New Years Resolution: Embrace Death

Steve Jobs was a man who lived with his death in mind.

(RTR is coming right up! At the bottom of the post are maps to get there. I will move there either on January 4th or 5th from Ehrenberg.)

I’m posting this on January 1, 2014—New Years Day, at this time of the year most of us feel a need to examine our lives and think about where we have come from and where we’re going; I think that’s a very good thing! The spiritual tradition I follow elevates self-examination and self-knowledge to the highest level, going so far as to recommend it on a daily, or, if necessary, even an hourly basis. For myself, I’ve found constant self-examination and honesty to be the key to living a consistently contented and happy life. Because of that I very much encourage everyone to take a moment this time of year to ponder their life’s direction.

Another tradition at New Years is to make Resolutions of changes we want to make and how we want to live the coming year. Often they revolve around our weight or spending habits. Unfortunately, most of us make those resolutions only to break them very soon afterwards.; that’s so common it’s become a cliché. Chances are many of you have done it so often you’ve given up on the whole Resolution thing and just simply refuse to do it anymore.

So today for New Year’s I’m going to suggest something different, first a little exercise in self-examination and then a little experiment in lifestyle change:

An Exercise: Write two obituaries for yourself:

  1. One like you died today and your funeral is next week.
  2. Then a second one like you will die five years from now.

An Experiment: With your two obituaries in mind, try to make these lifestyle changes:

  1. Make your every decision like you were going to die in five years.
  2. Treat every person you meet like they were going to die in a month.

You may be thinking that seems rather morbid but I have long been convinced that embracing death is the single most important thing you can do to ensure a full, satisfying and contented life. I’ve been especially impacted by the work and writings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who spent her entire life as a psychologist studying death and the dying. Working that closely with the dying, and the families of the dying, led her to conclude that 1) how we live determines the quality of our death and 2) that the quality of our death finally, honestly reveals the quality of our living.

It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live.

And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.

Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. And you will not have a pleasant death.”  ~~Elizabeth Kubler-Ros

A recurring theme with many people she worked with was that they looked back at their lives with regret about the choices they had made and a large number said that if they could go back and do things differently they would. She made it part of her life’s mission to warn the living that they should be living in a way that would bring them a good death.

I believe the fear of death is an epidemic in our culture and even those who insist they are not afraid of death secretly are paralyzed by it. One of the worst things about modern civilization is that we are so separated from death that we rarely see it or are touched by it. Instead we live in constant terror of it. Virtually our every action is geared toward pretending it will never happen to us and doing whatever it takes to keep it as far away as possible.

In my own spiritual walk I most closely follow two spiritual traditions that place a very heavy emphasis on a constant awareness and preparation for a good death: 1) Lakota Sioux and 2) Zen Buddhism. A Lakota Sioux saying I consider to be critical to a happy life is “Today is a Good Day to Die.” At its simplest it means the person has lived life deeply and well and is fully prepared to die that day with no regrets. The Buddha himself taught his disciples to meditate on death and literally performed death meditations with his followers in graveyards over the rotting corpses of the dead. Now that is embracing death!

As a concrete method to embrace death I suggest these two activates:

1) Write two obituaries for yourself:

  1. One like you died today and your funeral is next week.
  2. Then a second one like you had died five years from now.

Contemplate the paradox of an ecstatically happy Walking Dead Person.

In the first obituary visualize that you died tonight peacefully in your sleep and the funeral is in three days. Use the full power of your imagination and envision that you were dead and ask yourself these questions. Take a lot of time and contemplate deeply on the answers you give to them and try to intensely get in touch with the impact your life has had on the world around you.

Write out a brief outline of your life and accomplishments. Paying special attention to your best memories and all the high points. Also include the low points and how you handled them.

  • Does your outline seem life a full life to you?
  • Did your life matter? Did it have meaning?
  • How many resentments did you die with? How many people resented  you? Would you change that if you could?
  • How many people will be at the funeral?
  • What will their reactions be?
  • How will the people who are not there, but know of you, be impacted by your death? How will they feel?
  • Are you satisfied with how many people are impacted by your life outside of immediate family and friends?
  • In what ways did your life impact the world?
  • In what ways did your life impact others around you?
  • Did your life live up to your childhood expectations?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • Do you wish you had done things differently?
  • Was today truly a good day to die?

After you’re done, take a week or two and ponder the answers you gave and contemplate if you’re satisfied with your life and death. After that time write a second obituary but this time write it like you are going to die in five years. Because it hasn’t happened yet you have time to change it and rewrite the answers you gave the first time if you aren’t happy with them.

As your writing your second obituary, answer these questions the way you would if you live your best possible life in the next five years and then die five years from today; January 1, 2020:

Write out a brief outline of the way you need to live in the next five years to get to this new obituary. Pay special attention to the best memories you want to create and what  you need to do to have the impact you want to have on others around  you.

  • How many resentments will you die with, are there less this time?
  • How many people will have resentments toward you? Are there less this time?
  • Did your life matter? What did you do to bring meaning to your life?
  • How many people will be there? What do you need to do to make that happen?
  • What will their reactions be?
  • How many people not there will know about and be impacted by your death? How will they feel? What did you need to change to that about?
  • In what ways did your life impact the world? How will you make that happen?
  • In what ways did your life impact others around you?
  • What was the meaning of your life? How did you give your life meaning?
  • Did your life live up to your childhood expectations?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • Do you wish you had done things differently?
  • Was today, January 1, 2020, truly a good day to die?

If there is a big difference between the two obituaries, then you need to start making some changes. I can’t tell you what those should be because we all have different expectations of a good life, but whatever it takes for you to be happy with your life, you need to start doing it today. Because while we don’t know for sure when we will die, we can all be certain that we will. Live today so you are ready to die today.

If you really wan to change your life, I encourage you to consider making these life-style changes. By that I mean they aren’t resolutions for a short period of time, but that they are a new way to conduct your life from now on in a daily and even minute-by minute basis:

2) With your two obituaries in mind, try to make these life-style changes:

Make your every decision like you are going to die in five years. Thinking you’re going to die this year is too short, you’ll end up pissing all over the future when you should still be making some long-term plans.  Thinking you’ll die in ten years is too long, you’ll piss all over today thinking of then.  I think planning for your funeral five years from now is just right to find the balance of today and tomorrow. Both are important and must be balanced against each other.

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” ~Og Mandino

 

Treat every person you meet like they were going to die in a month. To plan for your death, the single most important thing you can do is consider how you treat others. But society teaches us to be egocentric and think primarily of ourselves. Any life lived mainly for ourselves, or for just a few others, will prove to be a failure and our funeral will make that abundantly clear.

Here’s what I suggest you do, whenever a person crosses your path, no matter how briefly, take some responsibility for that person and treat them like they were going to die in a month. Your response might be that you don’t have anything to give to them, but you can always have a smile and a kind word. And if you don’t have a smile to spare, you need to find out why you don’t and make some drastic changes in your life. I make it my goal to leave every person’s life I come into contact with better for having a brief interaction with me.  I don’t accost people, most of us want to be left alone, but if for some reason I have words with you, I want you to be better for that exchange.

Smiling-Choices

And when it comes to the poor, I imagine finding them dead somewhere in the next month. And I ask myself, “I can’t save them, but how can I make their passing better? How will I feel if I do nothing today and they die tomorrow?” To the best of my ability, I offer them a smile, a kind word, and some physical help.

I want to leave you with the teaching of the Buddha on the value of embracing death.

The Buddha taught there were five subjects for Frequent Recollection (abhinhapaccavekkhana)

  1. We are subject to growing old. No one can escape it (jarādhammatā).
  2. We are subject to pain (illness). No one can escape it (byādhidhammatā).
  3. We are subject to death. No one can escape it (maranadhammatā).
  4. We are destined to be parted from all that we love and hold dear, even from ourselves (piyavinābhāvatā).
  5. We are responsible for our actions. We must accept the results. Do good, get good. Do evil, get evil (kammassakatā).

Quite simply, he wants us to embrace death by frequently remembering it and live well because we will face the consequences.

Is today a good day to die?

To make it so, spend equal time living as much for your future legacy as you do for your future security.

One without the other is meaningless.

Embrace death as your greatest ally in the good life, not as an enemy.

To live your best life, embrace death as your greatest ally, not as an enemy.

Maps to RTR and schedule of events.

RTR-map-1

This is a map to the RTR campsite in Quartzsite. If you look closely you'll see all you ever have to do is walk north and you'll come to Interstate 10 or walk east and you'll come to Highway 95. Even if you don't know where you are, you know by walking to either of those directions you'll come to help.

This is a map to the RTR campsite in Quartzsite.

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

45 comments on “New Years Resolution: Embrace Death
  1. lucy says:

    OUTSTANDING post Bob !
    To complement your lines I’m adding one of my favorite poems… Please, everybody meditate on it !

    Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world,

    as a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,

    as a flash of lighting in summer cloud,

    as a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.

    From the Diamond Sutras.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR to everybody !!

    Lucy.

  2. Myddy says:

    This is definitely what I needed to read today! I was actually thinking, this year my resolution is to find something to be happy about every day before I go to bed. I lived last year horribly after my fiance passed away with cancer. It should’ve been a push for me to live every day like it is my last, but instead I wallowed in self pity most of the year and got nothing accomplished. I didn’t even move out of state like I had planned. I just let it cripple me and keep me here, and I stayed sad all year. This year that is going to change! I’m going to start evaluating my life like this, as if I will die soon and want to live to the fullest.
    Myddy recently posted…Cheap EntertainmentMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Myddy, having lost a loved one recently I know how devastating it is. There is nothing wrong at all with taking the time to work through it, in fact there is really no other way to do it but one day at a time. You’ll know when it’s time to move on.

      I’m wishing you all the best as you work through it.
      Bob

  3. CAE says:

    When we try to help others, we are really helping ourselves. And it turns out that everyone observing this also feels better. It’s a phenomenon of great therapeutic value for all.

  4. Joe says:

    I like your philosophy. I have found thinking about death to be helpful for my life, too. I was born with a heart problem, had open heart surgery at 15 and have had some other scares since then, so for me the possibility of death has always been somewhat tangible… though I’ve never been thrilled about having my condition, I can say that it’s made me realize that I need to live the life I want to live right now. It’s a constant reminder that life is short for everybody. Last year I got divorced, and this year I quit my job, hiked halfway from Mexico to Canada on the PCT, moved into a VW Rabbit a month ago, and started traveling with a woman I met at a festival this summer. I have no intentions of resuming my engineering career or finding permanent residence again. See ya at RTR
    Joe recently posted…AcceptanceMy Profile

  5. dan says:

    Splendid advice Bob! Really puts things into perspective.

  6. Offroad says:

    well also try the saying “GET BUSY LIVING – OR BE BUSY DIEING”. Your choice really.

    It funny how people really think they are going to live much past Social Security retirement age of 67. Its not going to happen folks!! 70 is about it for a healthy active life for many. Its wheel chairs, elderly home-housing battles, being a burden on loved ones who can not handle your needs, no easy transportation.

    What are you going to do? Find your happiness now, today, this week, this month, this year. Include preparations for a graceful exit. Not saying Thelma & Louise kamikaze stuff. No No No. But go have fun if you are 50 and older. Be ready to retire on a dirt cheap income if you have to. Am trying to do that myself.

  7. joe says:

    I like a person who is not afraid to accept death it is natural part of being human I, m OK with it I do think about this from time to time and it.s OK no big deal to me u did a very good job of letting us know how it is to just understand what is ahead for all of us great read Bob thanks for the realty check on life and death that did me some good

  8. Siha Tanka says:

    That’s Mahe Tuya, It’s like you’re reading my mind. Its always good to be reminded.
    Thank You, ( Le mita pila, Wakan tanan kici un) May God bless you.

    Micaje, Siha Tanka

  9. Peggy says:

    Where I’m going with my life has been on my mind constantly, and coincidentally, where I want to be five years from now is what I keep pondering on. I’m looking forward to doing the exercises you suggest…I think writing things down helps immensely. I’ve been putting some things in place so that I can move forward and live location independent, and I think 2015 is the year it’ll start really coming together. Right now I’m waiting to hear test results from one of my doggies who had a tumour removed a couple of weeks ago. My dogs are like my kids, so they’re a #1 priority.

    Have a blast at the RTR! The schedule looks amazing.
    Peggy recently posted…Happy New Year! But Don’t Drink and Drive!My Profile

  10. Calvin R says:

    This is excellent. I especially like the quote from the Dalai Lama.

  11. Openspaceman says:

    Bob_

    My frustration on the concept of time as a limitless supply. I work at a place where several coworkers in their late 60’s – early 70’s …made/make a big production over counting down their days to retirement 300, 400 days left…blah, blah, blah and then they never retire, they just keep coming to work and bitching and complaining. I know these guys all have plenty of money to retire comfortably.

    *My point is I have a million things I want to do in this life while I’m still capable physically and I don’t understand why they just want to buy a more expensive coffin. Habit is a powerful thing I guess or maybe the fear of the unknown is paralyzing.

    **Here’s a word I learned recently that is helping me understand: Sonder

    sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

    Peace.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Openspaceman, they have a civilized mind that only allows them to be humans “do”ing and leaves little room for humans “be”ing. Most of us can’t stand the thought of being totally alone in the silence of our minds so we drown it out with anything and everything else.

      Interesting word, never heard of it before. Thanks!
      Bob

  12. Jim in TX says:

    I think this is one of your best posts, Bob. It really provides a framework for someone to sit down and examine their journey through this special life, and also puts into perspective the value of “things” versus “experiences.” Thank you!

  13. Back when I was living a respectable life, I clucked my tongue at those who were more concerned with having fun and adventure instead of setting themselves up for a secure future. The joke was on me. They had (and are having) rich, full lives, and my future is not all that secure. Too bad current me wasn’t able to go back in time to give 25 year old me some advice. I would have a lot more “I can’t believe I did thats” instead of a lot of “I wish I’d done thats.” I’ll just have to make up for some lost time, as much as my body is able.
    Al Christensen recently posted…It is resolvedMy Profile

  14. jim says:

    Great post mr bob yes it’s to bad life don’t have a rewind button but life is a one way trip you better live it as you go

  15. Ming says:

    good food for thoughts in this post, Bob. I’m glad I never followed my mom’s advice to put off “enjoying life” until later. I used to feel bad about following my inclinations and not measuring up to the norm of full time work, owning a house and having kids. It was coming across your posts and others’ about the most common regrets of dying people in palliative care that made me realize that maybe I didn’t have it so wrong after all. I have no regrets about the choices I’ve made.

    Recent health events are making me face the fear of death. Part of getting older, I guess, but I’ve found it’s all nice and academic until it’s your turn. I’ve started reading Kubler-Ross’ book. Do you have other readings you’d suggest?

  16. Canine says:

    I try to live my life as stated in the Kubler-Ros quote, but have found that extraordinarily difficult. I currently work at a job I dislike and is not conducive to good health. My plan is to prostitute myself there for 2 more years to become completely debt free. Then with my simple lifestyle be able to work where I want, when I want, how I want. Is that such a bad plan? I feel like I’m doing what most people do- work at a job they don’t like to make enough money to have a nice place so they can retire and do what they want. I’m just doing it on a smaller, shorter time scale.

    My biggest fear is I’ll keep extending that deadline just like most do, then will have ended up working my whole life as a prostitute.

    • Openspaceman says:

      Canine_ / Bob_

      I’m going to try it this way. Who knows if it will work, but in my situation it just might. The avg. male in the U.S. retiring @65 yrs old will live about 14 more years with the last 4 yrs pretty dicey health wise. I’m learning to live more modestly and like Bob focus on experiences as opposed to possession accumulation. So here it goes.

      I’m 50…if I’m average then I got 26 yrs left ( I have to pick a number ) my dad and his dad both made it to 76 with failing health in the last 3 yrs. so all morbidity aside but that’s the topic of this post. If I take every other yr off until I’m 76 ( I have coworkers still prospering @74 where I work ) I’ll be working another 14 yrs but will have 14 yrs in my 50’s n 60’s of mini retirements…while I can still hike/explore/drive/chop wood, etc.

      Ahhhh…making plans, well what’s the alternative not making plans. I moved out at 18 and worked in the printing trade for ten yrs and then worked in the resort business and now sell furniture/appliances for the last 10 yrs. so no college because of choices I had to make when I started out…but always been good at getting a job.

      *Anybody can probably punch holes in my plan but I’m gonna try it for a few years. In commission sales it’s sink or swim so it’s pretty easy to get a gig. I always leave a job on good terms and a letter of recommendation…seems to work well.

      _Peace

      • Openspaceman says:

        We’re all prostitutes in some way. Goodluck!

      • Bob Bob says:

        Openspaceman, I actually think you are being optomistic, I’m not planning to live that well for that long. I’m almost 60 and I’m only figuring good health to 70 and that may be pushing it.

        I don’t see anything wrong with that plan. In fact it’s one I’ve always had on the home page of the website. For 4 years I worked seasonal which is basically the same thing with the difference being in how long you work and take off. Plus I actually liked being a campground host and loved living in the National Forest.

        Good luck with your plan!
        Bob

    • Bob Bob says:

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I worked at a job I hated for 30 years till I was retirement age.I don’t think you can apply the idea of right or wrong to it. It’s just whatever works for you.

      However, today, I do regret throwing away so much of my life for so little.
      Bob

      • Openspaceman says:

        Bob_

        I know your busy, busy with the RTR and I’ll be there next year.

        *Yup everything is a gamble and who knows how long any of us have. My motivation for structuring or attempting to structure the remainder of my life this way is partially from being exposed to your overall philosophy and was probably triggered by playing music in the nursing and retirement homes and seeing first hand…what I call “The End Game”. I’m not breaking rocks at work or anything but I’d much rather be a campground host next summer and hopefully I can find something thru Quartzsite next winter.

        *i do love playing music in the nursing homes but I’d rather volunteer than try to make a business out of it because than it would become something else…the music wouldn’t be work but chasing gigs and all that entails…forget it.

        See you next year if a grizzly bear doesn’t eat you or I don’t get hit by a bus. Peace.

  17. RW Dyer says:

    Hi Bob,

    I’ve been a reader of your blog for a long time, but this is the first time I really thought it appropriate to comment on your posts.

    I wanted to say first of all thank you for this post.

    I lost my stepdad the day that you posted this. He passed from this world on the evening of Thurs. 1/1/15 about 9:30 Central. He always lived like there was no tomorrow and any day was a good day to go. I mean by that that no matter what he did his best to live life to the fullest.

    For the last several years, I’ve been just existing. I’ve had a lot of challenges thrown my way and I’ve forgotten the joy that can come from living the best life that we can. Vicariously, I’ve lived a bit through your blog, following your travels and that of others. I’ve tried to lift myself out of the malaise that I’ve been facing, but the challenges have made it such that I’m having to put my dreams on hold for now.

    Losing my stepdad though and coming across this post has made it hit home that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. While factors that I can’t control are in place that will keep me from chucking it all and hitting the road like I want to do for the foreseeable future, I intend to try to honor his memory and your teachings in this post by trying as much as possible to embrace the moment where I am and live my dreams as much as I can.

    Thank you for reminding me that living our dreams, helping others, and seeking the freedom given from chucking this world’s possessions are the things that really make life worth living. I appreciate you reminding me of that.

    Thanks,

    RW

    • Bob Bob says:

      RW, I’m very sorry to hear of your loss, but at the same time I’m glad that you’re going to turn something so hard into something good by allowing it to change you. I’m sure that will bring a smile to your step-dads face!

      I don’t know your circumstances, but I think there must be some small things you can do now to move you forward toward your dreams. Maybe it’s as small as buying a tent and learning to camp or use a cookstove. Vandwelling is nothing but camping in a steel-tent so you can both have fun and live now and be taking baby-steps toward your dream.

      Maybe that’s impractical too but I’d encourage you to find some way to move your life forward while you are waiting for your circumstances to change. Any progress will make you feel better, however small.

      I wish you the very best!!
      Bob

  18. Rogue says:

    Excellent article. Few truly come to terms with their mortality unless they have faced the very real possibility of death. Our culture has indeed shielded itself from death. The further from the farm we are, the further removed we are from the cycle of life, and then death. As a Christian, I am confident that my soul will not perish. As I faced my third heart attack recently, I had no fear of death. Get right with God. It is latter than you think!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Rogue.
      Bob

      • richard says:

        After living very close to my sibling dogs for their whole of 6 years, and their being my only true friends and family; i have most recently began to believe that i have no desire to live beyond their death.
        This setting of an hourglass of time on my life has created an awareness in myself much like that of which you share here.
        Just sayin’…
        Any thoughts? Does not feel morbid, suicidal or unrealistic to me, rather freeing.. blessed and humbled with insight and daily gratitude.
        peace

        • Bob Bob says:

          Richard, I don’t think anyone can pass judgement on you for what you chose to do with your life. I’m in no position to tell you what’s right or wrong for you.

          I’ve been suicidal in my life because of depressing circumstances in my life and that’s probably a mistake because circumstances and sadness don’t last, things eventually change. The main thing I kept living for was my dog. I couldn’t bear the thought of how losing me would affect him.

          He’s gone now which is very hard for me. But I was lead to the perfect dog for me and I am very glad I am here for him, to make his life the best it can be.

          After your dogs are gone, I believe there are more dogs waiting in line for their chance to be with you. Maybe it would be best to live for them?

          Wish I could be more helpful, but only you can answer this question.
          Bob

  19. Royce says:

    Inspiring Bob, simply inspiring! thank you
    Royce recently posted…Custom QuiltsMy Profile

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