What Would You Do If You Only Had Six Months Left To Live?
It may be a corny question. The kind that English teachers like myself use to stimulate discussion or the kind of question people pose at some artificial speed dating event. People roll their eyes and answer in a superficial way.
But if I may, I ask you to humour me for a moment.
“What would you do if you knew you only had six months left to live?”.
This question was put to me whilst I was chopping the vegetables for lunch whilst watching a Lee Harris YouTube video. It felt provocative, like a direct challenge. I turned down the extractor fan in order to be able to listen more intently.
I paused for a moment to consider my own secret answer to the question. It came to me without much digging. It was something that had been on the back burner for a while, waiting for the moment for me to begin to really take it seriously.
Then came the next question: “Why are you not doing it?”
Well, there are always a lot of excuses aren’t there? Mine were related to time and financial logistics, plus not having the know-how to bring my idea to fruition. And yet…if I knew I only had six months to live, it would no doubt become my priority regardless.
“And so?”, my heart said. “What are I going to do about it?”
Dear reader, what would you do if you knew you only had six months left to live? And if I may ask, why are you not doing it?
It takes courage to really ask yourself these questions. The answers may require us to reconsider our priorities, shake up our lives and take us out of the comfort of our routines. It may even be that we have to change – even scarier still.
Who will we become if we really begin to live our lives in alignment with our priorities? What impact would that have on our day to day relationships? Perhaps it is better to just continue as normal and bury our truest selves under the layers of identity that we have constructed for ourselves.
Another reason that we may avoid these kinds of inquiries is that, as per modern life, we are too busy with work, with family life, with our friends and social occasions, weddings and birthday parties, and social media. Or else too numbed out by too much alcohol, high of caffeine or zoned out by mindlessly consuming movies on demand.
Modern life doesn’t support us in our quest for deep reflection and inquiry, simply because it requires our time and for us to be present with ourselves. Of course, in this society time is always of the essence. As for our presence, society has been extremely inventive with all the miraculous distractions it has created for us.
Other reasons may include the fear that society impregnates us with, through its constant doom and gloom narratives, instilling us with the idea that the world is a hostile place and that there isn’t enough to go round. So just be a good girl and boy, keep your head down and stick to the status quo and if you are lucky, you will have paid off your mortgage by the time you are 55. What more could a human being want?
I don’t mean to sound judgemental. We are all free to live our lives as we please. What floats my boat, may not float yours and that’s perfect.
But we can see that truly asking yourself the questions I have posed to you, and seeing the answers through to the end, is no easy task.
The odds are stacked against us. Yet, death will find us all the same and when it does the only real reckoning is with ourselves and ourselves alone.
Heaven and Hell
The writer Paulo Cohelo in one of his books, describes this moment as being when you experience heaven or hell. Hell is when you realise that life has passed you by and you didn’t live the life you really wanted to live. There is nothing you can do about it by that point. Your time has been spent. Hell is born out of your suffering when you realise that you have been living someone else’s life and there is no going back to change it.
Heaven on the other hand is when you realise that you lived life with as much authenticity and integrity as you could muster, with your dreams at the centre. Whether you achieved them or not isn’t important. What is important is that you kept the fire alive inside of you right to the very end.
Of course, we are not all born into the same life situation where everything is an equal playing field. The majority of the people on the planet are just trying to survive one day at a time, more so now than ever. Until we have our basic needs covered, any philosophical rumination over the nature of life and following our dreams are understandably not a priority.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, those of us with enough free time and resources to write and/or read blogs like this, what’s our excuse for not doing all of those things we would really like to do?
It is difficult to live the routine of our lives with the awareness that we could disappear any moment, isn’t it? Life does move fast. Often it has us running from the office to home and back again at frightening speed.
The days roll over and before we know the weekend has come and all we want to do is relax, but we have the kids to look after and the in-laws to see. We can be forgiven for forgetting our morality when we don’t have a moment to consider it.
Even those with the best intentions of staying true to their dreams get sucked in.
I know because that’s what has happened to me since I started to get stuck into my online teaching business this year.
Obviously, since I quit my job, the financial need was there. I told myself at the beginning of the year that if I didn’t have any success in the following six months then come September/October I would take another regular job at an academy, either online or in person. But I wanted to at least see if I could make it on my own and find my own students.
Luckily for me, that happened.
Whilst I did take on a small contract for online classes, I have also had a steady stream of my own students, all of whom have been a pleasure to work with. They have kept a roof over my head and food on the table, as well as paid for numerous trips that I have taken recently.
But amidst this desire for more financial security, I realised that something wasn’t right. With classes spread throughout the day, morning until the evening, I began to feel unhappy. (I wrote about this a little in “I quit my job to follow me dreams: from employee to entrepreneur.”)
The point is that I lost sight of why I was doing this in the first place. Why did I quit my job again? What was it that I wanted to do? What was this big, radical dream that I was chasing? I had forgotten why I even started this journey .
Between the classes and the upskilling I was doing to understand how to create and maintain an online business, I got sucked in and lost touch with my dream. I felt miserable, sad and stuck. Hence why the question “If you knew you only had six months to live, what would you do?” struck me in the way it did.
This is why I have decided to take the summer off from teaching. I need to take some time to reorient myself and get back to my dream.
Teaching English is a means to an end, a trade that I am very lucky to have. But it is not my vocation. It is time to stop with the distractions, procrastinations and fears and allow myself the time and space to dedicate myself to the things I really want to.
It is time to take heed of my secret answer that I knew was true when I was chopping those onions.
There are two things that I want to do.
The first one may be less of a surprise: I want to begin to share my knowledge of permaculture design and my vision for how it can help us live in alignment with the vision of a more beautiful and sustainable world. I want to return to the Earth in a deeper way and reconnect with the deep love I feel for mother nature and seek new ways of deepening this relationship still. I want to dedicate my life to serving the Earth and help others to connect in a deeper way with her too.
There are some specific ways that I would like to do this, but true to the permaculture design principle “start where you are”, the main way right now is to begin to write about permaculture on my blog.
For some reason I have been sitting on this for a long time, dying to write about it but not actually doing so. I could list an array of excuses but the truest one would be that I was simply procrastinating and living as if death didn’t exist. I let fear get in the way and convince me that I was safer playing small.
I also have some other ideas that have been waiting in the wings for a while too. Putting them into action will require me to step out further and put myself outside my comfort zone. But if I am good to my word that a more beautiful world is possible, I need to share why I think that is the case, lest it is nothing but a pretty idea.
Indeed, we are our own greatest block sometimes when it comes to stepping into our passions. Stepping up feels vulnerable and scary and yet, and I am scared of doing a bad job. But am I really going to go to the grave having not fully explained to you why I love permaculture so much?
No. So I need to have the courage to realign my values and step up to the plate.
The second thing that I want to do is something that has been growing inside of me for many years.
I want to write a book. Specifically, a memoir.
You might be wondering how I could write a memoir about something that isn’t already on this blog. Well, let’s just say that I have more stories to share that deserve a book rather than a series of blog posts. One story in particular.
It doesn’t matter right now about the particulars. It just matters that I do the work. To not do so, would be selfish; fear and ego disguised as humility. Not sharing what I have to share that could be of value to people would just be greedy.
If you have something to give, then give it. Otherwise it will shrivel up and die on the inside and you will too.
“The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives”
Behind the scenes I have been preparing for this mammoth task for the past six months. I have been going to a writing group in Madrid and been to various writing workshops too. I’ve been reading books about writing and the lives of writers. Slowly it has dawned on me more and more: I am writer. I never knew this about myself before!
This is probably the biggest surprise that has come out of this blogging venture so far. It’s taken me all of three years to realise it, but now that I have, I intend to see if I have what it takes to write the book that I have been cooking for the past nine years.
Maybe this is a slight detour from the original intention of this blog, which was to get myself to the countryside as fast as possible. I guess I’m taking the scenic route.
I don’t want to die with this story still left untold. So therefore I must tell it. I consider it my moral obligation to the world and to myself.
Therefore, this summer I am going to be the patron of my own art and fund my own writer’s residence within my own city, from my own house. I am going to dedicate myself to writing and getting back to my ‘why’. Time is already ticking on…and I feel like I can’t waste a moment.
It is curious that in the end, as much as I have felt that this year I wasn’t living true to my dream, all the classes I have taught have allowed me to save up enough money to be able to dedicate myself to this over the next few months.
This warehouse where we live, as cold as it was this winter, also allows me to do this. This is a privilege that I mustn’t waste. This is a gift. And you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Perhaps everything happens for a reason after all. I believe there is a divine design to everything. Usually we can only tell in hindsight when we are able to join the dots. I feel like I have been inadvertently training for this during the time that I have been writing this blog. It’s time to get out of the gym and onto the track.
So, dear reader, I have revealed to you my secret plans. That makes me accountable to you. I will endeavour not to let you (or myself) down.
More Beautiful World
I believe a more beautiful world is possible and that one of the key ingredients is that we begin to prioritise our lives according to our answer to the question “If you knew you only had six months to live, what would you do?”.
It’s not about radically leaving your family and friends and throwing away your life as you know it (although maybe that it indeed what you would do!). It’s about living with greater focus and intensity as to not waste a moment of this short and precarious life.
Imagine what beautiful experiences we could have or the things we could create if we were courageous enough to ask ourselves this question and follow through by taking action upon it. But it requires us to get out of autopilot and break the status quo of our own making.
Life is precious.
By the time death comes a-knocking on your door, whether you spent it wisely or squandered it is something that only you will know.
I say let’s create heaven on Earth for ourselves and live life according to our highest priorities in service of the greatest good for all.
Let’s experience heaven whilst we are still alive.
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