serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

The Last Day

Posted by Jim Selman on 12/31/06

About 3 hours until the ball drops and we all sing Auld Lang Seins and kiss someone close to us. This year had an early dinner, shared resolutions and went through the ritual of ‘completing’ 2006. I notice that staying up until midnight somehow isn’t what it used to be. Nonetheless, this is a special day no matter how cavalier I may be about it. Every culture seems to have a New Year. I suppose if you are Jewish and Chinese, you could have three New Year celebrations. I wonder if all cultures emphasize completing the past and creating the future as the main point to the process?

I led a seminar last year called “Learning to Die”. The point of the course was to see that if we can truly, deeply and profoundly accept that we are going to die—not just as an abstraction—then we are free to fully experience aliveness and the freedom to be ourselves. I think I was the only one who really liked the title. I got it from something attributed to Socrates who supposedly said that we can never have wisdom until we learn to die. From my point of view, we are dying from the day we are born …. So why is there so much fear and denial about it?

In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche says people are terrified of dying because they don’t know who they are. This makes sense to me. I don’t think a person needs to believe in any particular religious dogma to realize a profound spiritual truth at some point in their lives—I am not my thoughts and I am not my body. I may not have a well-developed ontology for understanding who I am, but I don’t need a PhD in philosophy to know who I am not.

This is the last day of the year. What if it were the last day of my life? I would still be sitting here typing my blog and feeling happy and grateful for my life. I would still experience love and still have a pretty long list of things that I would like to accomplish or things that I hope others will accomplish. I would hope I would be conscious and serene and accept my parting with as much clarity as I have learned to accept most aspects of my life and my world. If this is the last day, I would want to celebrate the paradox of experiencing the serenity that comes with acceptance and responsibility while at the same time looking forward to whatever possibilities we can imagine for the day after the last day.

In Zen, it is taught to live each moment as if it is the last. This is the point I think of “Learning to Die”. It is obviously easier said than done. People spend a lifetime learning to be that present and that conscious of this mystery we all share. Whenever our last moment arrives, it is also the first moment of whatever is next—for us and all those who will share in our passing. Leaving the metaphysical possibilities aside, I think George Bernard Shaw said it best in Man & Superman:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I can live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.


© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “The Last Day”

  1. Rhea said

    I’ve been trying to live in the moment for a long time. It’s finally starting to catch on, at age 48. Yay!

  2. This certainly resonataes with me, Jim. At age 84 (85 in February) one has to accept that fact that the remaining days are few and we must go out of this life before long. I must say that I do not fear death. I do fear the slow agonizing process of dying.
    In the meantime I enjoy each day and get satisfaction out of being productive.
    Happy New Year from Pete

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