I was walking down Massachusetts’s Avenue last week in Washington DC while there to host our exhibit at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference. I don’t remember what I was thinking at that moment, but undoubtedly was musing about something as I normally do while walking. Or perhaps I was writing a song in my head as is my wont. I remember suddenly the thought entered my mind – “Today is a gift I’ll never see again.”
In these intervening days this idea continues to make a strong impression on me. Overall the effect is positive but also slightly unnerving.
Like most people I float through my days, experiencing them as a never ending stream of little packets of life. Of course, I know one day I’ll die, but that knowledge doesn’t coalesce into thoughts most days and, thus, does not gain the opportunity to emotionally impact me. But this new thought, of never ever again living through today, has entered my mind every day now. It has made me much more aware of the flux of life, the passage of time, and of the importance of every day.
This type of thinking has the potential to place pressure on a person entertaining it. After all, if I believe this day is so precious, do I feel I am making the most of it? If not, what should I do that I otherwise would not do? Will I see a movie that was not in my plans? Take up skydiving before it is too late? Learn to bake a pie? Living up to the ‘gift of today’ could be hard work and could increase the burden of expectation in an already full, even hectic, life.
I’m happy that I have not reacted to, or experienced, my little motto in this way. Just having this thought in and of itself gives me pleasure and a heightened awareness of the joy of just being alive. I don’t really have to do anything extra or different to appreciate the day more. I am coming to think of this thought as a trigger to a walking mindfulness. After all, mindfulness simply means awareness and acceptance. Sitting or breathing in a certain way or thinking about certain things in a certain room are ways that help some people achieve a state of mindfulness but these behaviors and situational features are not mindfulness themselves.
I believe that if I continue to have this thought into the future, then it will impact the decisions I make and how I choose to spend my time. But I don’t feel rushed or pressured into figuring out what those changes might be. I’ll wait to see what each new day brings.
Until next time,
I’m writing a book on suicide assessment and management. As part of my research I ran across this statement. It reminds me that sometimes change is instantaneous, a bolt of insight that changes everything.
“Then I had a moment of clarity. It did not matter what I achieved; how successful the charity work; how good a relationship I had. It would NEVER be enough. It was put to me that no amount of achieving, or doing, would ever make me feel like I was enough. What I needed to realize was that I am enough as I am. And boy, does that line of thinking relieve a lot of pressure.”
– Anonymous founder of lostallhope.com, a support website for those contemplating suicide
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