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  • Clive Vanderwagen

The best way to live well will surprise you



You are going to die.


Sometime. Somehow. Somewhere.


As I write this, I pray my death will be quick. Peaceful. While I sleep. After I close my eyes and head into slumber, that one night, I breathe my last and do not wake.


I don’t mind if I’m alone. Dying alone is not my fear. Perhaps it is yours.


Why so bleak, I hear you say? As soon as someone starts speaking about their death, we say words like ‘depressing’ or ‘dark’, and conversation is swiftly steered in another direction. Desperately seeking a turnout to divert the railroad track of discourse.


Even now, you may be considering ending reading because my subject is too sombre, and death is not something you want to think about.


Yet death is not grim.


The Buddha spoke about meditating on your mortality. Death, in Buddhism, is ever-present and a natural part of the ebb and flow of what it means to be human. Maraṇasati (or death awareness) is a Buddhist meditation to keep in mind that death can strike at any time. While you may not subscribe to the Buddhist faith (I don’t), there is wisdom in this philosophy.


I am acutely aware of the grief that accompanies death. I have experienced it and seen it in many others. The ache in your belly as you realise the finality of the moment. That the person will no longer be. And you are reminded that you too, will follow a similar fate.


I don’t deny the pain of death.


But death, you see, is not sombre and dark. In its fullness. When seen in its entirety.


Death, in its essence, represents a celebration of life.


I recently listened to a conversation about death, and the person said that she wants to live a life that leaves her exhausted by the time she dies. “I want to be used up before I die,” she exclaimed. I stopped the recording after the conversation and wrote down those words.


I don’t fear the moment of slumber. I regret a day spent aimlessly.


So, I don’t fear death. I dread the moment before I close my eyes. When I look back and see a life spent vapidly. When I see the longings, the steps I never took, the decisions thwarted by fear – those are sombre conversations. Sobering conversations when we meditate on death’s impending arrival.


I want to be used up before I die. Treat life like a sponge squeezed and twisted for every drop of meaning. To be exhausted by the significance of living well. Living hard. Living strong. Living purposefully.


What it meant to be used up while being at the moment of my life’s expiration. What does it mean to be exhausted and spent at the end of my life?

As I enter my final lap of life, do I want to cross the line exhausted and nauseated by the intensity of the run? Do I want to be carried over by comrades on the same journey, racing for the finish line with my arms on their shoulders, my legs caving in, and a smile slightly etched on my face? Do I want to run in accomplished, with a smile across my face, my hands in the air, grateful for the marathon and its ending?


At the moment of my death, how will I have lived my life?



Living with intention


We choose how to live.


Sure, life throws meteor sized balls of shit your way. Yet, there is always a choice. The one constant we have in life is choice. The option to accept, surrender, understand, resist or change.


Yet we often choose not to choose

We let life take us on its rapid-filled waters while we cling to our kayak and pray that things will be better. Lamenting the rapids when they eventually subside and morph into a stretch of calm – not considering the option of steering the boat to shore, recovering and planning the route. Choosing our path rather than being taken by the current to the water’s subsequent cascade.


How will you choose to live a life that, at the moment of your crossing over, you celebrate the exhaustion? What is needed to see your death as a way of honouring a life that was like a bowl licked clean? A toast to crossing a finish line with your best time in hand.


What does that life look like? How does it feel in your soul?


Does your death excite the life in you?


Perhaps it should.


Like reaching the ending of a book that you relished in reading, wishing it could go on, but ecstatic that it was placed in your hands for your time with it.



Living with legacy in mind


When we die, we leave nothing behind.


Except.


And this is a big except…


We leave behind the people who loved us. And some who didn’t. People who remember how we made them feel. How we got alongside them. How cherished they felt in our presence. The warmth. The embraces. The moments when you could be together without the need to fill the silence. People who were prepared to loiter through life’s moments with you.


They are your legacy.


They are your earthly soul.


All we leave behind are the people we leave behind

As you reflect on these people, meditate on not being here anymore. What words do you want them to use to describe you? What memories do you want them to share? What lessons and learnings do you want them to attribute to you? When they experience your loss, what gain do you want them to hold onto as they cling to your memory?


When you reflect on your death, you remember to decide how you want to live. What impact you want to make. What experiences you wish to have. What you want to leave out because it exhausts you for the wrong reason.


Reflecting on your demise reminds you to live.


Don’t fear death. Fear a life not well spent.


Death is only a waste if life is not used up.