How would I live my life if I knew I had just one year left to live?
No, this is not a roundabout way of telling folks I have been diagnosed with a serious illness. Instead it’s a challenge Jean Smith refers to in The Beginner’s Guide to Walking the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. It’s a Buddhist lesson is really embracing impermanence, that whatever is now will not be here forever. It might not even be here tomorrow.
While I’m not one to get wrapped up in routine or shiny things to make me happy, I do find myself attached to the comfort of what is known. I don’t love my apartment lately. It’s too small for entertaining, and the plumbing problems have gotten pretty nasty. But it’s comfortable, it’s cheap, it’s in a good location. And it’s easier to just stay here than it is to move. It’s a lot of energy to step out into the unknown. Especially when I’m already pushing my limits in other parts of my life.
If I had one year left to live, I’d quit my jobs. Immediately. I would move back home to be near my parents, and use that as a home base to visit all the other people I love. I would do a lot of meditation and reading about death and dying so I could stay calm and present for my last year, rather than wallowed in anxiety. I’d spend at least a week just staring at the ocean. And I’d spend any other energy I had left trying to write down and share whatever wisdom I’d gained in my short time here.
That vision is clear to me, but I’m having a hard time imagining actually putting that all into practice right now. The hardest part to imagine is moving to Indiana, partly because it would be hardest to continue meditation practice there without much of a community of others. Indiana is not known for its Buddhist communities! I’m also having a hard time writing regularly – it seems that work and other community projects are taking priority, even though these aren’t a key part of my vision of this last year. It’s also easier not to worry about paying the bills when you’ve got a very limited time frame and financial help from family.
What makes it so hard to live out our deepest priorities?