I got a very shocking and sobering email from the wife of a very dear friend a few days ago, a good friend, who is a doctor and in excellent health. His urine had turned very dark and his skin was jaundiced. At the hospital he found out he had a tumor in his bile duct that leads out of the pancreas. Not good! A few days ago he had a very complicated 9 hour surgery in which they took out part of his pancreas, stomach, duodenum and the gall bladder. It was shocking to hear this since my good friend kept himself in great shape. He has, from all his friends and family, wonderful support and encouragement. We know he’s a tough guy and are hoping and praying he’ll be ok.
Quite naturally this got me thinking about my own health and that inevitable end of the road for myself and yes, every one of you who are reading this blog. “Ouch,” you may say. “I don’t want to think about that.” But we all do—and we should—only there is a good way and a bad way to think about death. One way helps you and the other hurts you.
In the book “Super Brain” Deepak Chopra and his co-author Rudolph Tanzi write “If you are afraid of death, it is bad for your body– not because death looms so darkly but because the fear of anything is toxic.” They go on to say “Some cultures, such as Tibetan Buddhism, offer extensive preparation for death and a highly detailed theology of various heavens and hells.” Which they use to help people face and accept their own death. The authors say the path to making peace with death might look something like this:
1. “I don’t think about death. It’s pointless.”
2. “The main thing is to live your life right this minute.”
3. “Anyway, I secretly don’t believe I will grow old and die.”
4. “To be honest, I don’t think about dying because it’s too scary.”
5. “I’ve seen death of a friend, family member, or pet. I know I have to face it someday.”
6. “I am beginning to feel calmer about the whole issue. I can look at death without running away.”
7. “Dying happens to everyone. It’s better to approach it calmly with eyes open.”
8. “I’ve felt the first serious twinges of mortality. It’s time to face it.”
9. “I find I am actually interested in what death is all about.”
10. “It’s possible to embrace dying as a natural stage of life–and I have.”
As you the read through these stages of thinking about death, try to think back to when you were young (assuming that you are no longer in that category) and notice how close these 10 stages may come to your own thinking back then and now. Have your thoughts changed dramatically?
The bottom line is you don’t need to fear death. It will come so fearing it is rather pointless. Instead, focus on the now, on what you are doing every moment of your life, filling it with purposeful, gratifying thoughts and activities. Living a good life makes fearing death unnecessary.
Next week, we’ll talk a little more about what Deepak and Rudolph have to say about keeping your mind young so you can get the most out of every moment of your life.
It is not usually the moment we are in that worries or upsets us. Yes, a certain moment can get us riled up but if you think about it, it’s our dwelling on the past or worrying about the future that keeps us from enjoying life, from enjoying the moment we have at hand.
Dwelling on the past or possible future does you no good. What has happened is no longer in your circle of control and as for the future, do the best you know how and the future will play out the best that it can. What you have at any given moment is the only thing that matters, the only thing you have any real control over. And the control you have is choosing to enjoy and appreciate what you have right now or ignoring it for the pointlessness of the unchangeable and the unknowable.
Be thankful for the good things you know are part of your life as it exists now, for the friends, family and talents you have. Regret and worry do nothing but cause you to conjure up dissatisfaction in what has already happened and what might happen, clouding your perception of the wonderful things you do actually have. There is a saying, “Past is History, Future is a Mystery and Today is Gift and hence it is called the Present”. Enjoy the present, as a present to yourself and all those around you. Find your joy, make your own happiness in the one certain and controllable thing you have … the moment you are living right now.
Okay… what do you want first–the good news or the bad? Let’s go with the bad first.
I worked hard on my tennis game all year long with the gold medal as my goal at the Huntsman World Senior Games. I was going to get the gold in men’s 65 to 70 singles–no if’s and’s or but’s. The bad news is that I failed!! But there is good news connected to the failure … I didn’t die. I kind of like that part.
You see, one week before the Senior Games my Doctor was searching for the source of my 2 year cough when a cat scan revealed something totally unrelated to my cough. I had a possible 80% blockage in my right coronary artery. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My family has no history of heart disease, I eat a very healthy diet and I work out regularly. But when I totally flunked my stress EKG test I started to believe what the doc was saying. I told him that I was heading to the Senior Games in St George, Utah and asked for his advice. He said I would probably be ok but not to push myself and besides he added “they have defibrillator machines on site (that comment did not fill me with confidence!)
So I forged ahead but with some caution and a fair amount of fear. I worked my way through matches but when I found myself in the finals I got a huge big time scare! I started the match playing very strong but when I found myself ahead in the first set 3-0 something started happening to me. I began feeling a slight chest pain and felt a bit sick. By the time my opponent Michael Murphy caught up and we were “on serve” I was sweating like a horse and my chest pains had intensified. I stopped the match right then and told Michael I couldn’t or at least shouldn’t play on, so the gold medal was his and I had to settle for the silver medal. Yes I was very disappointed but more than that I was scared. More than 30 minutes later my heart was still racing with a resting rate of over 100!
Back in Salt Lake City I had another EKG stress test, this time with radio-active dye that gives the docs a clearer picture of the blood flow through the veins. And yes I flunked that test too.
Then just a few days ago my doc called and told me that there is a 90% chance that my right coronary artery is completely blocked. His recommendation was to have an angiogram and most likely they need to put in a stent. Of course I agreed and scheduled it for this coming Wednesday, October 24th.
What is the take away lesson here? For me it’s this … life is so precious and can be so very short. You never know what might happen so live it in that “Great right now”! Thankfully, we have access to such great medical knowledge, great medical technology, and great medicines so with that, taking care of ourselves, and a great bit of luck, we can all live a little bit longer and stronger.
So that is my great “golden” lesson of this year. Or should I say my great “silver” lesson?
As you may have noticed, things were a little serious here for a bit with my wife’s surgery. Last week, to counter that some, I talked about how laughter is such a great curative. But I also wanted to mention something else that is really great for your mind, body and spirit … letting yourself be a kid again!
The things that weigh on us will be there until they are worked through but you cannot let them overwhelm you and take over your life. Take time to escape and allow yourself to refuel. One of the best ways to do this is simply go back to the things you loved doing as a kid. Go to the zoo, an amusement park, or a playground and goof off. Buy yourself a cool toy or game. You’ll find that occupying yourself with these simple pleasures can completely take you away from all of that “heavy” stuff and take you back to a time when you didn’t have quite so many responsibilities.
You might even try hanging out more with the kids in your life. We can learn amazing things from the young ones who are still just exploring the world. They live in the moment and usually don’t worry about what happened before that time or what will happen later. See if you can’t let go and just enjoy some play time.
**If you like what you’ve read in this blog please send it on to people you know and love, to people who you think this message and information may be very helpful. There is nothing in the world that brings greater satisfaction than helping other people. Don’t you agree?
My wife and I just returned from the annual Stein Eriksen Tennis tourney just south of Ennis Montana, high on a mountain over the Madison River. Kimberly and I planned out the trip in detail, contacting a number of people to tell them we were going to stop by. When we finished the trip I was a little shell shocked by the “super high” that the trip gave me. And it was really more the people and the reconnecting with old friends that did the trick, even though the scenery was spectacular.
Our first stop was cute little Garland Utah where we visited with Bob Jensen, an old friend I’d met in England back in 1963. Then we drove to Providence Utah where I renewed my friendship with a middle school friend, Jay Low. Then it was onto Bear Lake where we stayed overnight with my good friend and prior business partner for over 17 years, George Winquist.
When we arrived at the tourney, we were warmly greeted by Stein and Francoise Eriksen and several other friends from my more recent past. The next day Bjorn Eriksen buzzed the house in his small plane to let us know that he and his girlfriend had arrived. For the next three days 40 of us played tennis, laughed and talked over great wine. Isn’t it amazing that you can go a year or even many years without talking to a good friend and then you pick right up as if no time has passed at all?
Even our drive back was highlighted by great conversation. In Jackson there was another middle school friend, George Thompson and wife Jett. The next day we stopped to see sister Sue and her husband Paul and my brother Scott and his wife Pat. And every conversation just recharged me more.
Family, friends, and tons of great memories made just filled me up on this trip. It gave both my wife and I a super re-charging of mental and even physical batteries. All of us can and should re-dedicate ourselves to staying in touch and re-connecting with friends and relatives–it’s the best stuff in life, keeping us pumped up and making life so much richer.
Flying just south of Mt. Everest on our way from Kathmandu, Nepal to Paro, Bhutan, I was reminded of how important really big goals are in our life. Now, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, climbing Mt. Everest has never been a goal of mine but when I saw the mountain I thought, I don’t want to miss out on the chance to face that challenge, to some degree at least. So I decided, “I am going to climb that mountain and I am going to do it tomorrow!” And guess what? I did.
“Now, wait a minute!” you may say. “I thought you always preached that a huge goal like that takes a lot of thinking and planning? Can a person accomplish, to any real degree, such a huge goal without much thought or planning?” Well, yes, you can.
People ask me when they see the shirt that has my name on it, a picture of Mt. Everest and the 2010 date, if I made it all the way to the top or at least past base camp. I tell them that I did not make it to the summit but I did make it 100 meters past base camp–MY base camp, that is, a place at the very, very bottom of the Mountain.
The point was that I’d set a goal that meant something to me—taking the opportunity to try something, even if my accomplishment was small compared to reaching the peak. Because, yes, reaching the peak would take a lot of preparation and planning just like all Really Huge Goals do. But just because you can’t achieve the “Really Big Goal” doesn’t mean you always skip out on the experience altogether.
Life is about your experiences and memories, and the challenges you take on, no matter how small, will add to your sense of accomplishment and enrich your life. So even though you may not be able to ‘reach the top’ due to some unchangeable circumstance or because you chose to put the majority of your efforts elsewhere, if you have the chance to make a memory that won’t detour you from your primary goals, why not go for it?
May your New Year be filled with realized dreams and many happy experiences!
While visiting various people in Nepal and Bhutan we were told repeatedly by both Hindu and Buddhist how they strongly believed in Karma—the concept that there is a fundamental law of nature that rewards or punishes a person because of their “thoughts, words and actions” in this life and sometimes in the next life. In my opinion, this belief system is more sensible than the common Western religious focus on a reward or punishment you’ll receive in the hereafter. With Karma, the focus is on what you can do to make your life, and the lives of those around you, better now, in the life you’re presently living.
We saw the results of this belief many times through the wonderful actions of the people in both Nepal and Bhutan. We actually ended up in a light-hearted disagreement with our very friendly and funny cab driver, Mr. Pandey, while he drove us around in Kathmandu. The issue was how much we would pay him for driving us around all day. We were trying to pay him more and he was demanding less–bet that doesn’t ever happen in New York City!
I think Mr. Pandey truly understood the value of karma and how what he did now would come back to him in this life. I’m sure that thought was what motivated him. What he probably didn’t know, was that his generosity also encouraged the creation of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin which gives a major boost to our sense of well-being and fulfillment. (I talk a lot about this in chapter 12 of “How to Ignite Your Passion for Living”. See on page 145 in particular). I’d guess Buddha was a bit of a scientist way back in the 5th century BC, even if he didn’t know exactly what the ‘energy’ that flowed through a good and generous person was.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone believed in, and acted on, the concept of Karma? I believe we all need to think more about Kama so our thoughts, words and actions help the world and ourselves now and maybe not think so much about our rewards in the next life. Because if there is an afterlife, there would be no better measure of a person than how well they lived each and every day of this one.
It’s amazing how much one can get out of visiting other countries. Not only are there the constant novel experiences but there is also so much to learn from their habits and cultures. I have now been to 74 countries and even lived in Turkey from 1959 to 1961 where I attend high school. But even so, every country is a surprise, a wonder, and a new lesson, opening my eyes to so many new and varied visions of life and living.
One thing that stood out while walking and being driven in the heavy, crazy traffic of Kathmandu was how the culture and habits of the people there differed so very much from our own. We saw so many near misses between cars and pedestrians, watched our drivers and others being regularly cut off by wildly driven vehicles, and heard so many, many horns. I mean Kimberly, I, and my two daughters, Nichol and Cammy, came within an inch or two of being hit by motorcycles as well as cars. It was quite scary at first but amazingly you get used to it. It’s just how it is there. Back home in Utah, if any of those things happened you most likely would get an angry look or get flipped off while in some other cities in the U.S. you even might get shot.
However, in India and Nepal, people never seem to get upset or mad at the honking, getting cut off, or nearly being hit. It would seem that living in very crowded conditions combined with the both the Hindu and Buddhist attitudes results in a very calm, non-defensive, understanding. It would be nice if we could realize, in our country, that things get crazy sometimes, but it’s just not worth the energy and unhappiness of being upset.
There is so much for us to learn from other countries and peoples. It’s a shame that everyone in the world can’t visit dozens of other countries and see how much we, as humans, are very much the same and that we can learn from our differences.
With age, and the experience of achieving great success, it has become glaringly clear that wealth, power, status, fame, possessions, etc. do not, by themselves, add anything significant to the actual quality of our lives. Yes, I find having wealth is nice and allows me to do many wonderful things such as travel (like I am right now!), and I do thoroughly enjoy many of my physical possessions like my new house and all the bits and pieces my wife has brought in to make it a home, but these things are not how I measure how well I live.
Most of what makes a life worth living is not to be bought or collected but can be found in the experiences you have, what you give to others, what you accept, and how you choose to look at the world. It’s those many small steps that make up the journey that determine the true importance of the destination, not the destination itself.
If your ‘destination’ is great wealth, gaining that wealth will only be important if you’ve lived well, struggled often, and celebrated your small successes along the way. This is why lottery winners almost always end up unhappy. There was no journey, no sense of success and no memories that made up the path to their wealth. The money just became a condition of their life, not something that engaged their sense of personal acheivement.
This idea brings together much of what I’ve been talking about these past few weeks. Live in the moment, because these moments are what your life is truly made of. Choose to be happy or your life will be made of many disappointing moments and thus your life will be disappointing. And don’t forget to look for joy in the wonderful act of giving to others, acts that will infuse your life with the kind of treasure that you could never buy or fabricate.
Go ahead and go for the wealth and the status and whatever else you dream of. Just remember to live a quality life along the way, and keep up your passion for living, not just for the future life you’re after.
I got an email from a colleague about how things are going back in our part of the States. (I am in Bhutan right now–I’ll have to get to back to the experiences I’m having here on a later post). Apparently we got our first snow in my absence and this friend commented on the mixed reactions to the cold and the falling of the fluffy white stuff. As usual, there were a people who grumbled and scowled and there were others who lit up at the sight. Same weather, same basic experience. But for some it ruined their day while other people stopped to enjoy its beauty.
It was a perfect example of something I have been thinking about a lot lately. That is simply this: A person can make themselves happy or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening “outside” just by changing the contents of their consciousness. With such power over our circumstances, why are so many people miserable so often?
We all know people who can transform a hopeless situations into a challenge to be overcome, just through the force of their attitude. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is one quality that people highly admire in others and justly so. It is probably the most important trait for not only succeeding in life but for enjoying it as well. Even your very perception of you as a successful person is based on how you choose to look at the experiences you have.
So, when the snow starts coming down, or the next difficult task looms before you, how will you choose to experience it?