Death and time.
I think about death a lot which means I think about life just as much. Anytime I’m feeling unfocused or unmotivated, it’s thoughts of my eventual demise that sharply remind me to stop procrastinating and get back to work. It’s death that makes figuring out what a good day is an activity of great importance. None of us are getting out of this human experience alive. Which means that the most valuable currency we will ever spend is our time.
I have been acutely aware of the limits of time in the past year or so. I think it’s one of the reasons my creative work has become such a priority. At least a few times a week, I’m struck by the realization that I’m still alive and still have time to do my best work. When this happens, I take a deep breath and shiver. My stomach does a somersault similar to the moment after I’ve sidestepped physical danger of some kind.
We live in a world that systematically tries to hide, or at the very least sterilize, death. By default, this numbs us to the finite edges of our time. At some point, the fact that we have to give our bodies back to the earth stops calling us to act and instead makes us afraid. With fear comes greed and an obsession with resources that we have more control over. We become fixated on making more money and becoming more famous, the ultimate sign of worthiness.
Of course, none of this matters in the end. A rich life isn’t defined by how much money we die with but by what we leave behind. There’s nothing wrong with using wealth and fame to create positive change in the world. They just aren’t fulfilling goals unto themselves. Money and celebrity don’t guarantee love. They don’t guarantee that we’ll be at peace with ourselves when we’re lying on our deathbed.
I once got into an argument with a monk who was giving a talk about non-attachment. He was trying to explain that material goods don’t bring us happiness. I pushed back saying that, as an artist, there was nothing that made me happier than creating. And while the materials I worked with didn’t inherently make me happy, using them to craft something that would delight and challenge others did.
It’s a both and situation. We can both be attached to doing our best work and accept that time will eventually destroy it and us. In fact, I think it’s imperative that we hold this complexity; that we make the most of every resource we have access to. And that we act now. Because tomorrow isn’t promised as death constantly reminds us. As Michael Stone used to whisper, “Time passes quickly and opportunity is lost. Do not squander your life.”
So, what reminds you of the limited time you have to create?