“I've got my own life to live. I'm the one that's going to have to die When it's time for me to die, So let me live my life, The way I want to, yeah”: If 6 Was 9, Jimi Hendrix. My favorite guitarist and the one person/group, dead or alive, who I most want to see perform in person. Jimi Hendrix makes an amazing point in this rebellious tune. I, like Hendrix, aspire to live Life “The way I want to”, regardless of societal pressures and others’ opinions. But why is that? Where did I obtain this seemingly unique viewpoint?
In Life, There is Death
In my 23 years of Life, Death is abundantly present. At the young age of 15 in the year 2012, I was forced to accept the reality of Death firsthand when my Mother passed away. A shock to everyone, my family understood that moving forward, Life would never be the same. We were unsure for what the future would hold. Coping with the death of any loved one is hard, but my Mother? The one who raised me, cared for me and loved me unconditionally? I was unable to comprehend at the time, how difficult coping would be. However, I was engrossed in love and affection by all of those who cared for me during this time, which most assuredly helped to ease the pain. I am forever grateful for the community support that my family and I received after the passing of my Mother. Yet, as time pressed on, so did I.
Unfortunately, less than 1 year later, I endured another run in with Death. This time, it was I who was face-to-face with the reaper himself (or herself). In 2013, I suffered a major concussion from a car accident and for a few minutes, my heartbeat stopped. Although I recall none of this due to the brain injury, the reality of the matter is, I was temporarily deceased. I am lucky to be alive today. Weeks later as my memory returned, I found it difficult to face reality, especially since I remember nothing from the accident. “This is all just a dream”, I told myself initially in my search for answers. However, as time pressed on, so did I.
What did I learn from these experiences? Life is short. It is fleeting. Death waits for no one. Time ticks on. As Andy Dufresne says in the movie, Shawshank Redemption, you can either “get busy living, or get busy dying.” I was given a second chance. It was obvious to me that Life is precious and I did not want to waste it by leading an uninteresting Life. From here on, the loftier goals that I held and the more fun that I had, the better! Once I accepted these personal experiences with Death as reality, I chose to lead a more fulfilling Life. I chose to get busy living.
“I've got my own life to live. I'm the one that's going to have to die When it's time for me to die, So let me live my life, The way I want to, yeah.” You are so right, Jimi!
In Health, There is Life
Following my experiences with Death, I chose to live Life on my own terms: for better and for worst. Like Mr. Hendrix, I lived. I had fun. I partied, I drank, I smoked and I was promiscuous in my relations. I lived life the way that I wanted to, in that moment. However, I later realized that this style of living comes with repercussions. My Uncle, who led a similar lifestyle for much of his Life, passed away in early 2021. He suffered from chronic back pain for decades, and was no longer able to live the way that he wanted, due to a Life of excess. Between observing my Uncle’s chaotic lifestyle, the chaotic lifestyle of others, and the realization of the damage that I was doing to my own body, I made the conscious decision to live a healthier Life. I chose to live for longevity and contentedness, not for pleasure.
After leaving Massachusetts and moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, I sought betterment in all aspects of Life: mind, body and soul. As I mention in my blog post about Anxiety and Mindfulness, I understood my mind to be frantic and frustrating. I wanted to make a change. For much of my childhood, I struggled with issues of weight, asthma and illness. In young adulthood, I poisoned my body with intoxicants and overworked myself physically and mentally. I wanted to make a change. And spiritually, my work and chaotic lifestyle took me further away from my true sense of being (read “A Leap of Faith…” and “Will You Be the Shepherd or the Sheep?” to better understand my struggles during this time, as well as my adjustments). I wanted to make a change.
In my quest for answers, I turned to written language. I read books on the idealistic religions of Buddhism and Islam – I am a confirmed Catholic and drowned in the ‘teachings of the Lord’ growing up…this time I sought something new and different. I found the teachings of Buddha to be most formidable; however, I noticed a commonality. All religions preach the same basic principles. Treat others how you want to be treated. Be grateful. Care for those who are less fortunate. Love all beings. Do not wish ill on others. Live a life of balance, not excess. I now strive to embody these principles.
Aside: It is sad to me that for ages, people fought, and still fight, under the guise of their ‘God’. With weapons, words, law and critique, our society still experiences these issues to this day. A true religious/spiritual being ‘loves’ instead of ‘hates’, ‘accepts’ as opposed to ‘rejects’, and ‘builds’ rather than ‘destroys’. The fighting is counterintuitive and counterproductive.
What Are Buddha’s Teachings on Life and Death?
“Birth is okay and death is okay, if we know that they are only concepts in our mind. Reality transcends both birth and death”, The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings, by Thich Nhat Hanh. A long, yet inspiring read, Hanh’s written words on Life and Death are profound. What does he mean by, birth and death “are only concepts in our mind”? In Buddhism, it is believed that no one truly dies. Upon death, the physical being ceases to exist; however, the spiritual being lives on for eternity. How so? Read this quote from my blog post, “The World is in Turmoil: What Can We Do?”
“I believe that Earth is a collectively conscious being, made up of all living organisms who inhabit it. From humans to single-celled microbes, our shared experiences culminate into an amassed wealth of knowledge, which is passed down unto future generations.” - Ian Shepardson
In interactions with other people, not only does our knowledge spread, so too do traits such as personalities and mannerisms. In the example of the passing of my Mother, her physical being is in fact deceased. However, her spiritual being lives on through, among others, my brother, Clayton, and I. We both have personality traits and mannerisms that mimic my Mother’s. We still hold onto our memories of her, as well as the life lessons and love that she instilled in us. Her spirit lives on within us to this day. I full-heartedly believe that she was with me in the car on that fateful day in 2013, watching over me and ensuring that I survived.
On a broader scale, we as humans pick up on each other’s traits and claim them for our own (i.e. slang, jokes, mannerisms, etc.). We claim to be individuals, yet most of our characteristics are passed down from our parental figures and adapted by friends and other family members with whom we interact. We are unique in many ways, but much of our persona is learned from others. We are products of our environment. With that being said, I believe that when our physical being dies, our spiritual being lives on through the people we love and interact with most. Special traits and characteristics that we hold are passed to those we love most. Death is a matter of perspective.
How Can I Apply Buddha’s Teachings of Death, to My Life?
Live your Life to its fullest potential. Ask yourself, when your physical being passes away, what type of legacy do you want to leave behind? If you feel that you are living a dissatisfactory lifestyle in this moment, take small steps towards your ultimate goals. Watch as those small actions turn into large waves of change. Sometimes a sudden change is necessary, but in many cases it may be overwhelming. Instead, it may be easier and more effective to bring about positive change through an accumulation of micro-actions.
As for dealing with the death of loved ones, embrace the sorrow and grief that you feel, but take solace in the fact that their love resides within you for the rest of your Life. Know that their legacy lives on in the lives that they touched. Remember the good times that you shared. Cherish the happiness that they once provided. Move forward in a manner that spreads the love they once provided you. If you are struggling to do this, ask yourself, “would they want me to remain in sorrow?” My guess is, no, no they would not. Time presses on, so should you.
My own personal experiences with Life and Death, coupled with the lessons that I learned in my quest for spiritual enlightenment, provided me with insight into how I want to live my Life. I want to make a positive impact on the World around me. I want to change lives for the better. I want to help others while helping myself. I want to leave behind a legacy that will spread goodness, as my Mother did for me. I want to have fun, but not too much as Life is about balance. I want to spend time in nature and enjoy the simpler things in Life.
What do you want to do with your Life?