I discovered the power of working with fear of death several years ago, while listening to one of motivational audio books. The idea was to do the following exercise:
Imagine yourself on your deathbed. No, really, do that. You can’t do that? But did you know that you could die or get killed any moment. Today could be your last day of life. It’s very real.
So you are on your deathbed. Now think about the regrets that you have. What things you really wanted to accomplish in your life and haven’t accomplished or most likely haven’t even started working on yet.
Take a notepad and spend 10-15 minutes writing those things down. Be honest with yourself. You can burn the list as soon as you are done.
Most likely you’d be surprised that the list will be quite long and through the rest of the day you are most likely going to think about other things to add to the list. It’ll just happen, without you wanting it. This is because you’ve now opened that box, that was so tightly closed and guarded. The box’s name is “Tomorrow“, or “Later” or “When I … I will do this” — all describing the eternal future…
And that thought of the future is the guard of that box, containing your wishes. However, realizing that death could pay you a visit any moment will scare those warm thoughts of the future away, leaving you with “Now“. There might be no “Tomorrow”, the only sure thing is “Now”.
Obviously there is no need to get scared, because in reality chances that you will die in the next moment aren’t very high, but they are far from zero. And you have little control over it.
Just recently I was in a frontal crash car accident, with two cars and four people involved. Both cars got totalled and it was a miracle that all four walked out with minor injuries. We were very close to death, yet it wasn’t our time yet.
Until the moment of the accident I thought of the deathbed exercise as a powerful tool and it required a lot of imagination to make it such. After the accident there was no more need for imagination, I won’t forget the moment of the crash. I’ll write some other day about other repercussions of that day, but for now let’s stick to the topic.
A year ago I lead a “life’s purpose” workshop at a men’s retreat and the group I worked with went through that exercise, with everybody writing down long lists of things they really wanted to do. One person told at the beginning that he already know all the things that he really wanted to do before his life expires, and yet he discovered that there were other things that he wished to accomplish or experience in his life, ending up with probably the longest list in the group.
We discussed the results and most people pointed out that they procrastinated at doing the real things they wanted, either thinking that they will always be able to do those in the future, or because of self-sabotage and anxiety, because some of those things were quite challenging and scary to even think about. At the end most were very enthusiastic about pursuing those postponed projects and ideas.
I don’t know whether the participants remembered the workshop and started working on those life experiences that they wanted to have, as I know it’s too easy to fall back to the old patterns without constant reminders.
Now let’s go back to the exercise:
After probably having a shock experience of being very honest with yourself, it’s time to take action, moving the immediate death verdict in to the future. Take the “life experiences to have” list and prioritise it using the following technique.
First imagine that you were told that you have only a week to live. And therefore select the experiences that you could have in that single week. The two criteria are importance and feasibility. (Obviously if your goal is to have an experience that requires a much longer period of time it’s not going to work)
Next imagine that your death verdict is one month away, and select experiences that could be done in a single month.
Continue scaling in time, postponing the verdict to 3 months, 6 months, a year, five years, etc. and that way prioritizing your list.
To me the main point of this exercise was the understanding the importance of “Now” and shocking realization of the fact that I was living is some kind of dream through most of my life. Now when I make choices in my life I try hard to remember that new discovery and prioritize things accordingly. My life is much easier now, because I let go of a lot of things, because they aren’t important anymore, because they don’t pass the deathbed test.