If you want to understand the value of Life, spend an hour outside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a hospital. You will get it!
My father-in-law went into ICU a couple of days ago. Standing outside the ICU, waiting for our turn to visit him, my thoughts went to the other families who, like us, had gathered there to visit their dear ones. Everyone was prayerful, hopeful, worried and anxious – all at the same time. Once inside, when I saw my father-in-law, I once again realized how Life, over time, changes everything – and everyone. My father-in-law is the simplest soul you will find on the planet. A scholar, a teacher, an embodiment of ethics and discipline, a nature lover and a rock climber in his younger days. He had been “fit as a fiddle” (as he would often joke) until just a few years back. But yesterday, he was looking so frail and completely at the mercy of Life – he had suffered a mild stroke that has impaired his speech totally; so he was struggling to even communicate with us. When I came out of the ICU, I couldn’t miss the significance of my realization: “The human body cannot go on forever. Whoever you are, you will be physically felled one day. So, the best way to live is to live each day fully and humbly, doing what you believe in and while being compassionate to everyone around you.” My father-in-law has lived Life this way for all of his 84 years.
Most of us, unfortunately, miss this learning and so, fail to awaken to this realization. We go on wanting to control our lives and those of others around us. We are so full of ourselves – our opinions, our successes and our wants. Earlier this past week, I had a participant at a change-management workshop I was leading who was constantly disrupting the proceedings trying to flaunt her opinions and knowledge. She was continuously choosing to differ with my choice of words or with the examples I was using to explain concepts and ideas. For instance, when I was explaining Purpose (of creation) in the context of people and organizations, she kept arguing that the word ‘calling’ was better suited for individuals. “People have a calling, organizations have a Purpose,” she insisted. I told her that she had a point but since Purpose was universally accepted and chosen as a more powerful and “deeper” word to explain “reason for creation/existence – raison d’etre), we will stay with it. But the lady kept on harping on her point. Finally, in an attempt to invite the lady to have an “open” mind, I had to demonstrate the famous “tea cup” story from Zen Buddhism. Nan-in, a Japanese Master during the Meiji era (1868 ~ 1912), received a university professor who came to “learn” more about Zen – “I want to educate myself. I want to know more about this philosophy. Teach me what it is all about as quickly as you can, so that I can go back and demonstrate my new-found knowledge to all those who look up to me.” Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept on pouring the tea. The professor watched the cup overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup, dear Master, is overfull. No more tea will go in!” Nan-in smiled. “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions. How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Most of us are like the lady at my workshop and the professor in Nan-in’s story. The lady and the professor represent how full we can sometimes be; how our view of our inflated self-worth blinds us and how we fail to understand that be pompous about anything – wealth, health, knowledge, relationships, the body – is so much in vain. Ultimately, this most powerful vehicle that makes our human existence experience a lifetime – the body – will be felled with wear and tear. And without the vehicle being able, our journey here, on the planet, begins to sputter.
Some day soon, each of us will have to realize that Life is a limited period offer. That you cannot undo what you have done. You cannot go back to relive your Life. That you cannot rewind Life. So, if you really can’t control the withering away of your body, if you cannot control the progress of Life from birth to death, why are you imagining that you are in control? Why kid yourself that you call the shots in your Life? Why this ego, why this vanity, why this high-drama that you are superior to the others around you?
I walked back home from the hospital last evening deep in thought. I realized, yet again, that we did not ever control anything, we control nothing and can never hope to control anything in the future either. Everything that is, everything that we vainly believe is ours, will soon be felled, will wither away and will end – including this body and this lifetime. The only time you and I have to live is now. Live each moment, therefore, fully and happily. For the Life and the moment that has once been lived can never be rewound!