Monday, 14 January 2008

Living In The Face of Death...

I know, the title of this post sounds a little macabre to say the least, however, this post is as far from macabre as night is from day. This post I have 'borrowed' from a writer that has put into words exactly what I want to say, exactly what I believe to be true but Joel Nathan can put it into words far better than I can! I don't think he would mind me using his words here as it is for a good cause, hopefully it will inspire people to think a little differently about time. I don't believe this post is only inspiring for people with terminal illness, I think it is a way of living that would be beneficial to us all, as none of us know for sure how long we will be here on this earth.

"It seems to me that our view of time affects the way we handle a crisis which, in turn, can determine our survive-ability.

Professor Schwartz, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has found that we have an inbuilt time-keeping mechanism, the suprachiasmatic nucleus behind the optic nerve, that ensure our body rhythms stay in phase with the earth's rotation and alternation of day and night. When we are out of phase, we say we are 'out of sync'. The symptoms are real: insomnia, jet lag, fatigue, moodiness, stomach upset.

Our bodies are so exquisitely sensitive to this rhythm that our immune system also responds accordingly. Doctors know this well. For example, the efficacy and side effects of drugs are greatly affected by the time of day they are administered. A drug supposed to be taken in the morning will not be as effective if taken at night: stress hormone levels will vary at different times of the day: asthma sufferers require a long-acting drug to cope with their varying breathing patterns: most cases of cardiac arrest occur in late morning.

Our perception of time is even more variable, and linked with our emotional life. For example, when we are engaged in a task we are unwilling to do, or find boring, time seems to drag: when we enjoy what we're doing, are preoccupied, time seems to fly.

In fact, it is only our varying perceptions of time that differ: real time doesn't change. Time is. Time does not 'happen'. It is always present. It makes no sense to say that the less we do, the more time we have; or the more we do, the less time we have. All we can really say is that it seems as if we have more or less time, as the case may be.

We need to live in the present moment to heal and achieve wholeness. This does not mean sitting passively in a chair and doing nothing, even meditating all day. It means living as you did when you were a three-year-old child, enjoying every moment, unconcerned with what will happen next, or what happened earlier. Living in the moment does not imply hedonism or acquiring possessions since they are fleeting, but rather looking into the nature of things, seeing time in the here and now, and finding freedom from the restraint of past regrets and future fears. If we can stop seeing time as a thing or a resource, then the future is no longer a set of unfulfilled time, the past not simply a pile of used-up time.

Accept the present as an ongoing moment, and you will realise it is irrelevant to wonder about the treatment you've had, what its likely effects will be, whether your disease will recur, or whether you will get another cancer. Constantly thinking of what will happen to you next is to live in an imaginary future instead of living in the here and the now - wholeness, being together, mind and body, here and now, present to yourself and to others. At best, as human beings, we can use our brain's larger cortex to change our perceptions so we can understand more of what is happening.

To gain perspective on this view, you need to see yourself as the object of your intellectual curiosity: it's the key to survival. It's finding the balance that comes when you step back, see yourself as something separate, and make a choice without prejudice. You can do it if you're free of unresolved internal conflicts, and not driven by unconscious fears. The secret is knowing when to hold on or let go, allowing intuition and instinct are at work when, at times, the harder you try to maintain control, the more you lose it; and sometimes the more laid-back you are, the more things fall your way. Balance and wholeness come when you realise, finally, that you can't hold onto life indefinitely, and that you can't lose it when you die.

In order to achieve wholeness, all we have to do is let go of our vain belief that we can alter natural laws. The moment we surrender this, we are freed to concentrate on the moment that is now, and as Emerson said, 'To fill the hour - that is happiness.'

Instead of being trapped in the cage of time, we have to see the past and the future as part of the vast open field of the present, for only then can we see we are always on the way to becoming something else, that everything is in transition and that, as Wordsworth said,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.


  1. Now, here, is all there is.
    And it is always enough. That is what i know now, that I used to doubt.
    Living in the face of death, is the teacher of life.

  2. Dear Bella, you are so very wise. As Bruno Bettelheim reflected, "The only antidote to death is to find meaning in life, yet it is death which gives life its deepest and most unique meaning." You are in good company in your wisdom...

  3. Yes - we aren't "trapped in a cage of time..." If anything, I find myself trapped in the cage of MIND. Thanks for this post - I have a feeling I'm going to be back to re-read it more than once.

    xo Jena

  4. The past is gone--the future is not here and who knows what it will bring. All we have is what we have in front of us at this moment. And yes, I agree with Bella, it is enough. It is more than enough. It is beautiful and luscious.
    This is a poignant post Jenni and like Jena I know I will find myself here reading and reflecting on it again and again.
    Our perspective really does shift when we wake up to the fact that life/time is not an endless resource to be used wisely or squandered etc etc. All we have is this moment, this breath.
    Lovely. Thanks.

  5. Hi Jen,

    You girls give me inspiration just listening to how you all speak, sometimes I don't comment because I don't know how too.

    The one thing I do get from every post I read is that we all need to live everyday to the fullest let go of anger and hate.

    Thank you girls !!!!

    Love Deb xxx

  6. Thanks for sharing those words Jen, so true that they apply to everyone all the time.

    Thanks for another uplifting and meaningful post.

  7. Beautiful, uplifting post. I always tell my children to live in the moment, it's the best way to live.

    You can't worry about the past because you can't change what has already happened.

    You can't worry about the future because if you do you might not be able to live it like you would have if you just lived in the moment.