Living with awareness of your impending, inevitable death makes you live better

The truth is that we don’t have much time.    

This morning we attended the memorial service of a friend’s mother. She had passed away at a Senior Citizens’ Home where she lived the last few years of her Life. So the inmates at the Home had arranged this service to share their experiences of living with her and knowing her.

It was a dignified event. No one cried. Or delivered flashy eulogies. And despite the searing heat – the venue was non-air-conditioned – the energy in the room among the inmates of the Home was so compassionate; it was simple yet beautiful in a very unique way. One of the administrators of the Home, herself a senior citizen, made a significant point: “Ultimately each of us has to go join the Maker. So, the only prayer we must have is to be able to live well and depart, when our time comes, without suffering.”

I absolutely love this perspective. Even if we can’t really order a perfect – suffering-free and instantaneous – exit for ourselves, I think that we can experience equanimity in each moment when we start living with complete awareness of our impending, inevitable death.

your-time-is-limited-so-dont-waste-it-living-someones-life-steve-jobs-1-728As the Dalai Lama points out, the problem with all of us is that we think we have too much time. So because we don’t see our Life as a limited period, soon-to-expire, offer, we go on postponing living, loving and happiness. We seem to have time for everything else – for fighting, for grieving, for worrying, for working like zombies, for being angry, for feeling jealous, for investing and creating wealth (which we cannot take away with us) and for sitting on our fat egos, but we don’t have time for ourselves, for living fuller and happier lives? Think about it – how much more bizarre can it get?

Even so, I don’t think any of us consciously chooses to squander our lives. Often times a large portion of our Life remains unlived because we think we can be happier and live better when all our problems are solved. It’s a very faulty logic that we employ to kid ourselves. But bringing death into the picture can dramatically alter things for you. Consider this – How would you live your Life if you knew you only have until tomorrow morning to live? What would you do? Who all would you call? And what would you tell the people that you have hated, fought with or remain estranged from? Remember, death is not a distant eventuality. It is right here, around the corner. Living your Life well, your way, in the time you have left here is the best choice you can make for yourself!

 

Your past can be your teacher

In hindsight, all of us are wise. The key is to learn from experiences and not either cling on to grief or guilt.
A recent issue of TIME magazine carries an interview with ace golfer Tiger Woods. Lorne Rubenstein asks him: “Your private Life was exposed in 2009. What would you have done differently?” And Woods replies: “In hindsight, it’s not how I would change 2009 and how it all came about. It would be having a more open, honest relationship with my ex-wife. The relationship that I have now with her is fantastic. She’s one of my best friends. We’re able to pick up the phone, and we talk all the time. We both know that the most important things in our lives are our kids. I wish I would have known that back then.”
Woods nails it. It is very important to pause, reflect and internalize what you can learn from a past – any – experience. With reflection, and introspection, grief and guilt may arise. But you must develop the ability to stay detached from these debilitating emotions. You must look at your own Life – and the past – dispassionately. Ask yourself if there is any point in brooding or feeling angry and guilty? There really isn’t! Once you realize the futility of harboring these emotions, you let them go. This does not mean you don’t either feel them or don’t learn from them. You will feel them. And you can learn from them. But just don’t get bogged down by them!
The past always teaches you – something about you and about Life! The past can also hold you hostage. It is up to you whether you want your past be your teacher or your captor!

On why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ folks?

‘Good’, ‘Bad’, ‘Right’, ‘Wrong’ … all these are societal labels. In reality, Life simply boils down to events and choices.
Something happens to you. It is an event. How you react or respond to that event is your choice. Period. When events meet or exceed your expectations, you label them good. If they don’t, you label them bad. If a choice you made delivers the outcome you expect, you call it good. And if it does not, you call it a bad choice! Simple.
Last evening, over some exotic Moroccan Mint tea, someone who had heard of our story and my Book asked me how could a ‘talented’ couple like Vaani and me be put through such a ‘trial’ by Life? This is a question that we are often asked. And I don’t have a very elaborate answer. The one I have is this…

Talent. Trial. Time. These are three things that we always obsess about. We think we are talented so we must be successful. We believe because we are good folks, Life should not try us! And we always want to be having the time of our lives – the way we want it! To be sure, talent and trial have no correlation. Often, we wonder why should we be tried in Life when we are talented, intelligent and ethical? Why should ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ folks? We must remember that talent is what we are endowed with; that includes the ability to deal with all kinds of trials and tribulations in Life! Trials are what we are and will be faced with. Both talent and trials are Life’s ways of making us who we must eventually be. And time is the eternal healer. Time is the catalyst. Time eventually makes us complete. When it is time to be tried, we will be. And when it is time to be toasted, we will be! So, if we give up the expectation that talented folks must not be tried, and learn to flow with time, we will never agonize in Life! We will be blissful!






Last night, as I caught Yash Chopra’s 1965-classic Waqt (Time) on TV, this iconic song played on aptly. The lead lyrics are aage bhi jaane na tu, pichhe bhi jaane na tu, jo bhi hai, bas yahi ek pal hai…meaning that you don’t know the future, you can’t do anything about the past, all you have is this moment, the now, to live in! So, peel off those labels. Don’t obsess over whether your choices are right or wrong. Just be happy you made one! Just be – live – in the moment. For there is no right or wrong, good or bad. Your Life, at the end the day, is all about choices you make in response to the events that happen to you!

In order to find time for yourself, simply create it!

If you can pause and reflect, for a quality period of time daily, the quality of your Life will undoubtedly improve.
Yesterday, at The Brew Room, a beautiful café in downtown Chennai, I caught a hand-written sign that read: “Everything gets better with coffee.” I smiled as I took a picture of this sign. And I thought to myself, how true this simple promotional line for coffee is – in a real world context.
If there’s one thing that we all need desperately in Life it is time. And if there’s one thing that’s available in abundance, and uniformly, to all of us it is time. To be sure, we have the same 24 hours at our disposal. Within our reach. No one has a minute more or a minute less than the other. Yet we scramble along, stumbling and falling, struggling and heaving, complaining forever that we don’t have enough time! Now, the reason why time seems elusive is because we expect all our responsibilities to be settled, all our tasks to be completed, all our goals to be achieved, before we sit down to experience some quality time for ourselves, with ourselves. That certainly is not going to happen. Because each gone moment is gone. It is never going to come back. With each moment that is past, we have lesser time on this planet. This is the bitter truth. And unless we invest time we are not going to be able to create quality time – for ourselves, our families and for doing what we love doing. Period. Just as investing money wisely helps multiply it, investing time wisely alone helps create time.

So, the simplest way to find that time for yourself is to create it. Just drop everything and sit down for 15 minutes to half-an-hour quietly, each day, and feel your breathing. Read something. Check Facebook. Listen to music. Just don’t be under pressure. Think through your day and week. Do this diligently, daily, and watch the quality of your work and Life improving with this practice. I am not sure really if “everything gets better with coffee” all the time, but everything does get better when you pause and reflect. As someone has wisely said, “Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”