There are 28,251 days in the average human lifespan. On my shelf right now, I have a notebook with a piece of paper in it. The paper has a big square divided into tiny little blocks. It’s 52 blocks wide and 80 blocks tall. At the top left corner my birthday is written. On the bottom right is the same date, eighty years later. Every week I mark off a block. I talked about this whole concept in depth in my last post.
Those 28,251 days that we each get? I’ve already used up about a third of them. That’s 9,000 days, with no guarantee that I’ll even get that many more.
Every once in a while I enjoy talking to old people and getting them to tell stories. Some day, granted we don’t kill ourselves off somehow along the way, we’re all going to be in their place. They all say that life flew right by.
Their most vivid memories are the day they met their wife or husband, the first thing their kid said and the time when he was sixteen and drove the car into the living room. They remember their own childhood and the stories of the relationships, friendships, laughter and sadness they’ve had. The highs and the lows.
Ever ask someone what they regret the most? It usually has something to do with what they’ve left undone. These conversations help boil down what really matters in life. One’s mind, one’s body, and one’s relationships. The size of your cubicle? How new your car is? Being promoted to junior executive assistant vice president? Doesn’t matter.
In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert talks about studies done on regrets, and the way we perceive our happiness with life. A study was conducted asking people what they predicted they would regret the most in life. Roughly 90% of people predicted that they would most regret failures which resulted from taking action on something when they could have simply done nothing. We fear failure and pain, and naturally think that our greatest regrets will be the actions that bring those things upon us. As it turns out, 90% of these people are wrong.
Further studies reveal that what the vast majority of people actually regret are their inactions throughout life; not pain or failures. Taking a chance and having drawn a poor hand of cards is seldom more than a lesson learned and a story to be told. It is the chances left untaken, the beautiful person left un-approached, the questions left unasked, words left unsaid and all the things left undone that that will eventually keep you awake at night.
Nothing in life is permanent, yet we all spend our days attached to things that are going to go away. Our clinging to non-permanent things causes a good deal of the suffering we bring upon ourselves.
The Spartans had a word, katalepsis. It translates loosely into ‘possession’ and referred to the derangement of the senses that comes when terror or anger usurps dominion of the mind. Hate, anger, desire and all of your material belongings that you can’t let go of possess you and control you.
Buddhist philosophy contains something known as “The Five Remembrances.” The fourth and fifth are: All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
Number four relates well to the avoidance of this state of katalepsis; of being possessed. Everything that I have and everyone that I know is going to change, fall apart, and eventually go away.
Another way of looking at this would be to take the perspective of the Stoic: The ability to accept the things one cannot change. This all means that when something goes away; a relationship ends, a joyful trip comes to a close, or my Ipod winds up in the bottom of the ocean; I accept these things and move on without clinging and causing myself needless pain.
This does not mean that one should limit one’s exposure to life. The value of the great things in life like love, joy and pleasure is not diminished by the fact that they are not permanent. If anything, it increases their importance. They should be cherished and fully experienced whenever possible, and when they end, one should be able to accept it and move on.
The same applies for the opposite end of the spectrum. Fear, pain and misery all play an important role in our lives, and without understanding their depths, one can never fully appreciate their absence or the heights of positive emotions. These, too will end with time and should be understood and experienced, then allowed to pass just as water flows past a rock.
I may never make it to 28,251. Each day and each of those moments will float by regardless of my use of them and be locked in time forever.
Every second we are creating the story of our lives. This pertains to the fifth remembrance. What motivates you? Any person has a subconscious drive, not necessarily a concrete concept, but something running through their mind that dictates the majority of their thought processes. Another way to look at this would be to ask what you think about all day. “As a man thinketh, so shall he be.” The thoughts in your mind dictate your actions, and determine who you are.
There is one thing that I really fear, that is always creeping in the back of my mind. More than anything, I fear the prospect of wasting my life. I hate wasted moments. Constantly in my mind is the thought that I am going to die some day. In everything you do, in every moment, is one chance to be perfect. Once chance to do it right and have no regrets. Pain will pass, misery will pass; awkwardness, fear, shyness, intimidation and anything else that could stop you or make you hesitate will pass. What will remain is how you acted. That will never go away.
This applies to even the simplest things. I tell myself this all the time in the weight room. Yesterday I was exhausted at the end of the day, but I had to work out. I could have sat there and made excuses and rationalized a reason to skip it. Instead, I carried myself to the gym. On the last set of front squats, I wanted to fall over and never touch the bar again. It was my one chance to do it right, and I forgot the pain and gave up everything but the focus on moving with strict technique and grinding out the reps.
I will be able to stand on that moment, and reap the benefits of those few seconds of pain that, now, I barely remember. The same thing applies to almost anything. It’s seldom the decision that’s difficult; it’s carrying out the decision that takes strength.