I read a chapter about death from the book Freedom for All of Us* that articulated something that I've grown to learn from John's death and the death of other "too young" loved ones since.
I really appreciate a healthy death discourse - something that is often not discussed in our society. For those who are inexperienced speaking of death as a part of life, this may be an uncomfortable read. Please use your discretion as to whether or not you desire to immerse yourself in a discussion of death.
Of course, my thoughts here are based on the chapter I mentioned above, many posts and other readings about death and grief, and my own experience with grief. You are more than welcome to agree or not. Please feel free to share your perspectives - I love to broaden my own understanding.
Fear of death often keeps us from living our best life. Especially in Western society, death is often viewed as the opposite of life, such that living is avoiding death. Yet, instead of actually engaging more deeply with life, we often continue on, filling up our days with things that prevent us from living a life that we’d actually be satisfied with when we inevitably die.
Rather than accepting the impermanence of life and unpredictability of death, we like to hold on to the ideal that death will happen when we are old and we live life for the future that we kind of hope will never come…yet at the same time, dream about retirement when we can finally relax and step out of the rat race.
In a completely non-scientific personal reflection on my past fitness clients, I would say the top reason people workout is to “be healthier” - some meaning this to be “be skinnier” and some meaning “I want to live a longer life and/or enjoy my life once I retire.” The sad thing about that is that fitness is such an incredible way to immerse your body in the present moment of life. To enjoy your body while it is alive and to truly experience LIFE! Yet, for many, it is solely a means to extending (functional) life…without necessarily engaging fully in life while participating in fitness in the moment. It’s wild, but I digress…
There is a certain comfort in the familiar and a fear of the unknown. Which is perhaps why we tend to fear not only actual death, but also all of the metaphorical deaths that occur throughout our life. When we fear the transition from life into the unknown, we often also fear the transitions in life to other stages of life, which are generally also unknown.
We fear getting older (closer to death) and cling to our youth at the expense of stepping into our wisdom and letting go of our naivety
We fear loss and hold onto identities, relationships, jobs, and things that no longer serve us instead of releasing them to make space for new, yet uncertain experiences.
We clutch so tightly to the familiar that we don't want to lose that we suffer in the chaotic surface waves and resist sinking into the calm below.
As Jollien says so perfectly we are essentially “... killing life to try to freeze oneself in a static state while existence is moving along.” (p. 304)
Death may be frightening, but it is going to happen. We have no choice.
But we do have a choice in life.
Once we fully accept the inevitability of death and the impermanence of life and all things, we can choose to allow for the natural movement of life - of events, people, experiences. We can stop hanging on so desperately to our past, invite in calm and flow, and alleviate our suffering by letting go. We can choose to appreciate the present moment for the gift that it is and deeply engage with the fullness of life (without believing that "fullness" means "busy").
There are certain experiences - perhaps a near-death experience or the death of a loved one - where we will have sudden, impactful changes in our way of being in life. Perhaps because we were forced to live in a new way because our old way has now been destroyed.
But the majority of the time, choosing to live life differently is more of a challenge.
Shifting to more presence, more engagement, more reverence for life can be a slow and steady process. It’s recognizing or creating moments in life to LIVE. Truly live by being fully present in the moment: By feeling the warmth of the sun, the softness of a blanket, by sharing the joy of your dog or children. By hearing the birds, noticing the new buds or fallen leaves. By recognizing the magic of the snowflakes or the sunset, the brilliance of your body, the magnificence of the world and how it continues to function in spite of (and perhaps because of) the chaos.
The moments grow.
From moments that you need to notice, catch, and nurture…
To a baseline way of being.
It’s simple, yet often against years of education and existence in a world of hustle and striving.
If you are looking for support to make this shift from hustle to presence so that you can create the life of your dreams, I can help! You can sign up for Volair’s mailing list and get weekly(ish) information and inspiration right to your inbox for making daily (or weekly) shifts in your life that will gradually transform your life to align with your desires. If you prefer more specific, tailored-to-you coaching, please contact me and discover which program will best support you.
One of the most powerful questions I’ve been asking myself is: if I were to die today, would I be satisfied with the life I've lived?
My answer these days is usually yes.
Accepting and thinking about death isn't always about dying. It can also be about being fully engaged in the dance of a fulfilling life.