How do you want to live life? As your first or your last day?

I have often heard people talk about living life as if it is your last day. But in a recent interview with Suleika Jaouad, author of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, I heard her say that we should live life as if it is our first. She is speaking from her experience as someone who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 22 and has faced death up close and personal for many years. She said if you live as if it is your last day, you might be out robbing banks or eating too much ice cream. But if you live as if it is your first day, you will be filled with wonder.

This reminded me of the contemplation that I heard while practicing the body scan meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn many years ago. During it, he gave the following instructions. “Be in your body as if it was the first time.” Pause right now, take a breath, and be in your body as if for the first time. What do you notice?

Then he said, “Be in your body as if it was the last time.” Pause right now, take a breath, and be in your body as if it is the last time. What do you notice?

Then he said, “Be in your body as if there were no time.” Okay, now this one kind of blew my mind. Take some time with it. What do you notice? Can you be in your body as if there were no time?

With each instruction, you might experience something a little different. Your focus may shift from wonder to fear to curiosity.

This is the First Day

Let’s go back to it being the first day of your life. Imagine that it was the first time you were in your body, saw the trees, heard the birds, breathed a breath, smelled the scent of a flower, tasted a blueberry, took a step, kissed your partner, had a conversation. I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. I think it would be extraordinary to approach life without all of the baggage and preconceived ideas of our past. Anyone who thinks life is boring should engage in this practice.

And, since we are moving into spring, I am seeing how nature is giving us a great opportunity to experience the sense of the first day. New blossoms are starting to sprout and many other first signs of life are appearing after the deadness of winter.

In my Energy Medicine classes in March, we are celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of spring, so I have been thinking about the newness of life quite a bit. In March, we are moving through the Water element of Winter which is characterized by the deepest part of the energetic system, hidden and unseen. The Water element is the root of life itself. It carries the seeds of potential.

In the spring, there is an activating energy that overcomes the inertia of winter. The Wood element is associated with spring and can initiate action, express emotions, experience creativity, generate new ideas and thoughts, and bring about change and hope. Like spring, it brings a sense of renewal, transformation, new beginnings, rebirth, and reanimation.

This is a beautiful time of year to be alive as it gives us a real sense of being birthed. I do love spring and cherish its gifts. What can you let go of in the last days of winter so that you can be born anew this spring? Join me in an Energy Medicine Yoga class and start to experience your own energetic transformation. Register here

This is the Last Day

On the other hand, I think that living as if it’s your last day has some lessons for us as well. Namely, what have you left undone? Since this probably isn’t your last day, you might benefit from this contemplation and what it might tell you about regrets you could have. Are there things you haven’t said, forgiveness you didn’t give, places you didn’t go, or kindnesses you didn’t express?

Use this “last day” to do at least one thing you have been putting off doing and notice how it makes you feel. Then make a list of what you would regret on your last day if you didn’t do it or say it now? Hopefully you don’t have to complete the list in a day but spend time with it regularly. Take things off, and put new things on as they occur to you. For however long or short your life is, you have today to do the things you’ve been putting off.

There is No Time (or Day)

To riff off Jon Kabat-Zinn a little more here, “drop into your life as if there was no time.”

How would that impact what and how much you do? Would you do more? Less? Would you slow down? Speed up? Would things seem more urgent? Less urgent? Would you wander in nature a little longer? Would you listen a little closer? Pause, take a breath, and consider the idea that there is no time.

Actually, time is a made-up concept and it can be what you want it to be. The important thing, in my opinion, is to decide how to use it instead of letting it use me. We all seem to be in such a big rush, except I don’t think many of us know where we are going or why we are going in such a hurry.

Can we “learn to swim in the ocean of not knowing” (to quote Suleika) how long our life might be and be informed by the mystery of life itself? To do that takes real presence and awareness of each moment. Savor them all. Learn from each. Celebrate the journey.

To end:

My life’s work has been about helping people create the lives they want to live in the time they have by overcoming stress, anxieties, depression, and physical and mental challenges. I have found that becoming embodied and intimate with myself through physical activity (yoga and other activities), meditation, and energy medicine practices has given me the ability to navigate the changing landscape of whatever life gives me. If you’d like to join me in these practices, look through my website for ways you might want to become involved, whether that is through retreat practice or weekly classes.

I hope to see you on the path!