Making the Choice to Live

Originally printed in the Chicago Phoenix October 15, 2013

Making the Choice to Live

I was on the phone with my mother the other night and she told me someone in our extended family died quite suddenly. She was at a function, went home and the next morning she was dead.  I have to say that put my life in perspective.

Unfortunately, none of us are guaranteed the time we have on this planet.  One of my friends went to the gym and died suddenly on the treadmill. He was only thirty-some years old. Another friend, diagnosed with terminal cancer, was supposed to be dead two years ago. She is still treading water, waiting to die. As she told me, it’s hard to plan for the future when you aren’t supposed to have a future.  It seems like she hasn’t been living because she’s been too busy dying.

From a coaching perspective, two thoughts come to me about all this:

1     HOW PROUD ARE YOU OF THE LIFE YOU ARE LIVING?  If you were attending your own funeral, what would you want others to say about you? What accomplishments, what things would you like to be remembered for?   If you died today, are you happy with how your relationships stand? Where are your resentments keeping you from connecting to those you love?  I hear over and over that when people are on their deathbed resentments fade when their final goodbyes are said.

For me, I want people to remember me for the 1-on-1 moments they have encountered with me. I want them to say, because of those moments, their lives were changed for the better.  This is something for me to remember when I am tired and grumpy on the bus and the guy wants to engage me in a conversation. What an opportunity for me to live my purpose.  My experience is when I do remember this and engage, I usually leave those encounters feeling rejuvenated and peaceful.

2)    ARE YOU PRESENT FOR YOUR OWN LIFE?  Life is about being awake and present. The present moment is really all that matters, it is the only thing that is real. Being up in our heads about the past or future is literally the same as living our lives in a virtual reality machine.  The past is memories clouded by our own interpretations of what really happened. The future we make up based on our hopes, expectations and fears.  As a lot of the spiritual gurus have said, we just need to do the task at hand, right here, right now and not worry about the past or future.  The past is already over and the future is coming whether we worry about it or not.

I went to a retreat this past weekend. My experience started with me running for the bus Friday night. I then found myself nervous about who I would be rooming with and what kind of exercises we might be doing that might leave me feeling vulnerable. I hardly remember anything about that first night. I was anything but present. The first exercise Saturday morning was to go outside, breathe and get present.  As I did this, I was suddenly slammed into the present moment.  What an amazing experience! The leaves were changing.   My breath was literally taken away by the surprise of discovering such beauty.  Finally I was present.  And what a “present” I got when I got present.

Not sure how to go about doing the above? I have heard that a lot of terminally ill people get clarity around their lives when they receive their diagnosis.  The report is that, for many, the struggle for money and success sudden disappears.  Their priorities simplify and usually center on people in their lives.  For them, it becomes about savoring the moment.

How would your life change if you knew you only had 3 months to live? What are you putting off till tomorrow that you could do today?

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” ― Hunter S. Thompson