Paying attention now because someday I’ll be dead

by admin on September 27, 2010

I recently watched Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality 1 and it has affected me. Specifically, the combination of the movie’s subject matter — my inevitable and ever-nearer demise — and Thích Nhất Hạnh‘s words allowed me to finally “get” something I’ve heard countless times: Enjoy every moment as if it were your last. A cliche line we’ve all been fed, in most cases dismissively. “Yeah, yeah.” I’d think. “That’s new age-y nonsense.”

No, it’s not.

Thích Nhất Hạnh:

“We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”

Again:

“Be Yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just Be.”

Only when we’re fully aware of a moment can we be truly happy. Someday I will not be able to smell the needles on the pine tree in my yard. Perhaps I’ll be incapacitated, or maybe the tree will be gone. Perhaps I’ll live elsewhere. Definitely I’ll be dead. But today — right now — I’m holding fresh pine needles and lifting them to my nose. This tree and I exist in this very same day, time, hour, minute and moment. How lucky for us both. I can see how tall it is, feel its bark, enjoy its scent. How tremendously fortunate I am to have this time.

Ah, time. That’s the sticking point, isn’t it? Most of us don’t time to flit about sniffing trees. “I barely have a minute to myself,” you might say. I’ve said it hundreds of times. “How am I supposed to go about experiencing pine needles?”

The answer is this: It’s all your time. Every second of every day. Right now, I get to sit in front of my computer and type. Later I get to drive around in my car. After that I get to prepare dinner for my family, cajole my kids through their bedtime routine and finally make lunches, sort laundry and so on for tomorrow.

When I see that it’s all my time, even the moments that I dedicate to the service of others, I again realize how amazingly fortunate I am. Sure, it would be nice to eat a Nutella-and-banana crepe in Paris’ Latin Quarter this evening; certainly nicer than folding laundry. But the fact that I get to stand in my home, fold those clothes, think about the people who made them (who are also still alive and sharing this moment with me), and those who will wear them is a phenomenal miracle. Someday — maybe very soon — I will be unable to fold clothes. Not “might.” “Will.” But today I can.

And that’s pretty damn awesome.

  1. Currently available via Netflix streaming. Check it out.