Some months ago, my sister Daryl and Steve Jobs died within a few weeks of each other.
This is my first post since then and is a little more personal than usual.
It explores a little about how the reality of our own eventual demise should inform and shape the value of what we do in the here and now.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Finding your path in the present moment
Both Daryl and Steve had been battling with illness over a number of years. Both of them had already stood at the edge of the eternal void, contemplating the end of their time.
Both had turned their backs on the void, strengthened by the experience and determined to live their lives in the present moment - being fully aware of the here and now, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
In facing death, Daryl and Steve realised a number of things:
- the absolute, immutable certainty that we are all dying from the moment we are born
- the importance of living well in each moment – rather than negatively obsessing on death itself
They found a new focus in their lives and a very precious awareness of the importance of following their own path.
Normally we do not like to think about death.
We would rather think about life.
Why reflect on death?
When you start preparing for death you soon realise
that you must look into your life now…
and come to face the truth of your self.
Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected.
(Sogyal Rinpoche – Tibetan Dzogchen Lama of the Nyingma tradition)
At the Stanford commencement speech in 2005, Jobs famously said “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
“It is better to travel well than to arrive” (Buddha*)
*Robert Louis Stevenson later said “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour” (Virginibus Puerisque, 1881).
During and in between her three periods of illness, Daryl became a driving force in her family and social circle, determined that she (and those around her) were going to live life to the full – making the most of every second of every day. Not in a hedonistic way (well, not all the time, anyway!) – more in terms of sharing, loving, experiencing and fulfilling.
Focusing on living as a human be-ing, rather than as a human do-ing. How many people spend more time “doing” work, as opposed “being” with their partner, children and friends? How many people spend their time with heads buried in a mobile ‘phone whilst ignoring the value of being in the shared moment with the loved ones that they are actually with?
“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said: ‘What I try to teach people is to live in such a way that you say those things while the other person can still hear it.”
What will you say to – or do with – your loved ones today?
Living with Death
We all know we are going to die, yet most of us try to ignore it, pretending it will not happen. We fail to prepare ourselves for death, let alone prepare those around us. Daryl fought her illnesses tooth and nail, all the way to the end. I’m sure Steve Jobs did too – though I was unable to get over to see him to ask, as I had more pressing family matters.
“Tomorrow or the next life—which comes first, we never know”
Whilst Daryl never gave up her fight, she still took responsibility and control of her own situation, writing letters and making plans for others – for example, how she wanted us to celebrate her life, even down to making sure we all wore her (funky) colour motif to her service!
Writing letters (and instructions!) to her family was the last thing she did before retiring to bed, tired, for her final big sleep.
“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. Because 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 – Standford University Commencement, 2005)
According to the wisdom of Buddha, we can actually use our lives to prepare for death….. We can begin, here and now, to find meaning in our lives. We can make of every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare—wholeheartedly, precisely, and with peace of mind—for death and eternity.
Follow your heart – not a soap opera
How many people do you know that truly follow their heart? I personally find it terrifying to see how distracted from actually living the majority of the population has allowed itself to become; living life vicariously through the cult of the ‘meejah’, leering at the titillating behaviour of minor z-list ‘slebs’ and obsessively worshipping and analysing the on/off pitch antics of their sporting heroes.
(An aside: since I was a child in the playground, I have struggled to comprehend the fascination with endlessly discussing football/soccer, cricket, boxing, baseball, tennis….the list goes on. If you actually take part in those sports, then that is a different matter entirely, but if you ever meet me, let’s try to find a different subject to discuss, please! The only exception to this rule is if you want to talk about your yachting experiences – now that’s an entirely different ball-game!)
People are also distracted from the business of living by their appetite for things – from birth we are programmed to become consumers of stuff, to keep up with the Jones’s, to work harder and harder in order to buy more and more. When we get the stuff we thought we wanted, unsurprisingly, we are often still not (and never will be) satisfied. What if we slowed down and bought less? Heavens forbid, we could work less and perhaps live more! Just a thought…..
“Dying is only one thing to be sad about. Living unhappily is something else.”
What greatness might individuals achieve if only they focussed on truly living life to their own maximum potential instead of wasting their time focussing on (and thus helping to perpetuate – and enrich) the lifestyles of others that have already achieved and are living their dreams!
“Whatever we have done with our lives makes us what we are when we die. And everything, absolutely everything, counts”
(Sogyal Rinpoche, from Glimpse of the Day)
What massive change could we collectively effect if the masses awoke from their media induced sleep and took action, demanding real change in the world? Such as ending poverty, injustice and wars started on specious pretexts (where the only real interest is stealing a nations oil reserves)?!
“As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”
On second thoughts, let’s just change the TV channel and see what’s happening on the X Factor!
When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in a manner so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.
(Native American Proverb)
‘Shine on, you crazy diamond’
The final words go to Richard Bach: “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
Rest In Peace Daryl.
Daryl 23.02.1964 – 06.11.2011
Steve Jobs 24.02.1955 – 05.10.2011
Buddha c. 563 – c. 483 BCE