I should have died 10.5 years ago when I was 33. Yet, as traumatic as this unreal experience was (the above pic of me in the ICU was 47 days AFTER my accident), I can honestly say it was an incredible gift. You see, it keeps death before my eyes, which, crazy as it might sound, makes life more vibrant, colorful, and miraculous, and relationships more precious, authentic, and cherished. Saint Benedict said, “Keep death always before your eyes”, and I think his point is life changing.
By the way, the accident in November 2008 that transformed my life I’m referring to was during a kid friendly hiking trip at Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, NV, wherein I surreally slipped, slid, and plummeted 30-feet off a cliff headfirst onto a boulder. Also, to get us all on the same page, I’ll mention this is the fifth blog in a series to get us talking about death in all its forms. “Death” meaning any loss, change, or transition, whether it’s graduating, breaking up, changing/losing jobs, moving, injury, illness, changing beliefs, breathing your last breath, and so on. While this blog stands alone, you can check out the first one here: https://gracenpeaceyoga.com/2019/05/17/how-the-way-we-approach-death-is-killing-us-lets-talk-about-death-part-1/
Keep death always before your eyes.
—St. Benedict: The Rules: Chapter 4.47
What do you think of St. Benedict’s invitation? While my accident forced death awareness on me for a period, I found it infused life and relationships with such sacred sweetness, that I’ve done my best to live out this practice. It allows one to see each breath for the gift it is, the miracle of awakening each morning, and the magic of eating, drinking, walking, dancing, singing, and all the other small joys it’s easy to take for granted.
Being subtly aware of death encourages us to be fully present, fully awake to the preciousness of this moment, this person, this experience, and this place, because you never know when it will be the “last”. And I don’t mean that in a morbid or fatalistic way. For instance, for a season one of my best friends lived in San Antonio, and I thought we’d stay connected and in contact for life … but we haven’t talked in 10 years or communicated in 7. We often don’t know where life will take us it seems!
When we live with this awareness, it empowers us to live with arms, hearts, and spirits wide open to one another, which leads to lesssuffering, loneliness, depression, bitterness, anger, and fear, yet morehugs, tears, celebrating, sharing, caring, dancing, joy, contentment, and Love.
I recently read some words in an article from Brother David Steindl-Rast, which I think are especially relevant to our conversation. He says one thing he appreciates about the Christian tradition is that it shuns reincarnation by naming death as the end of this chapter. “The finality of death is meant to challenge us to decision, the decision to be fully present here now,” he shares, “and so begin eternal life. For eternity, rightly understood is not the perpetuation of time, on and on, but rather the overcoming of time by the now that does not pass away.”
As a lover of Jesus and follower of Christ, I think one could truthfully say the most Christian way of being and living in the world is as an atheist. What I mean by that is: In a grace-filled way, I think it’s vital to Love large, live fully, care recklessly, cry abundantly, work for freedom for all, and celebrate everyone as if death was the end of the road. I hope you get that I’m speaking a bit hyperbolically and leaving a lot out to make a point, because I think our hope in an afterlife empowers us to be bolder on this side. But, that said, do you know what I mean? Love as if there’s no tomorrow! Live the afterlife NOW!
The longer I live, the more “coincidences” seem to have common themes, important messages, and life-lessons. In my mind, it’s the Spirit speaking. With that in mind, what led me to start this series, was getting a variety of messages on the importance of talking about, facing, and approaching death from a positive perspective. Then, when I wrote the first blog, I got a weekly email on gratitude from author/speaker Brené Brown, in which she related how after her friend Liz Gilbert’s wife, Rayya, died, author Ann Patchett shared this advice with Liz:
“Liz, Rayya belongs to the eternal now. And some day soon so will you. And that’s true of all of us. You have an infinite amount of time to belong to the eternal with her. But you only have this tiny bit of time to have this experience as a human being on Earth. Don’t lose it by trying to merge with her now. Merge with this, what’s here, the people who are here, what’s in front of you.The weird, strange, heartbreaking thing of being mortal. Do that.”
Keeping death on our minds is enlivening because it makes us more present to the richness, mess, and beauty that’s here and now. What do you think?
You can find the next blog in the series here: https://gracenpeaceyoga.com/2019/06/21/what-might-happen-after-we-die-and-why-it-matters-lets-talk-about-death-part-6/
Grace and peace,