This is a guest post by Nancy Daley
“If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
Despite his major successes and his 6.5 billion dollar worth, Steve Jobs got sick. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He spent the next eight years, prior to his death, asking himself the above question before every task he performed. (Adams, 2011; Stanford, 2007)
Should we not all feel this same sense of urgency that Jobs did, like our time is running out? Though we may not have a terminal illness should we not choose what we do selectively to accommodate the fleeting nature of time? Should we not ask before every activity choice we make: Is this the best use of my time and energy? Is there anything else I should be doing that would better express what is important in life?
“The cemeteries are full of unfulfilled dreams.” (Maraboli, 2013) Would you want the epitaph on your gravestone reading: “Could have been, should have been, wasn’t!”?
I don’t want to leave my body knowing that my dreams are adding to the dust in those piles. I don’t want to find myself in the place so many of us do when we reach those final hours—regretting the lives we lived, or more accurately put, the lives we have not lived. I want to live fully and richly, experiencing all I can, before it is too late. I want to know I am leaving something of worth and value behind. How?
Living a 24 Hour Life
I realized, not so long ago, if I wanted to be fulfilled, I had to think like Jobs did…in terms that I am dying. I had to condense my life into a sweet 24 hour package where there no time to dwell on the past or worry about the future. So I created a 24 hour life span from which I operate.
Would you live differently if your life only consisted of twenty-four hours?
If you thought this was your very last day, there would be no time for procrastinating, avoiding, idleness, or wasting a moment on mundane and unfulfilling chores. Each daily chunk would be viewed as a precious gift to be honored and celebrated. Every choice and action would feel to be of service to life, rather than pointless conditioned behavior. If all you had left were the next twenty-four hours what would you want to do? Who would you want to be?
Ten Tips to Help Make the Most of the Time Left
1. Accept That You Are Going to Die
Death is inevitable. Coming to terms with this reality is, ironically, the first and often most difficult step to take in our desire to live.
You are going to die. I am going to die. We are all going to die. Knowing this does not have to be a terrifying thing. Knowing this can actually save our lives. As Steve Jobs himself said in an address to Stanford Grads a year or two before his death, “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
We have nothing to lose. The body, our personalities, our worldly possessions, and our successes do not define us. They are not real. They mean nothing in the big scheme of things. When we are moments away from leaving them behind we will be forced to realize their insignificance. These things will never bring meaning to our deaths but understanding the reality of death might bring meaning to our lives.
Buddhists spend a great deal of their time and energy contemplating death. They do this because they know that, “It is only by recognizing how short life is that we are most likely to make it meaningful and to live it fully” (Hawter, 1995).
In the nine-round meditation used in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, the reasonings for the reality of death are:
- We are dying from the moment we are born.
- Death comes in a moment. All that separates us from it is one breath.
- The duration of our lifespan is uncertain and unpredictable.
- Many causes lead to death; few favor the sustenance of life. Even those modern interventions that enhance and sustain life can end life (automobiles, medications).
- The weakness and fragility of our bodies contribute to making our lifespans uncertain.
- Worldly positions cannot keep us from death or help us when our time comes.
- Our loved ones cannot keep us from death or help us when our time comes.
- Even our bodies are no help to us; they are just shells we will discard.
Death is indeed inevitable. How and when we die is unpredictable and uncertain. We should be more concerned with how we are going to live than how we are going to die. Live like you only have 24 hours left and make your choices according to that very real possibility.
2. Be in Awe of Life
Every moment of life is miraculous. Look around you and see the beauty of life. See it in the brilliance of a sun rise; in the butterfly that was once a caterpillar; or in the smile on your neighbor’s face, that somehow makes you feel good inside. Look at your hands and know they feel and palpate life every day. Close your eyes and hear life both outside of and inside of you. Hear the wind through the branches, and the robin song in the distance. Take a breath and feel life entering your lungs filling every cell within you.
Life breathes around you and through you. It is amazing! Life is a miracle!
According to the Taoist tradition, however, life would be nothing without death. “Without death in its broadest sense, life would be static, transparent, predictable and tedious. Death does not inhibit or subvert life, but stimulates and drives it, making it more intense and poignant.” (Down, 2009)
Life is an ever changing process. It is cyclic, like the seasons; it expands and contracts, and death is simply a change. Too often we are oblivious to the changing force of life that expands within us and encompasses the world around us. We neglect to be in awe of the miracle of living. (Down 2009)
For the next 24 hours be in awe of the miracle of living.
3. Make Choices That Honor Life
Write a list of things to do for the next 24 hours. Ask yourself if these things honor life or deter from life. Are the things you intend to do more likely to bring health or illness? Are they good for the body, the mind and the soul? Will they bring joy or suffering to you or other beings?
You know that life is short and precious. Do you want to honor it with what you choose to do?
4. Choose Activities That Are Meaningful
Steve Jobs knew that what he was doing was important. It had meaning for him and meaning for the world. He made it a point to choose what was meaningful, especially near the end.
Should we continue to give away control of the choices we have left? Should we waste our limited time on meaningless activities? Should we stay stuck in the mundane tasks of this world that do not bring joy; compassion; relief from suffering; colour and light to our experience, or to the experience of someone else?
Sometimes we may perceive we have no choice. If there is something we believe we have to do, we should find some meaning in it.
If we can see that we have a choice we should choose those activities that bring meaning. (Do you think you have Free Will?) Our activities should bring meaning to self in the sense that they help us fulfill a dream or desire; bring meaning to others and bring meaning to the world.
In other words, we need to serve, not our ego, but our deepest self. We need to serve, not just our loved ones or the ones we are paid to serve, but all beings, in some way.
Does what you are about to do have meaning for you? Does it serve you? You may have to think long and hard here.
Does what you are about to do serve others?
Does what you are about to do serve the world? Is it something you can leave behind for the betterment of all after you are gone?
If you find yourself answering no to any of these questions, don’t do it. If you answer yes, proceed with joy in your heart and a smile on your face.
Choose wisely before you undertake that thing you are about to do today. Make choices that serve.
5. Smile and Laugh Your Way to Joy
If you only had one day left to live, would you want to live it curled up in a ball of fear, shame, worry, stress, despair, remorse, anger, hatem or regret? I don’t imagine you would. Yet, that is how most of us spend too much of our daily lives, is it not?
We are missing out on the emotional experience that can make life a beautiful story: joy. We are meant to feel peaceful, content, happy, and joyful.
Joy fills our life with meaning and purpose. When we experience it, it radiates from us to everyone and everything around us. It opens us and it allows us to expand as human beings. Why then would you choose to stay in the curled up position, moaning about your life. Do you want to waste even a second of these precious 24 hours doing that?
Many would ask, ”how do we feel joyful when we have just shortened our life span to twenty four hours?”
How can we not?
Smile. Whatever you are doing, smile every moment that you can. It doesn’t matter what is happening around you or inside of you. Smile!
We do not have to be happy to smile, but we can make ourselves happy by smiling. The Dalai Lama has one of the most infectious smiles I have ever seen. Why? Because Buddhist monks make smiling a part of their meditation practice; they make it a part of everything they do. They know the secret. If you smile, even if it is a smile created by sticking a pencil between your back teeth, it will make you feel better. It will bring you closer to joy. (Bodhipaksa, 2014)
Laugh. Laughter can decrease anxiety, worry, anger, and sadness. It can heal our bodies and our minds. Most importantly it can open us up to our spiritual beingness. “Laughter allows us to temporarily step outside our space- and time-bound state and touch the field of awareness that is boundless and eternal. Laughter brings us to the ultimate of joys.” (Simon; n.d.)
So ensure you live this precious day of your life reaching for joy through smiling and laughter.
For more helpful tips on how to add more humour into your life check out :
Simon, David (n.d.) Lighten up: The Healing Power of Laughter. The Chopra Center. Found here.
6. Focus More on Being Than Doing
As you contemplate whether or not you will do the task before you, focus on who you are. Are you defined by the car you drive, the recognition you get from others, or the body you are in?
Are you the task that you are doing, or are about to do?
Are you defined by what you do?
You are more than these depictions. Such definitions make up a self image, an ego.
We are much more than what we do, and the stories we tell ourselves.
We spend way too much of our life doing for the sake of doing that we forget to be who we really are beneath all the masks we wear. Don’t focus so much on doing the best you can do in the next 24 hours; focus more on being the best person you can be.
Take many moments today to just be. Be quiet. Be still. Sit by yourself, close your eyes and breathe. Just be in this precious life you have. You will see more, learn more, know more and grow more in being than you ever will in doing.
Make sure you choose not to do more than once today.
7. Embrace Your Divinity
The most forgotten part of our beingness in this fast-paced world is our inner Self. There, and only there, will we truly know what is divine.
Is it not the divine we call out to at the moments of our passing? At death we are sure to discover what this divinity is all about but we do not have to wait until then. Our lives can be full of the divine now.
Make spiritual choices rather than superficial ones, ones that honor who you really are. Prioritize those activities on your to do list that meet the needs of the soul.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his souls?” Matthew 16:26 ESV
In chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to his disciple, “Think of Me whenever you battle or struggle in life.” (Sri Sri, 2015) He also says, “It is alright to go about your life as you like, but in the last moments of life, you should remember Me and establish your mind and intellect totally in Me. There is no doubt that when you remember me with devotion, you will surely unite with Me”.
Who is the Me that Krishna refers to? The Me is the divine essence; the “divine principle that emerges when consciousness, form, and space unite to form the One Consciousness; the God in all of us.” (Sri,Sri, 2015)
10 Life-Changing Truths from the Ancient Hindu Scripture Bhagavad Gita
How do we make it easier for ourselves to embrace this divinity at the time of our deaths? We begin by finding and embracing that source now. We go inward to the Self, Inner being, Soul, One consciousness (however we wish to describe it) while we are alive.
Living a spiritual life will not only make our deaths easier, as Krishna promises in the Gita, but it will make our lives joyful and peaceful. Why then would we wait until the moment of our death to meet the divine?
In this 24 hour life you are living, make sure you include a spiritual practice on your to do list. Sitting quietly by yourself while you concentrate on your breath is a spiritual practice that will take you inward. Pray, meditate, read, explore, and seek the spiritual in every moment of the next 24 hours.
Embrace the divine now!
8. Take a Step Through Fear and into Your Dreams
What holds us back from pursuing our dreams more than anything else? Fear! We fear other’s opinions, rejection, and failure so much sometimes that it keeps us frozen in lives with little meaning. We paralyzed while the clock ticks behind us and the moments of our life slip away.
The only way to deal with fear is to face it directly. Know what you are afraid of and stand up to it. The more you stand up to fear, the more you begin to realize it is just a creation of your mind. Like all such creations it can be reduced in size very quickly when we are willing to shine the light on it. Don’t let this mental creation hold you back from a fulfilling life.
According to Steve Maraboli in his beautiful video, Live Life to the Fullest, it is those moments when it is too late that we tend to realize that there never really was anything in our way, holding us back or to blame for us not going after our dreams. No one but our very selves prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. (Maraboli, 2013)
Don’t waste a moment of your 24 hours rationalizing why you cannot live your life fully. Put away your excuses about why life is not going the way you want it to. Stop saying “I can’t”, “It is impossible”, “My dream is too big!”
Do what you can. Take one small step in the direction of your dreams. Move forward. Sure, you may fail, but you will never succeed if you do not try. Do you want to discover at the end of your life that you could have been so much more, experienced so much more, and done so much more, if only you tried? Try!
One positive, life-altering thing you can put on that to do list for today is: confront a fear, any fear, just so you can see it for what it really is. Stand up to the fear that is holding you back.
9. Love Big Now
The greatest gift we can give the world and each other is our love. Too many of us get lost in the notion of the special relationship, waiting and waiting for that special person to come along to make us whole. We fail to see that love comes from within us, and therefore we are not truly able to give it or to receive it.
Even if you find yourself without a special other in this short span of 24 hours you can still love big. Reach out to those around you. Recognize their beauty and the value of all beings beneath the egos that may have caused you nothing but pain. Put aside all your resentments and judgments, your anger and your grudges, that keep you from loving big. Choose to love today.
If bridges have been burnt down, build new ones. Your last day of life is time for you to make amends and to forgive. Think of it this way. If today is your last day maybe it will be the last day of everyone else you know. Maybe they will go first. Maybe they will leave you before you have a chance to express the love you feel. Make up now!
I love Rumi’s take on loving now:
once you think of me
dead and gone
you will make up with me
you will miss me
you may even adore me
why be a worshiper of the dead
think of me as a goner
come and make up now
since you will come
and throw kisses
at my tombstone later
why not give them to me now
this is me
that same person
(Rumi/Nadar Khalili, n.d.)
Make it a point to put aside your grievances and express your love today before it is too late!
10. Be Grateful
This may be your very last day on earth. The thought of all you may lose may bring you to your knees as you extend your hands above your head, crying out, “Why me?”
You may begrudge and resent; be angry and hateful over your predicament, whatever predicament you are facing. You waste precious time when you do this. And you have so little left.
Why not try a whole new approach to living in the next 24 hours? Why not instead find reasons to be grateful, reasons to be happy?
“Wow! I have a whole day to live.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, shares this lovely Gatha in peace is every breath (2011):
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully each moment
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Don’t waste your precious time collecting grievances and resentment. There is so much to be grateful for! Find it! Express it! Live the wonderful joyful life you will surely live when you do.
Your 24 hour Life
If today is your last day and you have understood these little pieces of wisdom, what should your to do list look like?
This is what I want mine to look like:
For these next 24 hours, which very well may be my last, I make the choice to:
- Accept the temporary nature of all things including my physical life.
- Look for and find the miracle of life in everything around me from the sunrise to the air I breathe. It is all miraculous.
- Honour life with everything I do.
- Find meaning by serving. Make everything I do a service to others, the world, and self.
- Smile and laugh as much as I can.
- Take a few moments here and now to stop doing and just be.
- Partake in a spiritual practice at least twice today for 20 minutes: pray, meditate, be mindful.
- Try! Commit myself to facing at least one of my fears that is getting in the way of me having the life I want.
- Make amends with someone who I have estranged from and love everyone I see.
- Write a list of all the things I am grateful for and say thank you to life!
Regardless if it is 24 hours or 24 years that you have left; life is short and precious. Do not squander it on anything that is not fulfilling. Live each miraculous moment to the fullest. Live this day as if it were your last.
Nancy Daley is a mother of four, freelance writer and nursing educator. She hails from New Brunswick, Canada where she actively seeks the spiritual solution to all life’s dilemmas through research, meditation, prayer, nature and exploring the interconnectedness of all faiths. Seeking to share what she learns along the way, she is the voice behind Waking Up in a Busy World https://dale-lynwritin.blogspot.ca. Her work can also be found in The Mindful Word, The Tiny Buddha and The Wisdom Daily.
Adams, Guy (Oct 7, 2011) Steve Jobs’ Final Wish: To get to know his children before it is too late. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/steve-jobs-final-wish-to-get-to-know-his-children-before-it-was-too-late-2367355.html
Bodhipaksa (December, 2014) The spiritual Power of a smile. Wild Mind. Retrieved from http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-spiritual-power-of-a-smile
Down, Bernard. ( 2000) Death in Classical Daoist Thought. Philosophy Now. Retrieved from https://philosophynow.org/issues/27/Death_in_Classical_Daoist_Thought
Hawter, Ven. Pende (revised 1995) Reflections on Death in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition Buddha Dharma Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.buddhanet.net/deathtib.htm
Maraboli, Steve (October 2013) Live Life to the Fullest. You tube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRy6ZdOOws4
Matthew 16:26 English Standard Version. The Holy Bible.
Rumi as translated by Nadar Khalili. (n.d.) Life and Death. Retrieved from http://www.khamush.com/life&death.htm
Simon, David (n.d.) Lighten up: The Healing Power of Laughter. The Chopra Center. Retrieved from http://www.chopra.com/articles/lighten-up-the-healing-power-of-laughter#sm.000000x2xv4sqke4ezc7ar9rd2eh0
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (August 2015) Sri Sri’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8 Part 1. The Art of Living. Retrieved from https://www.artofliving.org/wisdom/summary-bhagavad-gita-chapter8-part1
Stanford University (2007) Steve Job’s 2005 Standford Commencement Address. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc