?  Yes, the possibility of death offers us the door out of the trap into a vivid experience of living.   I have experienced this vividness, this wonder, this gratitude, this week.  How/why?  Two people who I know/like/care about are close to dying.  Being told that they are dying resulted in sadness and tears showing up in my house of being.  And along with sadness, Death brought with it, into my house of being, a vivid appreciation of the wonders of being alive.

We dread death, individually and as a culture.  We dread death so much that we don’t talk about it, we don’t acknowledge it, we don’t allow people whose quality of life is so poor to get help to end their lives.  We keep death hidden behind the curtain.  Yet, is this the wisest course of action for living well?

It occurs to me, and I am not the first one that this has occurred to, that the possibility of death is like no other possibility.  Possibilities other than ‘no possibility’ (which is the all to common default way of being in the world for many/most of us) have to be invented by us.  If I want to lead a life full of life I actively need to invent possibilities that I can live from/into that lift me up, inspire me to be, to put myself fully into the world and take a hand in shaping it.  When it comes to death, you and I do not have to invent the possibility of death.

The possibility of death is there, always there, right from the moment we are being pushed out / thrust into this world.  The challenge is to create/generate the right relationship to it.  The challenge is to invite the possibility of death into our house of being so that it influences/shapes our way of being in the world.  And to keep doing: keep being present to it.  Why?  Because when we are present to, really present to and experience the possibility of death then it shapes our living, our way of being in this world.  The presence of the possibility of death pushes us to live, really live, to appreciate the beauty of this world.

What I have noticed this week is that with death being present, vividly,  I have lived vividly.  I have really tasted the tomato salad.  I have really tasted the delicious ice cream made by my wife.  I have really listed to the music and got joy out of it.  I have delighted in holding the table tennis bat and playing tennis with my children.  I have enjoyed the wind and the sun stroking/brushing against my naked body and so forth.  I have even enjoyed the sweat pouring off my face as I work the exercise bike.

The real sadness of life is not death.  It is to live in such a way that when you are presented with the question “Before I die I want to..” you answer “LIVE”.  It does not have to be that way.  Just getting present, authentically present, to the possibility of death can/does make all the difference.  Put differently, authentic presence to the possibility of death, has the potential to transform our lives.

Are you up for that?  Or do you prefer to continue chasing the horizon, living for someday?  If so you might want to remember the wise words of Thomas Merton, the words that I opened this post with:

“The life of riches, ambition, pleasure, is in reality an intolerable servitude in which one “lives for what is always out of reach,” thirsting “for survival in the future” and “incapable of living in the present.””