I was at a celebration of life last night for a sweet soul that passed too young.
Words and poems and tears were shared. And as much as passings are a time of grieving, they are also the birth place to really living. Something, by nature, that we all crave.
Life has a wickedly sweet way of the most somber events reminding us of the impermanence of this life experience.
When someone passes it’s like a cold bucket of water to the face that wakes us up from running on auto-pilot. From what we say, to what we do and how we do it.
Because sometimes things just become habitual. And the frightening thing about habits is that they occur without much thought.
Although unfortunate events are often a catalyst to life contemplation, sometimes those soul-shaking “a-ha” moments fade, and we can slip back into that comfortable and automatic mode. Therefore, I think it’s helpful to have tools we can come back to as a reminder of what we realized in those sacred moments.
And one tool, in the form of a question, has very literally changed my life.
This question, although seemingly morbid, has actually been one of the most inspirational and life-giving questions I’ve come across:
If you died tomorrow, what would you regret?
Take a pause and really think about it. Or maybe write it down and come back to it later. Because when we dig deep and get clear on our answer, it has the potential to change everything. It can shift the way we go about our days, and as a result, our entire life.
There is no right or wrong or good or bad answer. And I don’t think this question should invoke fear, chaos, or sadness, but instead fuel presence, gratitude and an almost unfathomable amount of love.
Because the more we contemplate death, the more fruitful our lives become. To contemplate death is to simultaneously contemplate what it means to truly be alive.
The fact of it is, eventually, we are all going to pass. And the reality is that no one can know exactly when that will be. Acknowledging that we won’t physically be here forever is a gift we can give to ourselves. It reminds us to drop the should’s, would’s, and could’s and prompts us to drop into this very moment fully, like every cell of our being fully.
So, with that said, the medicine of the question comes into play.
If you died tomorrow, what would you regret?
When I asked myself this question, the simplicity in my answer surprised me.
It wasn’t obtaining my dream job or living in my dream location. It wasn’t what I have or don’t have, or what I’ve done or where I’ve been.
It was a lack of showing up and lack of presence.
One of my biggest fears in life was being so busy multitasking and working to accomplish something that I miss the subtleties – those delicious intimate moments of complete presence. Not just in the joyous moments, but in all moments, even the much more uncomfortable ones. My fear was to not show up with the quality of love and presence that I know we are all capable of.
We’ll all have different answers to that question, although I have a suspicion many of our answers would also be the same.
For me the question has changed the way in which I show up in the most subtle of ways, but with beyond powerful effects.
It alters the way we interact with the world around us; from our family, friends and apparent strangers. And most importantly, it can alter the relationship that we have with ourselves. Remembering the impermanence of this life sheds light on the silliness of spending our precious time here in a state of self-loathing. Because really, who does that help or serve?
It may change the work that we do, or perhaps just how we do it. It can shift the way we travel; from taking the longer but more scenic route to work or even just pulling the car over on the ride home to watch the sunset (even if it’s for just for a few moments).
It can also change the way in which we listen to our loved ones, not just listening with our ears but with every single one of our senses.
The answer to my question has not only changed what i’m doing with my time, but more importantly, the way in which I go about doing it. I now do what I do with a lot less micro-managing and a lot more presence and ease.
I realized that the moments I feel the most alive aren’t necessarily the “big things” that I’m working towards or in adrenaline seeking activities. It’s available in all moments, even the quieter more subtle moments. Whether it be a conversation with a stranger on an airplane, or those moment during the sunrise before the world appears to wake, or that feeling right before catching a wave (or missing it, tumbling and falling).
For me, that’s a soul-satisfied life. When I’m there and fully there. It feels nourishing, it feels life-giving, and it feels free.
When we get clear on what the answer is for us, our life begins to change almost effortlessly – in the way that we talk, travel and show up. It sometimes just takes the tinniest shift in perspective and a whole new world opens up before our eyes.
Remembering that none of us are here forever allows us to shift from competition to cooperation, and from jealously and fear, to encouragement and love.
Although I think it’s important to dream and create and envision the future, I think it’s equally important to slow down, pause and fully savour this very moment. Because we never get it all done, and presence, just like our entire lives, is a moment to moment experience.
Living doesn’t exist in some future day when we have this or we’re doing that. It is here and now and will be until the end of our time.
So in the sweetest of ways, I think it’s important to ask ourselves:
If I died tomorrow, what would I regret?
For me, it has been very literally one of the most life-giving questions.
Author: Alex Torontow
Editor: Erin Lawson
Images: Flickr/Karolina Gnat