“Listen.” With Beau Henderson & Kate Manser

The best gift you can give to someone you love is your time, attention, and listening with your heart. We’re not used to keeping our mouths closed and our ears and heart open. We live in a society where the norm is to be constantly thinking, analyzing, speaking, and forming the next thought. But to […]

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The best gift you can give to someone you love is your time, attention, and listening with your heart. We’re not used to keeping our mouths closed and our ears and heart open. We live in a society where the norm is to be constantly thinking, analyzing, speaking, and forming the next thought. But to quiet our mind and heart and give someone else the space to share is a both profound gift and a wonderful mindfulness exercise.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Manser.

Kate Manser is the creator of the YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW movement, which has touched millions of people around the world. Her new book was lauded as “inspiring and honest” by NYT Bestselling author Brad Montague. But most of all, she is just so happy to be alive. Find more of her work at www.youmightdietomorrow.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I used to be just like everyone else: I never thought about death unless I was forced to through circumstance. But in 2014, I experienced the unexpected deaths of three friends around the same age in the span of just six months. My sense of personal security evaporated. I became terrified that I, too, could die at any moment. The fear of death took over my life. I would imagine getting hit as I crossed an intersection, have an anxiety spike every time the phone rang, and avoided taking any risks out of fear.

A year later, my colleague and adventure idol Dan Fredinburg was killed at 33 years old in the Nepal earthquake while climbing Mount Everest. As I struggled to make sense of the loss, it hit me: he knew he might die climbing that mountain, but he had to climb it to truly live.

This changed everything for me. I realized that I have absolutely no control over when or how I die, but I have complete control over how I live until that mystery moment comes.

Since then, my life has been radically changed by using the idea that I might die tomorrow as my most profound source of perspective, clarity, and motivation. I created the YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW movement to help other people experience this life-changing perspective.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting moment was when I was contacted by the Facebook corporate office to come speak to their employees about tapping into your personal meaning through mortality awareness. I led a big group of Facebook employees through a Deathbed Meditation and later saw many of them wearing my branded t-shirt. This was early on in the movement, and it gave me a huge amount of confidence to spread this message to people in any culture, company, and walk of life.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

My number one takeaway from my five years working at Google? Anyone has the potential to change the world. This ethos is part of the fabric of Google’s culture. It motivated me to work hard and be creative every day. It was my most important lesson there and one that has changed my life forever.

To create a fantastic work culture, help your employees create meaning and see the greater impact of their work. Meaning drives, unites, and gratifies humans. Sure, your employees may not be on the front lines of creating life-saving cancer treatments or saving puppies. But employees of a residential cleaning service, for example, positively impact the mental and physical health of their clients. At a tech company that provides an employment database, employees help people find work to feed their families and build their dreams.

With meaning, motivation comes intrinsically. People feel a sense of duty to do good work. And in turn, that work creates meaning and satisfaction in our lives.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is a must-read. Frankl’s story of finding meaning and purpose from his horrific experience interned at Nazi concentration camps impressed upon me that perspective is absolutely everything in life. Look, if this guy can find meaning and mental perseverance in those circumstances, I can do the same in any trial of my life.

Since I read that book, I live by the personal truth that discomfort and pain are where life’s greatest lessons are learned. I have learned to value the challenges and trials of my life as growth opportunities and profound experiences being alive.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful? This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

To me, mindfulness is an awareness of the experience of being alive.

How often do you get into bed at the end of the day with your mind still racing with analysis of what happened today and thoughts about what you’ve got to do tomorrow? Did you even pause once to consider that this is your life, and it’s happening now? That you are alive? Did you consciously enjoy even one moment?

Your life will pass with blinding speed if you let it. Don’t let it.

Many mindfulness practices are focused on awareness of a single action, like quieting the mind, chopping vegetables, or having a conversation. These are wonderful, but I find that in addition, an awareness of the wild and wonderful experience of being alive brings perspective and gratitude like none other.

(A great place to start is to give number 5 in the next question a try.)

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

I believe that the process of coming to terms with one’s own mortality is life’s greatest teacher. All of the lessons to facing one’s fear of death, accepting mortality, and living like you might die tomorrow help us to find perspective and live fully in life, especially during a challenging time. Here are my best tactics to living a good life in good times and bad.

Focus on what you can control and disregard the rest.

This aspect of Stoic philosophy was the single biggest realization that helped me snap out of my consuming death anxiety. For a year after the tragic deaths of three of my friends, I lived paralyzed by the terror and mystery of the idea that I could die at any time. This all changed when I finally realized — and accepted — that yes, I could die tomorrow (or anytime), but me dying unexpectedly is something I can control. What is, however, 100% within my control is how I live until that mystery moment comes. I’d rather expend my precious time and energy living vibrantly and enjoying my life instead of living in fear of and trying to avoid dying at all costs.

This pragmatic logic can be applied to the pandemic as a way to minimize fear and reallocate energy. Beyond recommended safety measures like avoiding public places, washing your hands frequently, and wearing a mask, whether you contract coronavirus is largely outside of your control. What is in your control is the lifestyle you cultivate amid the reality of the pandemic: whether you take time to meditate each day, how much news media you consume, and whether you reach out to friends and family, for example.

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs. — Epictetus

Overly concerning oneself with aspects outside of one’s control is the opposite of productive action — it’s futile. Why not then apply your limited energy and time toward that which you can influence? Act, don’t react. What is happening in the world is happening regardless, but you have the great power to create your own experience.

Look at the experience as an interesting experiment.

I am a life and experienced enthusiast. I love traveling, moving to new cities, camping, and even house sitting because they are experiential opportunities to live life differently. Similarly, the pandemic offers us a unique opportunity to step out of our routine and live in a new way. Can’t go to the supermarket to pick up your favorite brand of coffee creamer or hit the gym for your regular workout? You can react in frustration and disappointment or see it as an exciting opportunity to use that can of coconut cream in the back of your pantry and finally jog that neglected trail in your neighborhood. When we travel, we’re adaptable, resourceful, and full of wonder. The lockdown is a chance to be tourists in our own life and to explore living a different kind of lifestyle from the literal comfort of our own home.

Recognize that everything passes and is constantly changing.

Sure, we’re in the thick of it now, but this experience — like every other aspect of our lives — will pass. Mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” It’s possible to get through this. It’s possible to find daily joy amid chaos. It’s possible to enjoy special moments of your life even when things seem like they have gone to shit.

Understanding or even accepting impermanence are one thing, but the great pursuit is to condition oneself for the fleeting nature of life and everything in it. “This, too, shall pass” goes for everything from a challenging trial of life like a pandemic and lockdown to the opportunity to go visit your mom to the exhilaration of great achievement.

The experiences and moments of our life rain down like sparkling glitter from the sky, gently grazing the crown of our head and tickling our arms for a flash, before being spirited away by a light breeze and unable to be grasped exactly that way again. The good news? We’re alive. Glitter is still raining from the sky. The tough news? Each piece of glitter is like a solar system with varying lifetimes and potentially great depth.

But if glitter is falling, why not dance? Your dance might be to turn inward, meditating and journaling every day. Or it might be sewing masks or donating to your food bank. Or it might be wearing all of your favorite pajamas and really enjoying the taste of cookie dough ice cream at 11am on a Tuesday.

This, too, shall pass. One day you will look back on this experience. What do you want to see?

Cultivate everyday joy every day.

I definitely mean to use ‘everyday’ and ‘every day’ here. Joy and meaning are critical for our happiness, but it can feel daunting to take on a big bucket list project right now, despite perhaps having more time to do so. It sounds good to write a book while on lockdown during a pandemic, but actually being able to tap into inspiration and find the focus to do it is quite different. I, for one, have found myself with the attention span of a gnat the past few weeks.

But just because you may not be writing your book or business plan or taking your dream trip right now doesn’t mean you can’t be living a meaningful life. This is where everyday meaning and joy come in. It’s meaning on a micro scale, and it’s the very definition of mindfulness. Really savor the flavor of your coffee in the morning. Call someone you love to tell them you love them andwhen you ask how they’re doing, really listen to what they have to say. Go outside and walk in the grass with no shoes on, really feeling the cool green blades on your toes and the light breeze on your cheek.

Sure, writing the next great American novel is meaningful, but our big bucket list dreams are only part of what makes up a life we will feel satisfied with when it comes time to look back at the end of our life. In terms of quantity and quite possibly in quality, the small moments of our life have the greatest share.

When I internally embraced the potential shortness of my life, I decided to wait for nothing to achieve my big dream at the time: I traveled around the world for two years. But my biggest lesson came when I got back and had to readjust to “regular” life: living like you might die tomorrow is being grateful to be alive, wherever I am alive. And so I see a great opportunity now to create everyday joy right where I am: alive, at home.

Look up at the sky. Put your hand on your heart, smile, and say, “Hey. I’m alive.”

This is my go-to, if all else fails, even if I’m having a terrible day and desperately need a pick-me-up technique. Go Give it a try.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Listen.
  2. Did I mention listening?
  3. I’ve got to be sure I mentioned listen.
  4. Keep those ears open and the mouth closed!
  5. Also big hugs and love, even if it’s virtual.

The best gift you can give to someone you love is your time, attention, and listening with your heart. We’re not used to keeping our mouths closed and our ears and heart open. We live in a society where the norm is to be constantly thinking, analyzing, speaking, and forming the next thought. But to quiet our mind and heart and give someone else the space to share is a both profound gift and a wonderful mindfulness exercise.

Ask someone an open-ended question (What have your days been like? What have you been thinking about lately? What’s on your mind these days? What’s something you’re afraid of? What has been keeping you afloat?) and really listen. And then ask another question. Listen again.

You will make the person feel like the king or queen of the world. You will most likely learn something. And you will get the satisfaction of giving your most precious gift to another with no strings attached: time.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I highly recommend any external resource that nudges us to pause our life, if even for one moment. Three recommendations of tangible resources to use:

  1. Plum Village app — The Plum Village App is completely free and includes a soft bell you can program to ding at intervals throughout the day. Whenever you hear this bell, stop whatever you are doing, take a deep breath, and remember that you are alive. You will feel not only more calm and connected to your life, but you will find that the pace of your day is pleasantly slower.
  2. WeCroak app — The WeCroak app is a one-time charge of US$2.99 that will give you a fat dose of perspective throughout your day. Five times per day, in the tradition of Bhutanese Buddhists, you will receive a notification: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” Stressed about work? Worried about what someone will think? Rushing off to the next appointment in a frenzy? This app will remind you that most of the stuff we get mired in in life doesn’t matter, so might as well take a chill pill and enjoy the ride!
  3. The sky — Yes, the literal sky. Take a look up at it, put your hand on your heart, smile and say, “Hey, I’m alive.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Live not in the pursuit of happiness, but as an expression of joyfulness.” — Sadhguru

Last year, I had just gone through a tough breakup and was desperate to reignite my inner spark for life. I was also finishing up my book and embarking on a new journey of life as an author. I knew I needed help. So I traveled to France to spend a week at Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery, Plum Village.

We lived, meditated, and worked alongside the monks and nuns. It was a beautiful experience filled with quiet reflection and reverence for the simple joys of being alive. Toward the end of the week, the nuns at my hamlet offered a private one-on-one meeting with any one of us who wanted it. I jumped at the chance, with one single question burning in my heart: “How can I be the best teacher?”

Late one afternoon, I met with a young Sister beneath a leafy green tree. With an open heart, I told her how I had been touched with the epiphany that death shows us the value of life and that I felt a mission to help others find their inner fire to live. I wanted her to tell me how to be a leader, how to inspire people, how little old me should act to best change the world.

“How can I be the best teacher of this message?” I asked with an open, vulnerable heart.

She looked at me with kind, clear eyes and smiled.

“Your life is the message,” she replied.

I hope I never forget this advice for as long as I live. We can all chase happiness, chase success, chase our ideal embodiment of leadership. Or we can just be.

What I have learned in my research about the fear of death is that one of its greatest antidotes is the idea of rippling, that our very existence creates ripples of effect that spread to our families, neighbors, the community, and all of humanity. Rippling brings us comfort because it gives our lives meaning, but it also reminds us that the way we live and interact with the world is of great power.

I can write a hundred books about the ideas of living like you might die tomorrow, finding peace and joy in the simple beauty of being alive, and the power of enjoying one’s life — but none of it will be as impactful as living my truth, enjoying my own life, and cultivating love and peace within myself.

We each have a world within ourselves. This world is an ecosystem of all of our love, joy, worry, pain, and wonder. To nurture this world within ourselves is to also nurture our greater world and greater consciousness. Our individual ripple effects are profound. Suppress no joy. Your soul radiates.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I already did! The YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW movement is millions strong and inspires people to live today with urgency, gratitude, and joy. I want you to feel that fire in your soul to live alive. Join me in celebrating every day we’ve got breath in our chests.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Head over to www.youmightdietomorrow.com to learn more about the movement. You can get my book on my website or at your favorite retailer, and definitely follow me via You Might Die Tomorrow on Instagram and Facebook!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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