On the Shortness of Life
“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
We could use a daily contemplation on how limited our time is in this life. Most of us avoid thinking about it, or get worked up or sad when we think about it. But it’s a powerful contemplation.
Today I’d like to share a series of brief contemplations on the shortness of life, that I find valuable.
We could ignore the very limited nature of this life, and take it for granted, and find ourselves at the end of our lives with regret that we didn’t use it more wisely.
Or we could wake up to the brief time we have here, and decide to make the most of it.
If I’d known the last visit from my dad would have been his last, I would have cherished those days even more. Remembering this, I can make the most of the days I have left with people I care about — including myself.
We could fret about the limited nature of our lives, get sad or fall apart about it. We do that because we believe it should be some other way. But that’s just another way to take for granted what we’ve been given.
Instead, we could fully appreciate this limited gift. When someone hands you an incredibly valuable gift, do you ask them why there’s so little of it? Or do you rejoice at what you’ve been given?
Could we appreciate every single day as a valuable, powerful, joyous gift?
Often we use up the current day worrying about or dreaming about upcoming days. And so we miss out on the day that’s here right now.
That’s like thinking about future meals, while you’re eating your current meal. You can’t enjoy the meal you’re eating now.
What if we could savor the day we’re currently living?
It’s not the case that life is “short” – this is a kind of judgment, because we want more. But life is also not unlimited. It’s a limited resource, but we don’t need to complain about its shortness.
This is like an actor who finally gets a chance to go on stage and spends the time moaning that he only gets one scene. Hey bozo! Make the most of your one scene! Make an impact with what you have.
Do we want to spend the limited time we have putting our noses to the grindstone and trying to do what we think we should do? Do we want to spend it feeling dull?
What if we could live a life full of wonder, joy, love, fully alive?
Do we want to spend the hour we have at the playground trying to rigidly make sure we’re doing the merry-go-round correctly, or do we want to have a raucous good time?
Do we want to spend this limited time on earth constantly worried about ourselves, doing things right, what people are thinking about us, whether we’re being loved or respected? This is like watching a glorious sunset worrying about whether it’s lighting you just right for your selfie.
What if we could forget for a bit about how we look, how we are coming across, whether we’re OK … and instead fully loved the breathtaking sunset in front of us?
Even more … what would it be like to love all of it, all the other beings, all of it … ourselves included?
When we have struggles in our lives, we think that something’s wrong, that we shouldn’t be struggling. And these struggles can seem like something we have to get through before we can finally start living the life we want.
What if the struggles were a part of the point of this limited time we have living? The struggles are what form us, what cause growth and learning, that have us grow into our full selves. The struggles aren’t a thing we have to get through … they’re a big part of the thing itself.
Could we view this life as a crucible that helps forge us, that helps uncover who we really are? And embrace the struggles as a beautiful place of learning and wonder?
We might wonder what is the meaning of this short life, what’s the point of it all? It’s almost like we’re hoping someone will reveal the meaning of things to us — here’s what it’s all about, take some notes. It our tendency to look for answers from outside of ourselves.
What if we were the creators of meaning in our own lives? What if there was no one to tell us the meaning, and there would be no meaning until we created it ourselves? This is a willingness to take full responsibility for our lives that can always be stepped into, in any moment.
It’s like sitting in front of an empty stage, waiting and hoping to be entertained with something meaningful. Let’s jump on the stage, and create the meaningful play ourselves!
When we contemplate the shortness of life, and become fully appreciative of the wonder of this brief time we’ve been given … life can take on a poignant quality. And this is beautiful.
The Japanese have a term, “mono no aware,” that speaks to this impermanent, ephemeral nature to all things. It’s so sweet, tinged with some sadness, because everything we care about is beautiful and fleeting. This fleetingness only makes things more precious.
If you had a delicious treat in unlimited quantities, you might take it for granted. But if you knew that you could only taste this for a short time, that it would soon be gone, you might taste the sweetness of the treat with more vividness. More joy. More wonder.
What do you feel called to do with this precious day?
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
The Summer Day