The Last Day

If you knew today was going to be your last day on earth, what would you do?

For some reason this thought was on my mind as I wrapped up my morning workout. I was wondering whether or not I would exercise on my last day. Granted before I could decide, I would have to know it was my last day in advance. Otherwise, I would have already worked out before the Reaper’s blade would cut me down.

Knowing the short-term benefits of exercise, I think I would have to go ahead and achieve my peak heart rate one last time. I might not benefit from going heavy on that last day, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to get those endorphins flowing. It would give me a boost and help power my productivity to the end. The fact that I workout before the rest of the world is awake is another benefit, since I wouldn’t be taking time away from those I would want to spend time with.

What else would I do on a perfect last day? I might do a little light reading to get my mind right before I see the light. I would also write. I would probably write with a fury all those last minute thoughts that could somehow add to my legacy. Then I would spend the rest of the day with family, preferably outdoors. I would try to speak little and just listen to the voices that would hopefully permeate my soul and accompany me into the next life.

Then the thought comes, what would I not do? I know I couldn’t drink alcohol. If I justified one drink, I would probably justify a second which would lead to more. Who would want to waste away their last day in a drunken stupor? In addition, I wouldn’t watch any television, play any games, or scroll through someone else’s life or the political landscape on social media. I might leave a few messages, but that would be it. Anything that would be a drain on that last day would have to be scrapped, because it simply would not be worth it.

This is the mark of perfection of character –to spend each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, laziness, or any pretending. –Marcus Aurelius

There is so much I would want to do, and so much I would try to avoid. It makes me wonder, why am I not living that way now. How could I have so easily wasted away days, content in complacency, with never a thought to the preciousness of time? And though I can never recover the day gone by, I can begin fresh with this day and all the days to come. Few are occasioned with the knowledge of their last day, but all can live life as if it were their last. I would hope that on my last day, I could say I truly lived. Not just on the last day, but that when I woke up and realized any day could be my last, I never took another one for granted. Memento Mori.

Repeated Folly

In an ideal world, we should grow in wisdom as we grow in years. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we continued to make the same mistakes over and over? And yet, how many of us still do it? Do you still make the same financial mistakes, still eat the things you know you shouldn’t, or engage in the same aimless pursuits that neither benefit you nor your family?

To grow in wisdom, we have to stop the cycle of bad decision making. Regardless of our age, we have to grow up. The poor choices we made in our youth cannot be the same poor choices me make in our senior years.

Aristotle was correct in stating that it takes bravery to overcome your desires. The easy path will not get you the results you were hoping for. We live in a world where consumer debt is a normal aspect of life. Rather than working and saving up for a desired item, we rush to buy it now. What a shame when we are still paying off that debt long after the item is no longer useful. Wouldn’t it be an even greater shame if we never learned the lesson and kept repeating this cycle our whole lives? The brave person says no. She says I will not give in to the immediate gratification but will wait for the greater reward.

Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic has become one of my favorite philosophical resources. The wisdom found in his works are timeless. Take for instance his teachings in the 27th letter: On the Good Which Abides:

Count your years, and you will be ashamed to desire and pursue the same things you desired in your boyhood days. Of this one thing make sure against your dying days –let your faults die before you die. Away with those disordered pleasures, which must be dearly paid for; it is not only those which are to come that harm me, but also those which have come and gone.

So with guilty pleasures, regret remains even after the pleasures are over.

Virtue alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy.

It would be a waste to spend our lives chasing the things which have no lasting value. As children, this course of action might have seemed acceptable. But as adults, this behavior is folly. If however we choose to live a virtuous life, we can find a joy beyond our wildest imagination.

The Frailty of Life

We all know that death could come for us at any moment. But we usually don’t give it much thought, until we, or the ones close to us, near that threshold. When we are not mindful of death, when it feels far away, we tend to find importance in things that are really not very important at all. But when we are at the gate and the time is near, suddenly the time becomes more precious and a sense of urgency to live becomes paramount.

No one knows when the time will come, but all could live in a way that when the end fast approaches there would be little left to do. Even if the mission was left unfinished, you could leave knowing you did all that you could. You could leave knowing a moment wasn’t wasted or a transgression wasn’t rectified. We could go in peace from this life into our next without a regret.

Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather unusual, for a man who has lived long to have live too little. –Seneca, Letter #49: On the Shortness of Life.

This was one of the thoughts I originally had when I started writing for my son. That if I was to go before he grew up, he would have this as his legacy. I wanted him to know the treasure of wisdom and the value of searching for it. I wanted him to know the path I have travelled in my own quest to find it. Often I went down the wrong road. I had to learn to hard way. But an easy to find treasure really isn’t a treasure. You have to dig for it, often into the depths of the hell of your own making to find it. My dream is that he will find the path and then stick to it, not forsaking it for an easier way. If I can’t be there for the journey, maybe the writing I leave behind will help. Maybe it will even help others.


For those who loved one is nearing the threshold, my heart is breaking for you. I can’t imagine your pain, but I can see your bravery during this time. Remember, death is not an end but a gateway into the next life.

Legacy

Seneca writes that his works are going to last throughout the ages. He even states that he has the ability to take others with him in his legacy. There may not be a lot known about the life of Lucilius, but his name has lived on through the letters addressed to him by Seneca. You have to be rather confident to believe your works will have that kind of lasting power. By the way, Seneca lived in the first century of the Common Era and his works are still being read to this day.

What will your legacy be? Will the work you do impact future generations? If you are only living for yourself, your scope of influence will not be very large. But if you are reaching out and offering the world your talents and skills, you may just find your name lasting through the ages.

The deep flood of time will roll over us; some few great men will raise their heads above it, and, destined at the last to depart into the same realms of silence, will battle against oblivion and maintain their ground for long. –Seneca, Letter XXI. On the Renown Which My Writings Will Bring You

Choose to Pass, Not to Indulge

 

If you are mission-oriented toward pleasure, you will never be satisfied. You will always want more, because what you got the last time will only temporarily placate your desires. Put away the immediate gratification and hold out for the greater reward that comes with waiting. The intoxication from the wine will wear off. The scent of that perfume will fade. There is a far better use of your wealth than on mere trifles.

Here’s what the Greek and Roman philosophers had to say about this:

The man who overcomes his desires is braver than he who overcomes his enemies. –Aristotle

But no man would ever repent of having refused any sensual pleasure. Pleasure then is neither good nor useful. –Marcus Aurelius

If you are ruled by you mind, you are a king, if by your body, a slave. –Cato

No one is free who is not master of himself. –Epictetus

To be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile. –Plato

It is the sign of a great mind to prefer things in measure to things in excess. -Seneca

No Promotion, No Problem

 

You didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for, and it hurts. You are currently doing the job, but you have neither the title nor the security the title provides. You have been working hard for this. You feel like you deserve it, but you didn’t get it. Now you have to get over it. And just maybe, it doesn’t really even matter. So you need to move on. You cannot wallow or feel sorry for yourself. Not getting that job may have been the best thing for you.

Do not ask for what you will wish you had not got. –Seneca

You could have ridden this job into retirement. You could have coasted into old age doing something that was easy and comfortable. You could have relaxed and settled. You might lose your edge, but that’s okay, because there would have been nothing left to fight for. But wasn’t this job only a holdover until you could do the things you wanted? Wasn’t this supposed to be a temporary solution now to get the food on the table? You don’t want to grow old and at the twilight of your life say, “This is what I have done. I gave all my years to the company.” What were you to that company anyway? A vital part or just a number? Would you have left an unfillable void or would the next number come in to replace you? The twenty or forty years at the factory wasn’t easy. It took a toll on your body. It took a toll on your family. It wasn’t the easiest path to take, but it was the one with the least resistance. It was the easy way to grow old. The dreams you had in your youth were just dreams. As an adult, you left those childish dreams aside. Instead of realizing your dreams, you punched a timeclock.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance. –Steven Pressfield

Last week I read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. This book reached down into my core. It opened my eyes. For the first time, I had the name of the enemy that has been plaguing me my whole life. The sad thing is that I never knew I was in a war against an enemy, one that is relentless and will attack whether or not you are fighting back. How do you fight an unknown enemy?

If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt. -From Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”

So who or what is this enemy? Its name is Resistance. What is resistance? It is that voice telling you to delay doing the things you know and believe you should do. It is telling you to take another drink, to eat another cupcake, and to start that diet tomorrow instead of today. It is the one telling you later, not now. Resistance is the soft warmth of your bed beckoning you to hit that snooze button. It is the voice telling you that you will never be good enough so don’t even bother trying. Resistance says that your hopes and dreams can be put on hold until the time is right. We all have an adversary named Resistance.

 The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew each day. –Steven Pressfield.

Every day. The enemy, Resistance, is there waiting to attack. Sun Tzu said that one of the best ways to attack is to look for a weakness in your opponent. Resistance knows your weaknesses. It attacks when you are the most vulnerable to giving in. If you don’t do battle against the enemy every day, then all those aspirations you have in life will amount to nothing. Your dreams will be just that, dreams.

Questions to ask yourself:

• Was there something I wanted to create but didn’t?

• Did I delay building my business, because something else came up?

• Did I say to myself just one more show on Netflix and then I will get started?

• Did I not pursue my dreams because life got in the way?

I have used that last line plenty in the past. So much I wanted to do, but life got in the way. Life will always get in the way if you let it. Who is in control? Are you in control of your life or are you being controlled by outside factors? Life didn’t get in the way. Resistance got in the way.