“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.” ~ Morrie Schwartz
Morrie said this from his death bed.
He was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal neurological disease that left him unable to even wear his own glasses. Words from a man who knows he has no more than five months to live, make us think deeply about life and death.
Looking at the world, we aren’t operating the way we must. Our most incessant problems reside within ourselves.
We worry too much.
We don’t take chances.
We exchange our dreams for big amounts of paychecks.
We hold grudges.
We procrastinate almost everything in our life and the result is one: in a few years we find ourselves way behind our youth and quote what Morrie Schwartz once said.
The problem is that we do not believe we are going to die.
We surely have the idea in our heads but it’s not mature enough to make us realize the impermanence of all compounded things.
So, what does this have to do with living?
Let’s suppose you were offered to spend one day in the house of your dreams. This house doesn’t necessarily have to be built of gold or furnished with the most expensive style. It might be an empty vintage house with only walls and a dusty floor—whatever it looks like, you have always dreamt of visiting this house.
However, you are told that you will be the last visitor as they will burn the house down the very next day.
Basically, you have 24 hours to spend a day in a house which will vanish forevermore. Once there, you will take every chance to explore all its corners and hidden secrets. You will step into the same room twice just so you can keep a virtual memory of it. You will meditate on the beautifully created ceiling and engross yourself in the exquisite smell of its stones.
Bottom line, you are technically benefiting from every moment for you know you’ll never have this chance ever again—the house is going down. You realize the impermanence of the house, therefore you truly live your present moment in it.
This is how we perceive things. The house is our life which is vanishing in any given moment (Morrie was lucky enough to actually know the time he had left). And instead of making the most out of it, we are undoubtedly making the worst out of it because in the back of our heads resides a thought of permanence.
Quoting Morrie Scwartz again, he says:
“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you’ll learn how to live.”
What’s actually happening is the opposite: we are trying to live and denying death. But have we ever thought that maybe if we keep the thought of death—impermanence—in our minds, we might actually start to live?
Listed are three points to help us overcome the subconscious thought of permanence and start our day as if it’s the last one on earth.
1. Watch impermanence everywhere.
To overcome the illusion of permanence, we must first acknowledge and observe impermanence so we can relate to it. This is not hard at all since it’s everywhere.
You can start by watching nature and animals. Flowers bloom during spring only to wither and die in winter. Trees look fascinating during summer but lifeless just a couple of months later.
A cat dies when crossing the road and millions of ants are being stepped on every day.
Even if you haven’t paid attention to this, you definitely noticed the amount of funerals you attend yearly. Humans just like you and I, are tucked away in coffins only to be forgotten few years later.
Take your life itself as an immense example. Your closet doesn’t have the same clothes it had five years ago. The job you are in wasn’t the same as last year’s. Your haircut changed at least twice during the past couple of months.
The list is abundant for impermanence resides everywhere; even in the silliest thing. All we have to do is pay attention to it then reflect it on ourselves.
When we see how everything will disintegrate, we will start to appreciate more, take chances more and love more.
Exercise: Dedicate a day for watching impermanence.
From the moment you wake up in the morning, start looking at everything as if it’s vanishing the very next day. While wearing your shoes, imagine that these shoes will become useless one day and you will throw them away. Indirectly, when you think of this, you will find pleasure in wearing the shoes like you never did before.
You can apply this exercise on everything. Not only will you develop an awareness of impermanence, you will abundantly enjoy everything and engross yourself in the present moment.
2. Apply the law of impermanence to your fellow human beings.
Just as we think our years are of longevity, we as well reflect it on others. This is the core issue of holding grudges, not appreciating certain people in our lives, developing hatred and losing people we took for granted.
We always tend to assume that our second chance is right the next door, but this isn’t the case.
Take an example of close people who have passed away. The moment we realize there is no second chance to see them again, we sink in the ocean of regrets. We regret not seeing them more often or loving them more or maybe seeing them more, only to remember that they are already gone and nothing can bring them back again.
And it’s not only about people who crossed over to another dimension, it’s about people who are still alive and taking them for granted. It can be a friend, a family member, a lover, a neighbor or someone you just met last night.
Whoever he or she is, we are operating with them out of a belief of permanence. We would like to believe that this person is immortal and we have enough time to love him and appreciate him.
Exercise: Look at everyone with eyes of impermanence.
As you walk out the door, kiss your mother or father goodbye as if you’ll never see them again.
Think of that one friend or lover whom you sabotaged your relationship with just for egocentric or silly reasons. Imagine yourself in their funeral and see what you will feel at that very moment.
This exercise not only helps in developing compassion towards others but it also helps us to regard ourselves as one with them.
3. Chase that dream of yours.
Just last week I booked my one way ticket to Asia for an unknown journey. Most of the people I’m encountering are telling me the same thing: “I wish I could do it.”
I said this line to myself for the past five years and I only grew unhappier and more miserable. And I know that I’ll never do it if I don’t do it now.
Just as I can come up with millions of excuses to keep myself safe in my own hometown and my own career, I can as well come up with millions of ways to make a dream of mine come true.
Only when we lose everything do we realize that there is nothing more to lose. And this is when we die to life and its situations and tap into living.
Exercise: Whatever you are delaying, is only eating at you.
My dream might be different than yours but we are sharing the same enthusiasm. Think of Morrie Schwartz and put yourself in his shoes.
Imagine dedicating your life to the wrong pursuits. Maybe you spent all your years working, making money and worrying about other’s happiness and comfort, only to find yourself in your sixties dying of ASL. Now where did all your money go? Probably hospitals and medications.
There are many reasons that keep us from doing what we truly want to do. Fear is one of them, worrying is another and lack of faith is the major one.
Try applying the law of impermanence and see how your perspective on things will change. Every single day remember that house of your dreams which you only have 24 hours to be in. You don’t want to lose one single second taking it for granted.
If we don’t take that life too seriously, we will be utterly liberated. Only then we will enjoy every moment and let go of our past conditioning.
Let impermanence be your daily good news!
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Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Jeronimo Sanz/Flickr Creative Commons