Have you ever asked yourself why you are afraid of death? It’s normal to be afraid, of course. But exploring why we are afraid of death might be instructive on how we are to live. Do you have unfinished businesses to accomplish, ambitions that aren’t fulfilled? Are there too many dreams not pursued, loves that are never realized? Have you lived up to your full potential? Do you live a life that you truly love and enjoy rather than living a life of mediocrity?
I once read a poignant memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, written by an Australian nurse named Bronnie Ware, who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She had interviewed dozens of these terminally ill patients and asked them about their deepest regrets. The most frequent response she received was: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.“
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or failed to made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.
What if we all have the courage to pursue our dreams, to live a life true to ourselves, to live up to our God-given potential so that when the moment we die, we would die with no fear, no regret? In order to do this, we must first embrace death instead of fearing death, we must let death be our teacher and guiding light instead of cussing it and running away from it.
So what is death and what can we learn from it before it’s too late?
Death is much more than a bodily process, it is the greatest equalizer and liberator in our life. It is the final destination we all share no matter who you are, where you from, what you believe in, how much or how little you have.
Life doesn’t belong to the living, it belongs to death. Death is the one who comes in his own time to take life from you and there’s nothing you can do to escape it or delay it, because death is the landlord and you’re just the tenant. That’s why people say things like, “He’s living on borrowed time,” or “He got a new lease on life.” Death is the one who comes to claim his property because it has always belong to him.
Instead of fearing death, feel grateful to death for giving you another day, another experience, another life. If you do this, life will no longer be yours to waste, it will be yours to appreciate and honor.
A wise being totally embraces the reality, the inevitability, and the unpredictability of death. Any time you’re having trouble with something, any time you think you can no longer be able to bear burden of life, think of death, it’s one of the best teacher in life.
Perhaps no one says it better than Steve Jobs. In his Standford’s Commencement address, he described what had learned from death, “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.”
Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. – Steve Jobs
Eulogy exercise: How do you want to be remembered?
Ever pondered what people might say at your funeral? What would you like them to say? How would you like to be remembered?
In his bestselling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey presented a paradigm shift and principle-centered habits for solving personal and professional problems. One of the habits he introduced was “Begin with the end in mind“. At its most basic form, it means always having the image of the end of your life as a frame of reference for evaluating everything else – just imagine what you want to be remember at your funeral. It’s about starting things off with a purpose – a clear idea of what the destination is, so that the steps we take are always in the right direction. It’s about focus your time and energy on the things that matter most to us in the long term.
Sometimes people find themselves working so hard to achieve victories that are empty–successes because those victories have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them, but they just couldn’t see them at the time because they were blinded by the short term, temporary successes. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.
No wonder the second most common regret from the book “Top Five Regrets of the Dying” is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard“. Bronnie Ware explained, “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
If we are living with the end in mind day in and day out, never forget what we want to be remember after we leave this world – legacies and impacts that we left behind – we will be able to achieve the following :
- We gain tremendous clarity in many areas of your life. We will be far easier to prioritize our time, our energy, our life. It becomes easier to focus on things and people that truly matter to us, and say no to things that feel out of our alignment with our long term goals and purposes.
- We begin to truly value life, to be grateful for all it has to offers, both good and bad. We celebrate victories as well as failures, we cherish and enjoy most moments with our loved ones and friends because we are aware we will leave them one day and we never know when it will happen.
- We focus on long term goals instead of short term pleasures, we are determined to turn our desires and dreams into reality. Most of all, we will do everything we can to live up to our full potential, whatever it might be.
- We are forgiven and peaceful – we no longer want to get into silly arguments, or raise our vocal chords for trivial matters or hold grudges. We don’t waste our time and energy worrying about things that are out of our control.
- We begin to live more from within than from without. We care less about how other people think of us, we learn to detach ourselves from our ego, insecurity, vanity, and monkey mind. Instead, we attach ourselves to a mission, a purpose, a calling, or a core value. That’s how we can keep our power and peace in any circumstance.
Fear is Fuel, Burn it!
I would like to sum up this article with a story from a guy who can’t move anything but his face. The only body parts that Jon can move are his eyes and lips. His hands, feet, arms, and legs, are almost totally paralyzed. And yet… he has an amazing life. How? By facing his fear of dying useless every single day:
Dying is one thing. But dying broken, useless, and alone at nursing home where no one notices or cares scares the shit out of me. I consciously and deliberately harnessed that fear, using it to propel me to do things everyone thought were insane.
And that’s how courage works. The people we think of as heroes don’t have a mystical ability to transcend fear. To them, the alternative to taking action is simply unacceptable. They do what needs to be done, not because they want to, but because they feel there is no other choice.
Same for me. To get myself to take action, I didn’t meditate, clear my mind, and proceed to do the impossible with calmness and confidence. I woke up each morning and pictured what would happen if I didn’t act. I envisioned the heart monitor, the nurse, my body being pushed into the flames. I deliberately put myself into a state of such intense terror that everything I had to do felt manageable by comparison.
If you find yourself paralyzed by fear, the only way out is often to find something that scares you even more. It’s dark, but it’s also an immense secret. For me, the situation was quite literally life and death. I had a gun to my head, and I did the only thing I could think of to survive.
If you know what you need to do, and you’re struggling to make yourself do it, you might think, “Oh, it’s because I suck. I don’t have the self-discipline of people like Jon.” Wrong! It’s because you don’t have a gun to your head forcing you to take action whether you like it or not.
The only way to succeed is if the fear of doing nothing is greater than the fear of doing something you’re scare of. You must, therefore, increase the fear of doing nothing.
Fear is fuel. So burn, baby, burn.