Summer of 2010: I was on a camping trip with 11 guy friends in Quebec. We were all healthy, playful and happy. M* died on that camping trip. He drowned. He was 27.
Winter of 2011: I was in Washington, DC preparing for a speaking tour. One night, C* called me. He told me that our close friend M* (a different M*) was dead. M* took his own life. He was like a brother to C* and I. He was 24.
Summer 2013: I was in New England for the week. As I was leaving a friend’s house, I got an email from L*. She told me that R* was dead. His heart stopped while he was in China. He was 28.
If you want to evaluate your life, the most important question you could possibly ask is, “Am I loving to the best of my ability?”
We’d all like to believe that we love fully, but the truth is more complicated; living from the heart is difficult. It requires facing – and then transcending – your core fears.
There’s a key that makes facing your fears easier, but it requires insane courage. Its gravity is so significant that it’s nearly impossible to comprehend. That key?
Accepting your own mortality.
Let’s start with the simple truths: one day you will die. So will everyone you have ever loved and everyone who has ever loved you.
A more complicated truth: you have no idea when your day will come.
The denial of death is the denial of self. Death is woven into every fiber of your being. It cannot be separated from life.
And yet, most people avoid acknowledging the presence of death. They refuse to talk about it, let alone open their hearts to it. To do this is to deny the truth of being alive.
Most of us get swept away by the sheer inertia of life. We become entranced, repeating the same flawed routines again and again and again. We allow ourselves to be manipulated by toxic people, the media, politicians, our demons, and the culture we exist in.
Reminding yourself that all of this ends, can help snap you out of the trance, and give you the confidence to take control.
When you open your heart to the inevitable reality of death you’ll notice that it creates a renewed sense of urgency about living.
Realizing your own mortality connects you to the innate potential of this exact moment. Mortality strips away the lies, excuses, and illusions that have been holding you back. Beneath them, you’ll find abundant reserves of power, freedom, and agility.
A few practical approaches for opening yourself more fully to life even in the face of your own inevitable death:
- Make love to your partner like it’s your last night together
- Drop to your knees and offer yourself in pure devotion to whatever, God, Goddess, spirit, or science you believe in
- Quit the job or close the business that’s been eating you alive
- Allow yourself to finally break and feel the things you’ve been avoiding
- Rent a fast sports car and drive it through the twisting mountain roads
- Book the trip you’ve been dreaming of
- Strip away the white lies you’ve been telling yourself and the world (even when it hurts)
- Stop playing it safe
Risk living your dreams. It’s ok if you don’t have a plan. Your path will emerge as you walk it. Cast away the illusion of not being ready, or worthy, or capable, and begin. Now is the time. It always has been.
“But isn’t this risky?” you ask. “Can’t things go wrong when you speak your truth, chase your dreams, and confront the things you’ve been avoiding?”
And that’s the point.
Maybe you will run out of money. Maybe your heart will break. Maybe the plane will crash. Maybe the conversation will go poorly. Maybe you’ll have no idea where the path is leading you.
Because you know what else is completely possible? Dwindling your life away at a job you hate, mindlessly clicking on link after link after link online, getting caught up in drama, and being controlled by fear and anxiety only to die shrouded in lies and regrets. In fact, it’s not just possible – it’s normal.
A tool for connecting to all of this: imagine that you’re on your deathbed, looking back at your life. Imagine two different versions.
The first version was ruled by fear. You wanted to quit your corporate job to work for a non-profit, but you were afraid of making less money, so you remained in a career you hated. You wanted to open up to the people you love, but you were afraid of vulnerability, so you remained closed off. You wanted to have a richer life experience, but you were afraid of getting the help you needed, so you treated yourself as though you were unimportant.
The second version was ruled by love. You wanted to quit your corporate job to work for a non-profit, and you did, despite the salary cut. You wanted to open up to the people you loved, so you took the risk of being vulnerable, even though it was massively difficult. You wanted to have a richer life experience, so you got the help you needed, even though admitting that you need help felt next to impossible.
Now pause and reflect on the two different paths. The life led by fear ends up bleak and incomplete. The life led by love ends up vivacious and dynamic. Both are realistic and available to you. Both are created by decisions made in this moment. The question is, do you have the courage to walk the path with heart? (The answer, I promise, is yes. You do have the courage.)
Should you start to lose faith in yourself, come back to this moment and stare death straight in the eye. Acknowledge that soon, you’ll no longer exist. Allow the life force to come back into your body. Return to yourself, and begin again
I’ll leave you with a quote from the Dalai Lama that I think of often. He was once asked what surprised him most about humanity. He answered,
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, then dies having never really lived.”
Don’t let that happen to you. Live and love while you still can, because one day, you’ll no longer be able to.