The person that we are, right now, is a vulnerable one. They sit on a knife’s edge between the past & future. Neither here nor there. They encounter variables, situations, and environments that they have no control over – constantly adjusting and trying to stay adjusted all at the same time.
This tension between constant change and trying to stay the same is confusing. Everything that we do, in some way, is to help cope with that. To make sense of this madness.
This person. The one reading this. Is a terrible decision-maker. Let’s not beat around the bush here – we just don’t have all the information, all the time. We reactively act on short-time horizons – hoping to minimize the pain we feel right now, over maximizing our long-term fulfilment.
We try our best to make sense of the senseless.
Reactivity, instant gratification, and conditioning. These things play a huge role in how we make decisions in the present moment – and they aren’t reliable at all.
How many times have you made a decision without even thinking about it? The answer is thousands. A day. Has it ever occurred to you that some of these automatic processes may not be serving our greatest good? It has to me.
Since we rarely can keep track of all the decisions. I hope we can both agree that, maybe, at the present moment we are not the person who should be making big decisions. We don’t need to make every small decision consciously but what if we could have more autonomy with the bigger picture stuff, the things that actually matter?
Maybe someone a bit wiser can help us. Someone who has a better perspective…
Death keeps us honest
“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most” - Frank Ostaseski
Death is the ultimate forcing function. It literally forces the life right out of you. I suppose we know very little about dying, maybe apart from the first-person accounts of near-death survivors.
I believe that death is a friend. A rather scary, mysterious, and potentially fatal friend, but a friend nonetheless.
If you want pure honesty, talk to someone who is minutes away from dying, and ask them about what this life meant to them. See how some grasp onto the richness of this life, while others peacefully let go of their bodies, with a small, contented smile signalling their gratitude for having had the human experience.
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because 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. ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish." - Steve Jobs
Death is the answer. Death is what pulls insight & meaning from the confusing reality we live in. We can use death in this journey of life.
The question is how…
Building 100-year-old you
So let’s apply these ideas to our own lives. Using some active imagination, writing, and the ideas we’ve discussed already.
I want you to imagine, in your mind’s eye, the place where you would like to die. Think of something comforting. I like to imagine that I would move on surrounded by the people I deeply love in a beautiful place. What’s the equivalent for you? Imagine that context.
Now, imagine, present-moment you are here as well, and you open a door. On the other side, is an older version of you, just minutes, or seconds away from dying. Walk over to them & sit down. Notice how grateful and fulfilled they look. See how their eyes sparkle.
Ask them questions. Whatever decision you’re considering taking. Ask them. Make sure to write it down. Consider structuring your conversation through a dialogue. (See example below)
See what they say. They’ll likely cut through all of the bullshit and give you a straight answer. Remember, when you’re about to die, things become very clear. What actually mattered comes right up. Not the small details. And we’re simply simulating that. Benefiting from that.
Our dying self forces us to think long-term.
“What would the version of me on the doorstep of death want me to do?” - Matthew Dicks
Here’s an example interaction I had with my 120-year-old self.
Me: Hey, I got a lot of stuff, more personal stuff, done this morning. I am now writing to you to gain some clarity on how my time should be used, I think you'll have the insights.
Old me: Hey... I am on my last few minutes here. I am glad you reached out. Do things that you really want to do. Take a risk. Looking back on this life -- there may not be a chance again to take a risk & to live life the way you want to live it. To really shed old beliefs & become 1 with the reality around you. I say that you already know what to do, it's just that you're a bit confused, that's all. Take a deep breath. Let it emerge. Be aware. Resonate with higher emotion.
Me: Okay, that felt good. I am still unclear on what the immediate next step is, but I guess it might make sense to take just 1 step. Movement, of any kind, in any direction, so long as it's more or less towards the horizon seems right.
Old me: Okay, then take that step. And then take another one, and another one after that. Just worry about the next step -- then one day, you'll have walked so far that you'll realize that you've changed & grown so much. Just take 1 step.
Me: I finished a call, I am feeling like my communication skills are lacking a bit. I feel awkward & end up rambling quite a bit on calls.
Old me: Good. Rambling is okay. It will take time and practice to improve. If you intend to improve, you will improve, that is how this works. Being a good conversationalist is an important skill.
Me: What should the time I have now be used for?
Old me: Take a risk. What's something hard you've been pushing away? Create a list of those things. And just pick one. Try it out. You have literally nothing to lose.
Take their advice and actually use it. It’ll likely be the only person who 100% cares about you – cherish that. The stuff that never mattered won’t even occur to this version of you – and you’ll get a refreshing take that no other person can give you.
Source information from the wisdom that already exists within you. Just give it form in your mind through a dying version of yourself. This is a tool. Use it.
“I promise you there is not a person in the world who is lying on their deathbed, wishing they had watched a little more TV or played a few more video games or waited just a little while longer to make their dreams come true” – Matthew Dicks