Sure books can guide you, but your heart defines you – Jay Z (Beach Chair)
So for the past few months, my reading rate plummeted drastically. I went from reading multiple books and consuming self-help content on an almost constant basis, to not wanting to see another Tom Bilyeu, Tai Lopez or Gary Vee video.
Well, first, I am a person of extremes.
I tend to swing from one end to the other.
When I get into something, I really get into it, to the point of obsession. And then at some point, I just get over it and walk away. It is my nature, I need the balance of opposites to feel whole.
It was in early 2015, I really started to hunker down on my personal development and business knowledge. I watched and listened to a lot of Tai, and then eventually Gary, and then Tom and others over the years. Their content was incredibly useful in transforming my mindset and putting me in a different space.
I needed that.
It was their words and ideas changed the way I thought and my default settings to life. I literally rewired my brain with their content, consuming it every waking hour – at the gym, just lounging around in my apartment, on the train in between meetings, just before bed, and of course, while I worked.
It was awesome. I was practicing something I call ‘full-immersion’. Bombarding my mind to change the way it worked.
Fast forward to today, and I am barely consuming any self-help content at all. My YouTube playlist has morphed from Valuetainment, Gary Vee and Impact Theory shows to video essays and comedic videos breaking down the narrative and philosophical themes of my favourite pop culture movies, literature and video games. Now I write things like this and this.
I don’t know what to tell you. I like what I like.
Which brings me to my second point.
Life is a complex matrix, full of many moving parts and unique experiences.
You can not be one-dimensional. Most of the personal development space is that, one-dimensional and repetitive. The same lists and ideas sprouted off over and over again.
It is like if you are not waking up at 5am everyday, drinking bullet proof coffee, chugging down shakes and hitting the gym everyday, you will not be successful. If you are not obsessed with crushing it, your life has no meaning.
Life is vast, there are many ways to approach it and many ideas to explore. The trap of the self-help game is to have you think that someone else has all the answers so you can switch your brain off and mindlessly follow.
We see the same problem in most religions. Inspired living ideas quickly turn into mindless dogma. People become dependent on others telling them what to think and do.
Sure, there are universal principles that we must learn, but we are all unique individuals with specific contexts, and we still have to do the work of crafting our unique solutions.
We can spend all the time reading but only our true reflection on what we read and practice actually changes anything.
And if you do the self-help thing well…at some point you should ‘graduate’ from it. At some point, you should actually be helped, you should be a better person and be better equipped to get what you want.
It doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t need a reminder, a refresher from time to time. But you should have absorbed the lessons.
And that’s my third point – the point I am at now.
Taking action is what actually works
For all the content I consumed, they gave me ideas, they gave me tools, but they did not give me results.
I look around at my life, and there are many things I want to achieve and attain. The only thing that is going to make those things real in my life…is the work. Not another book, not another video, just the actual work of putting to practice what I learned and getting my hands dirty in the nitty gritty of making things happen in my life.
At this point, the content is more of a distraction.
Because it is very easy to conflate the knowledge of being able to do something with actually doing it.
That is how we become insight junkies, craving the dopamine hit of a new epiphany, a new idea, a silver bullet that would magically solve all your problems. That is how we become the perpetual student enslaved to the opinions and ideas of all the gurus just waiting to take your money and charge you to help you.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for all that. They do help, and people do have massively transformative experiences. But more often than not, after all the hurrah, most people are back the next year in the exact same place, with not much to show for it.
The only thing that works is the work.
The grimy work of change, of perpetual practice, of dust biting failure and the slow grind.
That is presently fascinating to me.
Because the people who we follow did not get successful by following. They got successful by doing.
Another book on business isn’t going to make my studio successful. What is going to make me successful is how well I apply the principles I learned to my specific situation. Not how well I followed this other author’s ideas to the T. But how I made it my own, how I absorbed it to my core and to my bones.
And you only absorb by taking a step back. By doing inner reflection. By putting it into practice.
It is the work that works.
At some point you have to put the books down and walk into the exam, and then into the workplace.
And of course, it is not like I will never read another book again. I am still buying books and noting down certain things. In fact I bought another one last night. But I am way more intentional about it, I am not looking for a silver bullet. I am looking for specific ideas to add to my portfolio of tools. Something I can take action on immediately.
Plus, I know myself.
Like I said…I am a man of extremes. I will be back to reading ferociously at some stage anyway, and that will be awesome.
In the mean time, I’m focused on the work.
In the Marvel cinematic universe, Thor’s journey is one of an identity that is systematically stripped back, broken and reforged through tragedy, through times of transition. Over the course of 7 movies in the Infinity Saga, he goes from an arrogant prince eager to ascend to the throne of Asgard to abandoning it completely for a life as a self-accepting simple adventurer banding up with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Time will tell if he continues on this path as we move into phase 4, but watching this video breakdown of his cinematic story got me thinking about the tension that exists between our perception of our identity and its reality. A tension we must navigate to reach fulfilment.
Life’s journey sees us transform over time, adopting and abandoning identities. At each point in life, who we are is partly self-generated and partly shaped by our environment, specific context and the expectations of implied roles.
As small children competing with siblings for attention, we might play the bully, or the funny joker, or the needy vulnerable one to get an edge. In school with our peers, we navigate identities to figure out who we are and where we fit in the larger community. We undergo the same process, in every new stage and level of life. Identities evolve and change as we do.
It is in the transition between phases of life that we usually have to grapple the most with identity. Who we were isn’t enough for where we are going. We have to change. So, we experiment with different roles to find ourselves, sometimes playing the same roles multiple times until we finally understand just who we truly are and who we are not.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I face personal transitions and I think the process of navigating identity in these times has something with three things – ‘the person you think you are supposed to be’, ‘the person you actually are’, and ‘the person you can be’.
The person you think you are supposed to be
No one exists in a vacuum. Our society, our upbringing, our culture, our family, our social circles, our roots, the cities we settle in, all provide a context in which our lives are immersed and in which we must create meaning. As we grow, we fall into roles that are laid out for us, implicitly or explicitly. There are also hopes and dreams thrust upon us, the expectations of the people we should become, and the kind of things we should do. Often, we internalise these expectations and make them our own.
We want to do our folks proud. We want to earn the approval of others and maintain the status quo of our communities. This can work out fine if there is enough overlap between our true identities and these expectations placed on us, or it can cause a lot of friction if there is dissonance between the two.
I expressed a bit of this idea in my piece exploring the lessons gleaned from Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse. Miles tries to be like the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker. In his mind, Peter is the example of the kind of person he is supposed to be.
But it is unwieldy, it is false, and it is not until he has his personal catharsis and he relaxes into the person he actually is (Miles), that he is able to be effective as the new Spider-Man.
We all want to be something and become someone. Our hopes and dreams for our lives pull us to higher places. When we transition from one phase of life to the next, we have preconceived notions of what we are supposed to look like on the other side.
But we must examine these desires and perceptions to know if they are truly our own, or if we are chasing things thrust upon us and missing our true selves. Because if not, disaster ensues.
The person you actually are
It can be a terrifying thing – being yourself. Many of us spend our lives running away from our true selves. Unwilling to bring our essence to light, unabashedly, unashamedly. Unwilling to live our truth. Because truth can be painful, and uncomfortable. Truth challenges us, and often, breaks the tidy lil boxes and moulds that we have created for ourselves.
But the person you actually are is always there with you. Always lurking just below the surface, coming up in those moments when we think it is safe, when we are alone, or lost in a crowd.
The person we are, the impulses, drives, desires and attitudes that arise from deep within are to be wrestled with and navigated. Sometimes, there are things here that make us feel complete, alive but we judge as bad – a sensual proclivity or orientation, a restless desire for adventure, or a yearning for a quiet unassuming life.
Between the demands of culture and the world around us and these truths that arise from deep within , the friction easily arises. Do we stand our ground and assert our identity, our truths, consequences be damned? or do we capitulate and maintain the status quo.
There are no easy answers.
Sometimes we must assert ourselves and choose our fulfilment and happiness no matter the discomfort or stress involved. At other times, we have to fulfil our duty to the greater good and the collective.
But you cannot escape yourself, if this tension is not adequately navigated, it will rear its head in some way. Either in the incident that blows up, or a low level simmering sense of resentment that eats you up on the inside.
The person you can be
Maybe there is a middle ground, I think it lies in the person you can be. This person is your true potential. A place of balance. A place of truth. A place of growth and real acceptance. Where your nature can blossom and your real gifts can be given.
I think a successful resolution of the tension between ‘who you think you are supposed to be’ vs ‘who you truly are’ gives birth to this third ideal state – ‘who you can be’.
The person you can be is rooted in who you truly are. It is a place of authenticity. But it also understands that who you are now is just raw material for what comes next. Even in that state of being, you must evolve and grow and integrate. You must be refined into the best version of yourself.
It honours your aspirations, your dreams and vision. It takes into account the expectations, and the needs of those around you, and then bridges the gap between two and allows you to evolve to your best self.
We do not use who we are as an excuse to rage against the machine or waste away. But we harness that potential, that energy to create something beautiful and meaningful.
In this way you integrate the person you truly are against your expectations and duties to become the person that you can be, someone who is authentically alive, fulfilled and connected to the larger tapestry of life.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about fear. I was triggered by the sort of conversation that forces you to confront things you’d rather not think about. And I started to mull over the feelings that rise up every time I take a step forward, every time I try to tackle an area of my life that needs to be worked on, an area that I may or may not have avoided for years – the fear.
I’ve stared it down many times and won, and I have also conceded my fair share of losses to it. But the fear never completely goes away. It rises up without fail, to greet us, every time we knock on the door of opportunity and possibility. Often, we are able to overcome it – by sheer grit and force of will. We press forward and push through to the other side, only to find out that hey, it was really not that bad after all. It was just an illusion, just a mirage.
But we have to face it again and again. And each time, we approach knowing that we have been here before. We know that if we press through the fear, there will be great power released on the other side. But it still feels like the first time, every time.
And beyond these spikes of fear, there is also the low grade anxiety that is always there, lurking below the surface. There is the mind that is so quick to fall into negative patterns. One minute you sitting minding your business, the next, you are being dragged for filth by your fear of loss or disappointment.
This is the constant battle with fear, the perpetual struggle against this force that exists to resist us every time we move towards the edges of our comfort zone.
And its biggest effect is to hold us back. It keeps us rooted and stuck, unable to move forward in case our worst fears come true. But this fear is really just imagination gone wrong.
What if there was an antidote?
What if there was a way to flip it, and instead of living with this force that pushes us back, we could embrace a different force that pulls us forward?
What is the opposite of fear?
At first I thought the answer might be excitement. After all, I once heard that the fear one feels before performing or public speaking or presenting is really just excitement in disguise. We just need to transform that nervous energy into a source of power that can charge whatever we need to do.
That could work, but it is not enough. The problem with excitement is that as the polar opposite of fear (anticipating the possibility an unfavourable outcome), it requires a level of denial about the possibility of failure (clinging to the possibility of a favourable one).
So, what could work better as an opposite force to fear?
Because curiosity does the opposite of what fear does. If fear holds you back, curiosity draws you forward, and it does so, in a semi-detached way. Here, we are not overly fixated on the outcome, but more on the process.
Curiosity allows us to approach our lives openly. In this mode of being, the idea isn’t – I really want to get this. It is more like, I wonder what would happen if I explored this. I wonder if I would get what I want. And if I don’t, I am just as curious about what happens anyway.
At the end of the day, I will either get what I want or I will get something else plus new information.
When you are curious, you don’t stake everything on a specific answer or result, you are really just vested in the process of finding out, the experience of discovery. You don’t care what happens, you just want to see what does. It is an intellectual stimulation. It is a call to adventure.
So, what if the next time you were greeted by your fear, instead of holding on to that tense feeling wondering if things will go your way, you were simply just curious?
What if you thought, “I don’t know if this is going to work, but I am willing to try and see. I might walk into that pitch and still not get a call back. But I’m not worried about getting it. I’m just curious to see what happens.“
Doesn’t that take a lot of the pressure off.
With this outlook, you start to focus on the actions, on the steps you must take. You get unstuck in your head and stop fixating on potential scenarios and simply surrender to what is. You are immersed in the now. No judgements, just experience.
And sure, even if you find something bad. Hey, it happens. We just keep it moving. We just keep fuelling our curiosity. Because even that bad, we can work with.
So that is the mantra I’ve been using a lot lately. Every time I feel that fear rise up within, before I take action, before I step out my comfort zone. I remind myself, to replace fear with curiosity. To replace expectation and entitlement with the sense of discovery.
Then I move.
Or where I’m at right now and what that means for my content.
For the five or so of you who follow my blog, you would have noticed I have not been publishing at my usual pace. I have been coming up against a wall lately, when it comes to the blog. I tend to fall in and out of love with my projects, which can make it difficult to work on things long term, but I’ve embraced that as part of the process. Like Tim Ferris says in The 4-Hour Work Week– interest is cyclical.
I’ve also had a persistent sense of fatigue, so I decided to pull back from everything for a bit and disappear. Which was the perfect opportunity to do some reflection around this blog.
I have always said that I don’t know why exactly I write, just that I must. And I shared this sentiment with Kofi Ofori-boateng at a workshop the other day and he was quick to reply ‘of course, because it is a calling.’
This is important to me, so I always try to write from a place of authenticity. Meaning that whatever I post is something that is important to me at the time or reflective of what I am going through. I believe that is what makes for writing that resonates. I would never want to lose that, and have it feel like just another job because this is sacred space. This blog and platform has always been first and foremost, a space for creation.
The creation of what?
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw
I have always viewed what I do here on this platform as a form of self-creation – birthing the person I want to be and the kind of work and projects I want to engage with. The more I blog about ideas like mindset and success, the more they are ingrained into my mind and my spirit. The more I put out books and projects, the more I become the person I want to be – a creative, an author, etc.
In a world where the old rules don’t apply and new opportunities abound, it is useful to create a brand and a platform for yourself, where you can be yourself, and live life on your own terms. You can create something that is uniquely yours and fulfilling to you.
So, that is what this platform is – a place to create something authentic.
Over the years, I have written mostly around mindset, exploring the thought patterns, predispositions and changes we need to make on the inside to get to where we are going and to get what we want. And over my years of writing, this blog has generally mirrored where I was at the time.
My earlier years 2010 – 2014 were concerned with asking the bigger philosophical questions of life. What is it? Why are we here? How do we find or create meaning? What do we do with this gift. It was a time of angst, of searching and wrestling. And my writing reflects that, distilled into my first book – The meaning of Life and other such nonsense.
My next phase after that was more mindset driven. I had come to some resolution around all my searching and had set course for a goal, to create a certain kind of life for myself, doing certain kinds of things. Over this period between 2015-2018, I explored mindset and the principles behind success. The things you must learn, accept and integrate to make anything of yourself. How do you reprogram your mind for success? It has been very rewarding season and truly changed the way I think and behave. This will become another book – How to get what you want.
But now I feel like I am in a different phase. More in a doing phase than thinking. I’ve got the mindset stuff cold, and yes, I will keep being a student of it. I’ll keep learning and reprogramming my mind sure. But this next phase requires a lot more doing, a lot more living.
I’ve seen my curiosity shift from the principles and mindset stuff to the tactical. I wonder how to fine tune my schedule to match my natural energy and give sustainable output. I want to know more about routines, how to create habits, how to stay organised. I want the perspective shifts, hacks and tools that maximise output.
And so in the same way, my content seems to be shifting away from the higher ideas to more tactical content.
End of last year, I inadvertently wrote a short book called – How to live intentionally. Primarily about setting intentions and then goals and systems to get there. I did it in 7 days and in the aftermath of releasing it, I realised that this had to become a full book.
But I had also gotten gripped by a new theme idea – How to max out your potential which I figured could be the theme for the new year.
Maximizing your potential means doing all you can. Leaving all on the table, breaking through to exponential results and all that. And that is where I really want to go. But as I wrote on the topic, I realized I had jumped the gun. You cannot maximize what you haven’t established.
In the journey of entrepreneurship according to Michael E Gerber’s book The E-Myth, there is the crucial phase between the technicianand the entrepreneurcalled the managerwhere you begin to design and implement systems, culture and execution that enable an enterprise to scale and become more than survival.
The same happens in the journey to personal development. You set your focus, and then you take action. But over time you realize that to do this sustainably over the long term, you have to set in place systems and routines to make things easier. It is only when those things are in place that you are then able to really push forward and optimize across the board to reach exponential results.
That is where I am now, exploring this process of establishment, of building. My content will shift more to the tactical, things like routines, organization, planning, systems, the tools and habits that enable us to live more intentionally. So our goals can become crystallized into the actions we take on a day-to-day, as we build a life by design.
I had just posted my last piece on the 7 reasons you don’t reach your potential when my friend George hit me up asking if I had ever written about anxiety. Personally, I like to write about what I know best and stick to my comfort zone which is the personal development stuff. But there is the saying that if you can design one thing, you can design anything. So, I’m going to see if that also applies to writing.
I approach matters of mental health with great care. As someone who has had his own fair share to deal with, I understand that it is a triggering and fragile thing to discuss. It is great that lately as a collective, we are recognizing mental health issues as valid conditions and not just sweeping it under the rug or being oblivious like previous generations. At the same time, it is not an exact science, it is a very subjective experience, so these are murky waters.
It is only recently, like 4 months ago, that I started to realize that perhaps I actually am a lot more anxious than I realize. I have always had a low level of anxiety going on. I just never called it that. I just bookmarked it as fear, but this low-level feeling of tension always exists. It rears up its head when I have to do something new, when I sit in the car with a mentor or someone that I look up to. It rises when I have to go out into the world and interact with people. It rises when I get phone calls. It builds when I need to do something important. It flares up when I have to go out to an event or a party. It is my faithful companion. Sure you could call it nervous excitement, but sometimes it never really leaves, there is easy to constantly worry about anything and everything.
But life and growth require that you move forward. They require that you try new things, that you stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. Because otherwise, you would remain stuck. So, I’ve always viewed this anxiety as fear, and fear as something to be embraced and overcome. One of my favorite quotes is the Latin phrase ‘nihil timendum est’. It means ‘nothing is frightening’. Recently, I’ve come to meditate on fear as a specter, a ghost. There is even the acronym F.E.A.R. meaning ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. Fear is just a projection of our subconscious mind unto the screen of life. If it is a matter of projection, perception and interpretation, then perhaps it can be influenced or even controlled.
When my friend asked me about anxiety, he framed it in a specific way. As young men (and everyone really) trying to come up in the world, it is difficult and we are prone to anxiety, whether we talk about it or not. In the prevailing social narrative, as men, we are supposed to have our shit together. It is said the only time a black man is truly loved is for his money. Which means if you don’t have money or means, then you are useless. Now that isn’t completely accurate, because there are a lot of broke men who are loved and supported by their women, but there is still a truth to it. Life is real, and you have to be able to shoulder the burdens.
So, the anxiety mounts, coming into your own as an adult. Figuring out your career, figuring out relationships, paying bills, getting married, raising children. All very real, very weighty things. At the same time, the whole world around us looks and feels like it is going to hell in a handbasket. In Africa, we face hundreds of years of exploitation from outside forces and broken promises and dashed hopes from our own leaders. There is conflict worldwide at every turn, even the empires and structures we used to look towards for stability or a sense of aspiration are all crumbling. Everything is falling apart, the ground beneath our feet seeming to give way. With so much going on, the mounting anxiety is understandable.
I read a copy of the New Internationalist the other night, and it was back to back full of bad news. Printed across its pages was one crisis or the other, from the underdevelopment and exploitation of Africa, to the piling plastic and electronic waste from our consumerist capitalist society, even to the damage of the inner psyche of the average person, we are faced with the most pressing challenges of our species and we are woefully unequipped to deal with them. It gets so overwhelming, it is easy to look out for the check-out button, both literally and metaphorically.
How do we cope?
If you are religious, you hold on to the hope of a life beyond this one, sure that this will pass away and a utopia will ensure. Otherwise you can cope with various philosophical or political responses – nihilism – eat, drink and be merry today because tomorrow we die, resistance – we can change this, we just need to change our prevailing systems, radicalism – let’s just burn everything down, anarchy – let’s descend into chaos and let everyone be responsible for themselves.
I don’t have the answers fam, I’m just as overwhelmed as you. But I’ll share how I think and approach it. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me.
Mindfulness helps. Which is really just the practice of being aware. If you are aware that you are being anxious, then you can resolve it. But it starts with recognizing that it is happening. When I realized how anxious I got around people I looked up to, I started consciously breathing deeper and deliberately relaxing into the present, into their presence and bringing forth my true self – as a human being, with personality, and ideas and a point of view. Basically, acknowledging that I am valid, and I don’t need to pander to be accepted by anyone.
Meditation helps too, and it ties in well with mindfulness. Taking the time out to reconnect with yourself, to deepen your inner reserves, to increase awareness give you more control in your day to day life. You can lengthen the time between occurrence and reaction and fill the space in between with impartial observation. Once you master the discipline of perception you can react or act accordingly.
In stoic philosophy, we are encouraged to see the world as it is, not as we want it to be. That also means a radical acceptance of what is. Amor Fati – love what it, as if you wanted what happened to happen. Even if it is failure, even if it is destruction. Once you can accept it, then you can deal with it. Too much psychic energy is spent resisting what is and wishing for something else, instead of dealing with what is and transforming that to what you want, if possible. So sure, things are hard, I am anxious, accept the fact, embrace and then decide what to do.
We are also encouraged to focus on what is within our locus of control. You can’t control everything, not the decisions of other people, not the things happening halfway across the world. You can’t even control what will happen to you in the next 5 minutes. But you can control the meaning you give to it, and you can control your reaction and your action to it.
Cultivate an inner citadel. In a world of chaos, it is imperative to have a space within that you can retreat to, a place to drop anchor. It is a place cultivated in meditation, in prayer and in contemplation of the transcendent. It helps you understand that everything physical will pass away, but that you, your consciousness, your soul is more than just what you see. And you can root yourself in that awareness and draw strength, even in the most-dire of straights.
All these tactics help to deepen our resolve, our reserves and manage anxiety. To be calm when needed and to arouse passion when needed, so that we are not overrun and overwhelmed but with emotional discipline, we have what it takes to meet our challenges.
I love skulls.
I think they are beautiful. A little morbid sure, but beautiful. Over the years, I have accumulated a few skull-related paraphernalia. I had this really nice skull vase that sat on the table in my living room to hold odds and ends. I have a skull decanter and a skull cup. I wear a bracelet with a skull as its center piece. I keep skulls around me as a reminder of death…and as an invitation to life. In this, I follow a long standing philosophic, religious and artistic tradition spanning thousands of years.
Last week, I joined my extended family to lay my late uncle to rest. It was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, it was a sad thing to say goodbye to one of our own. We mourned a life cut abruptly and unexpectedly short. On the other hand, it was great to see cousins, uncles and aunts I had not seen in so long and to celebrate a life that touched so many. The entire experience was a mix of excitement, celebration, grieving and sombre reflection.
Of course, funerals are a poignant time to think about our mortality.
Remember you must die.
This seemingly haunting, but inspiring phrase has a rich history, evolving through many forms of practice and interpretation in literature, art, fashion, and even current popular culture. To this day, many people keep Memento Mori coins or similar physical totems as reminders of the ever-present nature of death.
For the stoics, memento mori was a key meditation device. A reminder that our time on earth in finite, and this thing called life is fragile, and precious. Most times we don’t think about death. We are too preoccupied with the business of living to stop and ponder something so morbid, so depressing. But such is the fate of all of us. That we are born, and one day, we will die. It is the one constant in a world full of flux.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”- Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)
In art, the genre ‘Danse Macabre’ or the ‘Dance of death’ grew in the late Middle Ages, a time when the Black Death decimated a third of Europe’s population. Paintings included kings, peasants, young and old dancing with the grim reaper or with skeletons, to convey that death comes for everyone. ‘Vanitas art’ arose with Dutch Golden Age artists, emphasizing the emptiness and futility of earthly items. Their still art paintings depicted compositions of skulls, wilting flowers, rotting fruit, time pieces to remind observers that time is relentless, and death is inevitable.
It is said that a lot of our neuroses, our fears and frantic scrambling, stem from our inability to cope with our innate mortality and limitations. We do a lot of things to avoid our death. We seek comfort in things, and pleasures, grasping for security, to stave off facing our end. With all our creature comforts and amenities, we pretend we have all the time in the world, and that we will live forever.
This is understandable, the fear of death is a tough burden to bear. Man lives in constant tension, peering into the sublime and eternal on one hand, and yet severely limited by time, and the fleeting nature of life. Easier to just live and be distracted and try not to think about it for as long as you can.
Yet we must die.
What if we embrace death? Not as something morbid and to be feared, but as something to be inspired by. The necessary end that is death makes the time we are alive that more precious. In the larger scheme of things, none of the things we do will matter much. No matter how much we achieve or accumulate, we will die. Our time will pass, our names will be forgotten, our monuments will wash away with the sands of time. But right now, in our experience, in our lives, the things we do, do matter. How we live, matters. Our actions reverberate across the universe. It’s a paradox.
Steve Jobs called death, probably the greatest invention of life. Life begins, life ends. And it does both all the time. If it didn’t, life would be stagnant, not going anywhere. But we are born, we grow into our prime, and then we die. As we leave, others come to replace us, to do it all over again, to do it differently, to tear down what was done before and create anew. The cycle of births and deaths allow us to continue as a people, as a species, ever present, ever reinventing, ever dying, ever renewed. It is a beautiful thing. Embracing this truth brings release.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs
If we must die. then perhaps life, is just learning how to die well. Can we live in a way that honours the people we were made to be? Can our short time be used to mean something more than just our happiness and pleasure? Can we live with a sense of urgency, not putting off our great work to a day that may never come, but tackling it right now, today? Can we live in such a way, that after we are gone, we still live on, in the hearts and minds of the people we touch, and the marks we make in the world?
If we must die. Perhaps we can spend less time and energy trying to impress others, taking on things that do not serve us. Perhaps we cannot be so swayed by the crowd. Perhaps we can allow our truest selves to unfold. Perhaps we can truly value our time, and not waste another second. Perhaps we can pursue our dreams, and goals. Perhaps we can embrace purpose. Perhaps we can unleash our true potential.
If we must die, then we must live. With urgency. We must think of how we want to exit, and what we want those we leave behind to say and feel about us when we are no longer here. If we must die, then we must also savour life, making sure to enjoy it, to live in the moments, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures, not being preoccupied with worries and fears. Knowing that the forward march of time is relentless, we can live so we get to the end with no regrets, having truly lived, having fought the good fight, having left everything on life’s stage.
“On this occasion when you have such a bounty of opportunities in terms of your body, environment, friends, spiritual mentors, time, and practical instructions, without procrastinating until tomorrow and the next day, arouse a sense of urgency, as if a spark landed on your body or a grain of sand fell in your eye. If you have not swiftly applied yourself to practice, examine the births and deaths of other beings and reflect again and again on the unpredictability of your lifespan and the time of your death, and on the uncertainty of your own situation. Meditate on this until you have definitively integrated it with your mind… The appearances of this life, including your surroundings and friends, are like last night’s dream, and this life passes more swiftly than a flash of lightning in the sky. – Dudjom Lingpa