You could die ten minutes from now and not even know it.
Of course, you probably won’t, but realize this: there will be a point in your life where you’ll be strolling along, driving somewhere, or laying fast asleep, and you will die 10 minutes from then. It’ll come out of nowhere. And the book will be closed on your life.
That moment could come in a week, a month, or in 40 years. You don’t get to choose which one of them it is – unless, of course, you’re planning on committing suicide, but I don’t think that’s a route anyone should even consider.
One day, you’re going to die, and life as you know it will end forever. The world you know now will all vanish. I don’t want to get into the metaphysics of dying, since that ends up falling under religion, and no discussion of where we go after we die ever ends well.
On the day you die, the world will end. Nonexistence will become your reality. If you’re a lover of life like I am, the idea of dying is incredibly, incredibly frightening (though I’ve since come over my fear of dying). Life is an incredible ride and we don’t want it to end. However, our fear of death and the knowledge that death is around the corner can help us tremendously while we’re still living.
The Buried Alive Exercise
Here’s a cool exercise you can try that will help motivate you to live every day like it’s your last and could possibly change your life. It did wonders for mine.
Lie down on the floor on your back. Cross your arms on your chest and put your legs together – like you would lay in your coffin.
Close your eyes and begin to relax. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Allow yourself to really relax and let go of all the tension you have built up inside your body.
Now, imagine that you’re at your funeral – as if you died last week. Vividly imagine this – from the funeral home that you’re in, to the pictures of you that people are being shown, to the funeral program, to the color of the flowers that people have brought. Make this more real than your most vivid dream.
Who’s at your funeral? Just your family, or have your friends decided to show up too? What does everyone look like and how do they feel? Are they sobbing because they miss you so much, or do they seem a little more ambivalent than they should?
When it comes time for the eulogies, what will people say?
What kind of person will they say you were? What kind of impact did you have on them? Don’t be afraid to be honest when you imagine their speeches.
Will they say that you lived every day like it was your last, that you always had a smile on your face, that you were dependable, honest, fun to be around, a smart worker, loving, a great friend? Or will they say something like, “Well, truth be told, he wasn’t at his (her) best all the time… He could’ve done better with just a bit more effort…”?
Think of all your greatest dreams – whether it’s to travel, to open a business of some sort, to have a family of your own, to have a great job, to live in a nice city, to go out more often, or to conquer the world (just kidding!) – have the people who are giving you eulogies reflect on them. Did you sell yourself short and not go for any of your dreams because you always thought that you weren’t worthy? Or have you always been chasing for your dreams, except your untimely death prevented you from realizing them?
Which one of those are you?
Think of all the regrets you have – the things you’ve wanted to experience the most in life but never got to – and make everyone talk about them and constantly harp on them again and again. Let the pain of regret sink in. If you’re doing this right – or have a lot of regrets – you might start to cry. That’s fine. That means that you have an incredible desire to live.
As people wrap up their eulogies, if you have any other qualms about your life, let them be voiced. Now, we don’t want to kill your self-esteem or anything like that (so we don’t want people to insult you!), but we want them to inspire action in you.
Imagine the ride in the hearse and the pallbearers taking you out to the grave site. Right before you get lowered into your grave, push up with your hands with all your might, breaking the coffin door open, and let out a scream to let everyone know that you’re alive. You want to be feeling the energy inside your body, the energy that makes you want to never have a funeral like that.
Instead of people remarking how you almost reached your goals, how you almost made your dreams a reality, and how you almost were a great friend or family member, your mission is to lead a life that will compel people to say that you did reach your goals, made your dreams a reality, and were a great friend and family member, a true gift to be around and a light for all of humanity to emulate.
By the end of this exercise, you should feel inspired enough to do that. Remember: the pain of regret is a terrible, terrible thing. It’s the worst thing in the world. You should live so you can avoid it as much as possible.
Living With Death In Your Shadow
After this exercise has been completed, you should periodically remind yourself of your impending death.
Now, I don’t mean to say that you should be paranoid and should be worrying about dying all the time, nor should you be taking this as an excuse to revisit the imagined pain of regret that you experienced during the buried alive exercise. I want you to experience the least amount of pain possible!
By revisiting the idea of your death, you’ll become more grateful for the life you have. You’ll stop taking the things you have for granted – things as simple as shelter, warm food, a nice family, a reasonably healthy body and Internet access, to name a few. You’ll also be inspired to make something of your life so you don’t have to live with the pain of regret once you’re old and are telling stories to your grandkids (if you want to have them).
Perhaps my hero Marcus Aurelius said it best:
“Imagine you were now dead, or had not lived before this moment. Now view the rest of your life as a bonus…”
“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.”