Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Memento Mori...

"Memento mori" is a latin phrase meaning "remember your mortality". It expresses the idea that only when we accept and embrace the inevitability of our death can we truly appreciate and value our life.

I was first introduced to this idea by Nate Green, when reading his "Hero Handbook". In this amazing guide to living life as your own hero, he recommends creating a simple spreadsheet, 52 columns wide and 80 columns high. This generously allots us each 10 more years than Abraham Lincoln prescribed, and two more than the current life expectancy of the average North American. Next, take a black marker and fill in a square for each week that you have lived so far. Mine looks like this ... 

My current memento mori - over halfway dead!

Then, each week you fill in one more square. It quickly becomes like the sands of an hourglass, letting you tangibly see your lifetime pass. I found it to be a fascinating experience, reminiscing as I filled in squares... Kindergarten, picturing the classroom, who my friends were, my teacher's face. First puppy love. When I got my driver's license, and only a few squares later when I was in the hospital with a skull fracture after a rollover crash. The summer I got married. When my kids were born. What house I lived in when. Successes. Failures. A friend committing suicide, wiping out the rest of his spreadsheet with one bullet. Each square represents 168 hours and, when grouped together make up all of our significant events and eras.

I was describing this chart to a friend today. Earlier in our conversation I had asked her "What are you excited about this coming week?". She replied, "Nothing. I am just working". Later, when I brought up the idea of keeping a memento mori chart, she told me that seemed morbid and depressing, "Watching your life just slipping away like like that." I explained to her that I am NOT letting my life slip away, precisely because I see how much time has passed and how much I likely have left. I truly value every one of those squares, and refuse to let them go to waste. I suggested that she may feel differently about next week if she kept one of her own. (She messaged me an hour after we met, asking me to send her the .pdf template so she can start her own - kudos to her!)

What inspired me to write about memento mori was the realization that I had not posted my "Thank Google It's Friday" collection of inspiring and entertaining videos, pictures and stories that people have sent me in the last week. It truly felt like I had posted my last one just a day or two ago, but another 168+ hours HAD gone by, yet again, and I began reflecting on how quickly the calendar flips.

Much has been written on the meaning of life and death. Perhaps more than on any other subject (with "love" probably in that mix). A relatively recent expression of the very spirit of momento mori comes from the visionary/powerful/wealthy/brilliant/influential, but dead anyway, founder of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs.

“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.”

"The trap of thinking you have something to lose" ... exactly. None of us are getting out of here alive. Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, George Washington. All dead. In fact, everyone who was ever born is either dead or very soon will be. So, please, stop taking it all so seriously!

"People tend the take everything too seriously. Especially themselves. Yep. And that's probably what makes 'em scared and hurt so much of the time. Life is too serious to take that seriously." Tom Robbins

Scared and hurt. Regretful and worried. Why would we ever squander our only lives on these ways of being. Regret is useless. If there is something you can do now to correct what you are regretting, do it. If you can't, then turn the page and get on with the business of living. Worry, too, is a nonesensical waste of energy. Whatever it is that you are worried about, ask yourself this - "Is there any action I can take to affect this outcome?" If the answer is "Yes", then do it. If the answer is "No", then don't worry and deal with it when it comes. 

So, how about being joyous and kind and excited and loving? How can we shift our vibration there instead?

We can begin by realizing that there are only two kinds of squares in a memento mori - those that are black and those that are white. In other words, those that are already filled in and those that remain blank.

The black ones represent our past. There is nothing we can do about them now. The only healthy way to regard the past is with unequivocal gratitude. Be grateful for every good thing you have experienced. And be grateful for the lesson in every bad thing, as well as grateful that it has passed. 

The blank squares are blank for a reason. NOTHING IN THE FUTURE HAS HAPPENED YET! So, this is something you can do everything about. The whole rest of your life starts right now, always. I am reminded of a great book I just saw, entitled "It Is NEVER Too Late, As Long As You Start RIGHT NOW!"

Here is a challenge. 

Create your own memento mori. You can even download a blank one in .pdf form right here ...

Really examine how much time has passed and how much is left to come.

And ask yourself these questions... How much of that rapidly shrinking white space am I going to spend watching television? How much do I want to spend feeling sorry for myself? How much am I willing to spend doing things I don't enjoy? What kind of responsibility am I going to take for my health and energy to best enjoy that time? What do I really want to be doing and how can I start doing it? With what friends do I want to share the time I have left in my life?

And then get very excited, not just about every remaining week but about every remaining day, every remaining hour, every remaining minute. Get very excited about your very next breath. AND GET LIVING!

"‎This is our time—the time each one of us has been given. Yet we get lost in semantics—what is good, bad, right, wrong. What do we forget? Everywhere, someone has a request, someone has a prayer. “Make this happen. Give me a better job. Give me a better life.” We forget what we have been given. Somehow, we are unable to look at what is in front of us—the most beautiful, the most magnificent. There is no greater blessing than the coming and going of this breath."              Prem Rawat

Someday, no matter what, your spreadsheet will be totally black. So will mine. So will your kids' and everyone else's. 

So, here is one more question worth asking yourself, from the poet Mary Oliver.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

As for me, I plan on living myself to death!

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