And What To Do About It.
Our Imagination, Part 2.
Bonnie Ware is a nurse in Australia who worked with the elderly and the dying. You can imagine she meets many people who have regrets. She was astonished by the clarity of their perception, and this led her to share some of the wiser things she heard. When I read the article in the London newspaper ‘The Guardian’ you can imagine that Bonnie’s experiences rang true with some of the things I have witnessed myself. Albeit that my experiences have been with people who are in the middle of living out their life’s path and haven’t yet “hit the buffers”, as it were.
The problem for most people is that they imagine things that in their imagination actually ‘feel’ real to be real – in the case of many men, this means “providing for the family”. That this ‘providing’ really means that they are satisfying their own urges to be successful and to have enough money for that new motorcar is part of the problem. They are caught up in the social thinking that tells them that success is determined by what you own.
You Can’t Take It With You.
When a person has their days or even weeks of clarity at the close of their life, there is a truly bitter sting in its tail. You can’t take these things with you. Not that today many people would want to; for many, death to them is merely a cessation of the biochemistry that runs their brain, and so death is an extinction. What does make itself plain is the fact that they spent so many hours – often boring hours – providing for their family when they should have been enjoying the fruits of their labours with their family.
It is one thing to satisfy your appearance by doing things for others whilst inwardly suffering. The clarity that arrives at the end of these people’s lives is a wisdom that turns their thinking around. Wisdom is based on reflection, after all, reflection on what one wanted and what actually came to pass. Wise people need not be old, but they do need to reflect on their mistakes – and in a world bent on success, mistakes are not to be reflected on!
After all, making a mistake is both hurtful and humiliating. There are those who are wise enough to accept both, most people are too self-sensitive for either. It is only with the inevitability, the reality of the closeness of their death that these sensitivities evaporate. Those who are sensible, like Bonnie Ware, will listen to them. But then, her experience was so consistent and so frequent that it was hard to miss. What is far harder to spot is the person who in mid life is rushing around like the proverbial blue-arsed fly, trying to achieve the very things these now wise people would counsel against.
Getting A Few Things Straight.
My own understanding of the things Bonnie Ware has spoken about have come to me from a very different direction. Furthermore, they have come through my own self-reflection and of tackling my own over sensitivity to various aspects of my life. I will add that this is still very much a work in progress, but then, I am still alive. Death has not yet unveiled himself to me in that awfully final way that it did to those old men. And they are predominantly men, too. Modern societies have segregated the genders in ways that are an exaggeration of the natural.
That I unveiled these things for myself means that it is also possible for me to see aspects that are far more subtle. You can say that this is arrogant of me to say this, only if you do, I suggest you work it out from first principles yourself. In doing so, you will realize that your calling others arrogant is actually a refusal to work with yourself. Calling others arrogant is a defence against the very challenge of your own values that working with your own double entails.
When death knocks on your door, you will agree with the above statement, however intense your feelings of anger and frustration are within you as you read this.
A Simple Solution.
That it is simple does not mean that it is easy, and it does not mean you will have that gratifyingly swift experience that a 3.5 litre engine gives you. It will be long, hard and outwardly fruitless. If you do take a little time each day to reflect on the things you have actually achieved, you will slowly find that a pattern will form in your stream of memories.
However, the pattern may not be pleasing. That is as maybe; the point is that it is a pattern in your life and it is you who was central in forming it. After all, the guards at Auschwitz didn’t have to accept those orders; they could have said “I would rather die than do that”. Those who lived with the guilt afterwards may well have reflected that it would have been better to die. Or, for that matter, the American pilots who dropped bombs on innocent people so far below them in enemy territory. That they were told these people were enemies should have raised a few eyebrows: an unarmed civilian is only an enemy to the imagination. These are not easy decisions to make, but the decision will be yours and yours alone.
The point is to bring the reality of death close to you, which, when put the other way around, is a statement of the transitoriness of our life. There are things in our lives that are transitory, and there are threads that run through our lives that are less so. Recognizing the quality of these threads is one step towards the eternal.
But that is too abstract, too far away from the daily grind of most people’s lives. So I will rephrase those last sentences. Because recognizing those threads, those patterns, is to recognize the reality of your life. It is in recognizing these realities is where you have the choice to make your life better and happier.
The choice is yours.
Because working for imaginary goals usually means finding out their reality all too late.