Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. – Mahatma Gandhi
“Please don’t let her be dead!”
I was in my car, sitting at a 4-way stop sign.
It was dark and rainy. I was 2nd in line. The car in front of me pulled into the intersection at the same time that a female pedestrian attempted to cross. The driver of the car in front of me never saw the woman and plowed right into her. The woman’s umbrella flew up in the air while her body ricocheted off the car, crashing down on the road. Her head snapped back, striking the pavement.
I jumped out of my car to miraculously find the woman in perfect condition. Not a scratch on her body, the umbrella worse for wear than she was.
And that’s when it hit me.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich:
There comes a point in one’s life, whether it’s a single revelatory instant or distributed over the course of many moments, when we understand the answer to the question, “Why am I here?”
Ivan Ilyich was a bitter man. While he had a reasonably successful career in the legal field, he was passed over for a prestigious position which left him infuriated. After suffering a seemingly minor fall, Ivan’s health progressively worsened until he realized that he was going to die.
Ivan tried to shake thoughts of his impending doom, but death ceaselessly haunted him. And just before dying, in an instant of striking clarity, Ivan uttered his last words, “What if my whole life has been wrong?” In that moment, he understood that his entire existence had been superficially lived. And in that same moment, he experienced a sense of extreme joy.
The Allure of Authenticity:
The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of Tolstoy’s most powerful novellas. The painful juxtaposition of the fleeting satisfaction from worldly pleasures contrasted with the unfathomable depth of true meaning makes for captivating drama.
And real life.
We can all relate to Tolstoy’s protagonist on some level. We strive for worldly achievement but on another level, we know there is something deeper. Something much more substantial. Something much more authentic.
And it’s the allure of authenticity that drives us to answer that question of purpose.
“Why am I here?”
But a strange thing happens on the path toward purposeful living. Life gets in the way.
The Smog of Forgetfulness:
It’s nearly impossible to go even an hour without getting caught up in the drama of “everyday life.” There are important tasks to complete. Relationship issues to address. Bodily needs to fill and urges to satisfy. On and on.
The goings-on of everyday activities is like a smog layer covering our purpose-driven focus. And when we spend enough time in the smog, we get acclimated to it. So much so that we don’t even notice it’s there. We then become so enmeshed with the circus of daily-life to the exclusion of true meaning.
There are many powerful passages in A Course in Miracles that perfectly describe this phenomenon, including these two:
- Nothing so blinding as the perception of form. For the sight of form means understanding has been obscured.
- The purpose of the world you see is to obscure your function and provide you with a justification for forgetting it.
We become so absorbed by the daily drama that we completely forget about authentic living. Until we experience a moment of death.
Death moments are anything that snaps us out of the stupor of superficial living. Something so shocking, so jarring, that it totally dissipates the smog of forgetfulness.
For that brief while, we question our purpose and whether our life is aligned with meaning. We take stock of what matters most and think about how we can more intentionally channel our gifts. Until that is, our ego ushers us back into the outstretched waiting arms of forgetfulness.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Journey to Mindfulness:
Forgetfulness is a choice. Getting caught up in the spectacle of life may seem like it “just happens,” but it actually is the direct causal effect of choosing the ego.
In every moment we are choosing either the ego mind of forgetfulness or the right mind of presence. There is no in-between. It is all one or the other.
When we choose the ego, we get lost in the world. We get smothered by the smog layer of forgetfulness, becoming what the Course refers to as a dancing shadow, leaping up and down according to a senseless plot conceived within the idle dreaming of the world.
The right mind of presence is also a choice. One that literally releases us from all pain, all anxiety, all distress. But we’re so conditioned to choosing the ego that we don’t even realize we can make a different choice, let alone one that leads to such remarkable outcomes.
It just takes a little willingness. And vigilance.
From Vigilance to Peace:
Every decision we make is really one for happiness or unhappiness. We are always choosing one at the expense of the other. This awareness enables us to understand which choice we’ve made, and if we aren’t happy, the remembrance that we can choose again.
What hit me when I drove away from the accident scene was the recognition that I didn’t need to experience such a “close call,” or death moment, in order to choose intentional vigilance over foggy forgetfulness.
Thankfully, the woman didn’t die, but what did perish was my persistent commitment to mindlessness. And when we make such a choice, we reconnect with our source of purpose and meaning. Our actions flow from a place of loving intention. And our lives are filled with peace.
So, as we go about our drama-filled days, let’s practice recognizing which choice we’ve made, and be more diligent by not allowing our true function to be obscured.
The results are extraordinary.
(Original Source for this Article: https://www.livebeyondtheillusion.com/essay/please-dont-let-her-be-dead/)