I have a dear friend who I respect a great deal. He’s a good man but he’s going through a tough time. He’s losing one of his closest friends to cancer. It’s going to happen quickly—which in some ways can be a blessing in disguise. But there is no way of getting around the fact that this will require a massive adjustment to a new reality for my friend.
In situations like that people always search for meaning. Everything happens for a reason people will say. But of course the reason is created in our own minds. The reason is constructed by us for us. And so we would do well to carefully consider where we are going to place this substantial density of meaning.
No matter what we’ll go through Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying, all the time muttering to ourselves about whatever stage we’re in. But we can force our pain out through those activities in our consciousness, stage by stage, or we can convert the energy from that pain into something meaningful. This is one of the most powerful things a human being can do. We can take in one kind of energy and we can act to flip it into its inverse. We can turn that energy 180 degrees.
The way we do this is to fully feel our pain. Don’t back away from it, move toward it. Feel its texture. Feel what it’s made of. Feel the details of those agonizing thoughts. Study them like a scientist would study a chemical reaction or the behaviour of an animal. Just watch yourself closely and come to better understand your pain. And in doing so you will become aware of the preciousness of life itself. Of the temporaryness of it. Of its fragility. And yet, of its potential vitality.
You will realize that just as some friend’s family did not know they were losing their father only one hour before the news arrived, the same could unknowingly happen in your own family tomorrow. And so rather than turn that into some maudlin loss of purpose, turn it the exact opposite direction and see life for the exciting opportunity that it is. Opportunity for what? For love in all of its forms. Laughter, camaraderie, empathy, romance, friendship, joy. Convert the agony of loss into the unrestrained openness of unconditional love.
You have a choice you either consciously or subconsciously make every single moment. You choose how to analyze the Is-ness of the world. So yes, you can look at the death of a friend as a horrible injustice and no matter how healthy you are your mind will spend at least some time in the angry stage. But the sooner we can reach acceptance, the sooner we can begin to take our grief and convert it into love. Love for the person leaving us and love for those still with us.
That is the awareness that death brings with it. When juxtaposed to death we can suddenly appreciate that life itself is a verb. That before being healthy or happy we must simply be. And when something reminds us that nothing lasts forever and everything changes, we realize that everything includes us. That we and all of our loved ones are temporary spacemen on this little rock hurtling through the cosmos. We are but a blip on the timeline of the universe. Which is why it is all the more important that we love all we can for the short time we’re here.
It’s a wonderful opportunity, life is. Just ask anyone who’s losing theirs if you should waste yours and you’ll always get the same answer. Live. Live fully and deeply and bravely. Because things like failure or loss mean nothing. We all end up dead anyway. So don’t waste your life wishing for a different one. Live this one as fully as you can. Because to do that is a choice, and to not make that choice is to surrender the most valuable thing you have.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.