Well-Being//

What death can teach you about life

If you knew you only had a year to live, what would you do differently?

Westend61/ Getty Images
Westend61/ Getty Images

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” —  Mark Twain

A recent tragedy in my family came like a cold shower, a wake-up call, reminding me how nothing is permanent. Not that I ever thought we all live forever, but not taking death seriously unless it’s right in front of me. I thought it happens to other people.

If I knew that my mom has months to live, would I try to spend more time with her, would I get closer to her? Probably. Would I do everything I could to make those months a little happier? Yes. But I didn’t know, and I wasn’t closer, and I didn’t spend time with her.

This got me thinking, what would I do if I knew I only had a year to live? What will I regret the most? And the answer is not living. Wandering from one event to another, trapped in my thoughts, thinking about yesterday or tomorrow.

Often I feel like I’m stuck in a matrix built by my thoughts designed to pull me away from me from reality. I look at things around me but don’t actually see them. I listen but I don’t hear anything. I get consumed in my thinking. Thinking about nothing. It’s the residual thoughts that nested in my mind, going in cycles, contemplating about everything and anything.

I speak to a person but don’t hear them. What I hear is my thoughts about what they said and what I want to say. I’m not there for them, but in my mind. I don’t laugh because my heart is filled with joy but because I find something funny. It feels like there is a motive behind everything I do, a motive driven by my desires. Desires to acquire everything I believe I need to feel complete. Interactions, objects, places, experiences, excitement.

I had periods in my life where I was constantly searching for something, and wanting more and more of it. And I also had periods when I felt like my true self. Present. Enjoying every single moment that came to me.

When I get in the thinking cycle, I often forget to enjoy things around me, things I would normally notice and my playful spirit dies down. I often catch myself saying, oh I can’t be present now, I have too much on my mind for that. And that’s how I lose grasp on my life, my attention is everywhere.

I remember last year everything was going great and I was in a good place, doing what I love and feeling fulfilled. This was not a result of an external influence, but years of deep inner work and dedicated mindfulness practice. And then, the moment I felt I was in a good place, for some reason I let the life around me take control.

When I saw my mom for the first time after she got sick, she was laying in bed helpless. Her eyes and skin were yellow as her liver cancer progressed and she could barely speak. That was the moment when I realized what’s about to happen.

I went to a supermarket to buy some stuff for her and I could hear people complaining about the line in the store. I’m pretty sure that she would give anything to be able to stand in that line again. I broke down and started crying. It made me aware of how we consume time being cranky about things that don’t matter at all. We go through life waiting in lines and let those seconds go wasted, instead of being present and finding ways to enjoy even the simplest moments. Those seconds happen only once. And all of us will hit the point where we have no more. It’s important to remind ourselves what’s coming and finding true happiness before time runs out.

For some, happiness means laughing and feeling good. For me, it is finding that inner peace, letting go of negative influence, and falling into a state of extreme presence. A state where we not only enjoy every moment of our life but also share what we have with others. In that state, I feel nothing but kindness and understanding. It’s like giving a big hug to the world.

So if I had a year to live, I would not quit my job or travel around the world. I would (and I will) let go. Let go of the things that stop me from being my true self. Living in the moment and finding beauty everywhere I go. 

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