Living Is A Lot More Work Than Dying

Living Is A Lot More Work Than Dying

That’s the jist of it. The big insight of Death’s nod of ‘not now’ and my return to the realm of living.  Living is a lot more work than dying.

via Shutterstock

The posting of “The End of My One Year To Live Experiment” was three months after the accident. The bulk of recuperation and rehab to regain strength and flexibility of my arm and healing of the brain from the concussion accomplished.  The Experiment was over. Time to get back to living.

Soon after, a week doing tai chi, learning how to clean giant woks, playing and celebrating the end of ‘that’ and the beginning of ‘this’, I was living and training for a great summer.  It was an exceptionally good summer, maybe because of a little help from, what I can only call, an emerging awareness that there’s something different about how living is now feeling.

I didn’t know there would be long-term effects of practicing living as though one is dying.  Silly, I now know.

It’s beyond my skill to describe but Roshi Bernie Glassman experienced a stroke in early 2016 and this is what he says about his recuperation.

Looking back on that period, I see that it was extremely important for my being to refresh itself. In fact, what I learned later as I began reading about the brain is that the brain actually rewires itself when you’re resting. My exercise … also taught me this… I was letting my brain rewire itself and then, on to the next exercise. And I believe this is what led the therapists to say that I was going much faster than most.

If you are doing meditation, you are seeing thoughts happening almost in slow motion, which allows you to see them in a very enlightened way. I think that is what I did in rehab.

This is a snippet, summary, a statement of fact. I read between the lines, as I’ve been taught, and see a commitment of total immersion into the experience of healing and recuperating.  I felt my brain healing and rewiring. I watched the brain body interactions and how each helped the other to heal. The brain and body are in constant communication. Move until you go a bit too far, body and brain. How do you know you’ve gone too far if you’ve never been there? Pain is usually part and parcel, part body part brain.  If the pain is medicated away how will you know when it has resolved?  Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.

Bernie is very clear, “if you are doing meditation”, then ….

Seeing Thoughts Happening In Slow Motion

I take no credit for my predilection for meditation.  It seems part of my nature to not rush. My reputation is more lead arse than fleet of feet. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the TaiChi, the slower the better. Even so, I was surprised to notice that in the midst of many people, much activity, and lots of interacting, that the brain and body were processing in slow motion. They are the ones taking in all the information, processing all the sensations and feelings but it’s the ‘I’ who chooses what to do with everything. Perhaps “I” is more the result of synergy.  Attributed to Aristotle is the definition: Synergy is greater than the sum of its parts.  Then again, maybe “I” is separate.

After years of mentoring, the wise old warrior tells the novice “Now you’re ready to learn.  Stand where you are and be ready to defend yourself”.  Through the novice’s frustration and protests the mentor continued the attack which took 30 minutes to move 3 feet.  The novice was beyond frustration when the old one warned: “In an instant life might turn around; a heart may open in a moment of grace. But preparing for that moment can take a lifetime.”

As the months passed, the novice warrior came to realize that his duties – his hours of service and contemplation were not merely a distraction, but an integral part of his training. Movement practice and the rest of life interpenetrated one another, blending into a unified existence. Almost without noticing, the practice of combat shifted to the practice of living.

(The Journeys of Socrates by Dan Millman)

Four years and four months of practicing dying and now I’m using those same skills practicing living; doing what needs doing, expecting nothing being prepared for anything, I hope.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

These days I chop more vegetables than wood but ‘chop wood, carry water’ is a much-loved mantric metaphor that grounds me in the appreciation of all the parts of living, with mindful attention.  We clean stuff, get groceries, get kids, go to work, go to school, pay bills.  Procuring food, clothing and shelter are primary to, simply, living day in and day out.

Additionally, just maintaining this body is a full-time job. More full-time for some than others.  All is ground for practicing, learning, teaching, interacting, listening closely to the heart, slowing down to better discern the more skillful action.

Just do your best. This is the whole of practice, the whole of our life. All sorts of chatter comes up in the midst of the circumstances of our life. Something breaks, we clean it up or fix it up. Or we can start chattering about, “Why does this happen to me? Oh, I always do this. What am I going to do? What does this mean?” We all know the consequences of that. After speaking with someone, do we continue holding on to the discussion with “internal” chatter, like, “Why did they say that to me? It’s not fair.” If that chatter—habits of reactions, habits of thoughts and emotions—arises, then right there in the noticed chatter is our practice. Just be chatter in the midst of doing, and allow chatter to pass. Bodily experience this.  (Elihu Genmyo Smith, “Do Your Best” Tricycle Magazine 9/2017)

by Danny Shanahan, a New Yorker Cartoon



The day after tomorrow will be five years since I retired from a job and began the One Year To Live Experiment and it has been an incredible adventure. But, this is just my experience. May all of your adventures be met with mindful awareness including the Last Great Adventure of this life … and thank you for your part in it.