You’re Still Here
When I find myself worn at the end of the day and still looking an hour long workout in the face, a blank word processing screen or maybe just frustrated with the job and or ignorance and hatred around me, I like to watch short motivational interviews. While watching one a week or so ago, I heard a quote from motivational speaker, Les Brown.
“Oh no, there is no guarantee you will show up tomorrow. There are a lot of people who were here yesterday, but they’re not here today. There are a lot of opportunities that were around yesterday; they’re not here today.”
When I heard those words they stuck with me. Maybe it was because of my own recent experience. My mind rolled it around and around and then I came up with a slight variation. It’s my mantra. I try to carry it with me into and through every workout, every day going into work, every time I sit down to write, every night as I go to sleep. Sometimes I forget but, lately, it seems to have a memory of it’s own, popping into my head like a helpful genie. It goes like this.
“There were people around yesterday that wanted to be here today. They’re not here. You might be the one that doesn’t show up tomorrow. You have today. You have right now. “
I’ve said it to myself so much it’s not really the words anymore. It’s the essence behind them. The key is taking the time to really sink into the concept that, really, you may not be here tomorrow. What does that look like? How does it feel? What immaterial things disappear? What dreams for the day come to the fore?
I’m no stranger to history and philosophy and I was struck with the similarity it carried with all manner of ancient thought regarding the concept of Death and “Not being here tomorrow.” There is a massive amount of literature and internet links out there on the concept of carrying Death with you. It’s not my intent to go deeply into all of them. However, I did want to present some of what I found.
First, I thought it was very similar to the Hagakure, the 18th century treatise on the Samurai code. That simple idea that by acknowledging Death daily you fully experience Life. I did a bit of digging and found this little gem written by Daidoji Yuzan, an Edo samurai.
“One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind…the fact that he has to die. If he is always mindful of this, he will be able to live in accordance with the paths of loyalty and filial duty, will avoid myriads of evils and adversities, keep himself free of disease and calamity and moreover enjoy a long life.”
And the unstated, “If things don’t go well and you accidentally step in front of a bus, at least you were at peace with your impermanence!”
I also found a reference that I was unable to validate to an original source. I have no idea which “masters of old” he is referring. Regardless, I thought it was pretty good. It came from Philip Kapleau and “The Zen of Living and Dying”
“Masters of old advise, ‘Stick the word Death on your forehead and keep it there.”
Finally, while bouncing around the web, I found a great piece by the Dali Lama. If you want a more in-depth read I highly recommend it. I’ll leave you with this part of it.
“Our present lives, however, are not forever. But to think: “Death is the enemy” is totally wrong. Death is part of our lives. Of course, from the Buddhist viewpoint, this body is in some sense an enemy. In order to develop genuine desire for moksha – liberation – then we do need that kind of attitude: that this very birth, this body, its very nature is suffering and so we want to cease that. But this attitude can create a lot of problems. If you consider death is the enemy, then this body is also the enemy, and life as a whole is the enemy. That’s going a little bit too far.”
I’m far from any kind of guru or samurai and I think sticking Death on your forehead would make for a very weird tattoo. It would probably, depending on the job, cut down on job interviews. Would maybe a post-it note work? It would probably fall off a lot. I think it might also get you a visit from your office Human Resources.
Joking aside, I’ve simply found a nugget of old wisdom, a phrase that works for me and which, oddly enough, brings me peace with a daily thought process and routine. I feel blessed to have stumbled upon it. It’s a helpful reminder and it brings me focus about what is important. I share it in hopes it helps someone else down the road.