Meditate on Death to Appreciate Life in Every Breath

For existence is impermanent as the dew of the evening…All misfortune springs from not remembering to keep death always in your thoughts. – Code of the Samurai

But then I come to this place of my ancestors, and I remember. Like these blossoms, we are all dying. To know life in every breath, every cup of tea, every life we take. The way of the warrior…That is Bushido. – Katsumoto, The Last Samurai

Meditate on Death. I remember the first time I heard this strategy in a philosophy course at Berkeley. It blew my mind like only a college student’s mind can be blown — to the climax quickly.

It felt like a way cooler version of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. I would think about it right before doing some crazy stunt during my pro wrestling days, or right before walking on stage in a dong thong for my first natural bodybuilding show, or right before downing a few Long Islands with my buddy Tony Roma, and then hitting the dance floor to see if we could find a few females to end the night in style with.

I struck out often to be honest. Turns out the ladies didn’t love my bad dancing to “Bust a Move”, and the even worse pick-up line, “you only live once “. Ah yes, life was so much simpler back then.

As I grew older, progressed in my career, and spent my days around a variety of people from all ages and walks of life, Meditate on Death took on a much deeper meaning. After 15 years, I guess you could say you gain some sort of street psychology skills. You get to see life through the eyes and perspectives of so many different people — an invaluable experience indeed. You learn what trips people up, what brings people down, what motivates and inspires, where we go wrong, and what really matters to most of us in the end.

This isn’t the bullshit stuff that you see with online images, characters we play for career advancement; or perfectly crafted, PR persona’s for public perception and praise, etc. This is the real deal stuff that people puke up from their soul when they are looking for answers to life’s most important questions. Everyone eventually suffocates under a mask. And when they unleash that pent up frustration onto friendly ears, baby, you better believe it comes fast and furious.

During those formative years in my career, Meditate on Death became less of a shallow slogan, and much more of a legitimate life lesson to live by. It is a daily reminder for all of us to not waste time and energy chasing after a bunch of shit we don’t really need, to roll with it all instead of turning minor inconveniences into major catastrophes, to not take anything for granted, to follow our own path and core values instead of clinging to a creed or trying to copy someone else’s code, to have a good time and not take ourselves too seriously, to break free from peer pressure and social shackles in order to follow our own style, to do what we truly want to do instead of what we are supposed to do; to put our passions, purpose, and the people we love first instead of totally jacking up our priorities, and so forth.

As you can see, Meditate on Death had already become a very good guideline for me. I should do the responsible thing and say I mean at least when it comes to personal fulfillment and peace of mind. But please don’t hold me up as some all-knowing guru who has the answers to everything, especially if you are under 30. For when it comes to professional success, I’m doing alright now. But with my style, I very well may end up in a gutter somewhere, some day down the line. We all gotta accept the sacrifices we make to live the life we want.

But back to the topic at hand. In the last 16 months or so, Meditate on Death has taken on an even deeper meaning to me. I had no idea it even could. You see, both of my parents passed away last year. As part of that process, and along with some great help, I played an integral part in their home hospice care.  You know bathing, giving medicine, and wiping asses like they once did for me, etc. They deserved to die an honorable death with family at their side.

When two of the people you love the most are literally dying right in front of your eyes, it changes things. Forever. There’s really no going back after that.

And Meditating on Death was no longer just some abstract, existential saying that new-age hippies (like me) use to “bio-hack” their minds and lifestyle designs for the better. It became a very real slap in the face that put everything into the proper perspective.

Words alone can’t do justice to what Meditate on Death means to me now. But I did the best I could when writing the following chapter in my book. One year ago my mom passed away. I am posting this chapter now in order to honor her, and in hopes that it will somehow help you.

The Hooligans left behind.
The Hooligans’ Holiday.

Rise Above Strategy #2:  Appreciate Life in Every Breath

This is not meant to be one of those abstract, mysterious, elusive riddles where people sit around pontificating about how profound the idea is.

That’s the problem with modern philosophy – a lot of quotes that people talk about, and post on social mediate sites, but nobody actually uses. They sound good, and we know we need them because we’re struggling through tough times, but when the traps of modern life kick in, we ignore them. We bury our heads in the sand and get lost in the grind.

If we are to change for the better, if we are to find some kind of peace of mind amongst the chaos of modern life, we need practical philosophy – strategies we can live by, not just listen to.

So do this. Literally. Every day. Think about death. It is undefeated. Yours is inevitable. What if you walked into your doctor’s office today and he gave you two weeks to live? Imagine it happening.

That would change everything wouldn’t it? What would you really be worried about? What would you prioritize? What would you let go? How do your struggles that you constantly complain about really seem now?

Wouldn’t you instead choose to find a way to enjoy the rest of your time? Wouldn’t your perspective, approach, and appreciation for the moment and your life change in a flash?

The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again. ~Achilles, Troy

Nothing could be simpler and more straightforward, yet more powerful.

Life is a state of mind, and meditating on death straightens out your perspective instantly. Nothing is as bad as it seems if you’re at least still in the game.

1. You stay present in the moment.

There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment. — Hagakure.

We live in a modern world where we are constantly anxious, over-worked, stressed, and scatter-brained. A lot of it has to do with obsessively worrying about the future. A little bit of planning is good, but constant panicking is counterproductive. It will eventually consume you.

What if this or that happens? What if, what if…

What if nothing happens, you end up fine, and all that worrying was for nothing? We can become so stressed about future outcomes that we forget to enjoy the present moment.

Thinking about death has a way of changing that. It slaps you back into the present moment. You live in it instead of letting it slip by and losing it forever. You appreciate it instead of taking it for granted. You focus on it instead of wasting it worrying about the next.

Besides, the anticipation of suffering is usually worse than any actual suffering that takes place. We think about the worst-case scenario, which rarely ever happens.

And even if it does, we are all a lot stronger than we think. When backed into a corner, all of us can find the warrior within, and let him or her out. The human body and spirit is strong and resilient. It is our weak minds that bury us.

The truth is if you want to maintain some semblance of sanity in the modern world, you just can’t worry too much about all of the potential outcomes in the future. It is unpredictable for us all regardless of our current situation.

2. You let your massive ego go.

Media, particularly social media, has distorted and inflated our egos. Here is the tough love truth. We all think we are way more important than we actually are – this includes athletes, actors, rock stars, billionaires, and celebrities.

Your successes and failures, your triumphs and struggles, they are the most important things in the world to you. That is understandable. But in the grand scheme of things, they are meaningless to the rest of the world. It keeps rolling along regardless of what is going on in your life.

You’re way less important than you think. All of your successes seem more glorious than they actually are. All of your failures and struggles seem more disastrous than they actually are. So take a deep breath and stay calm.

Don’t believe that? Death reveals the objective truth.

The end for kings and queens, heroes and heroines, ordinary and average, you and I are all the same. We get put into a box, are remembered for a while, and then disappear into dust. Time keeps on ticking away. Anything else is a fairy tale – nice to believe in, but not the true Way.

Death is undefeated. It is an opponent that can’t be beat, no matter how powerful, strong, famous, loved, admired, intelligent, talented, skillful, innovative, connected, or one-of-a-kind you are.

Think about it. What happens when a legend leaves a game, business, or industry? What happens when even a hero leaves this life? Everything keeps moving on regardless, and someone else rises to take his or her place.

This may sound depressing at first, but its not. It is liberating for those of us who constantly compare, compete, stress, and obsess over what the world might think or say about our mistakes, shortcomings, and struggles.

How do your problems seem now – as disasters that are going to cause the world to fall apart, or as simple challenges you can face head-on?

Besides, we are all too vain, selfish, and self-absorbed to really care about what is going on in anyone else’s life. Everyone is too wrapped up in his or her own life, and dealing with his or her own problems. Yours only matter to you. So deal with them without the distress.

Embrace death. This doesn’t mean you should give up and go home because nothing matters. This doesn’t mean you should accept bad situations and failure. This doesn’t mean you should not try and overcome your challenges and improve. It doesn’t mean you should not try to win in whatever battles you are facing in life. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should settle for mediocrity and not strive to accomplish great things.

But there is a major difference between ego-driven and egoless pursuit. When you realize how small and insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things, you can strive and compete care free, and from a pure place.

You do it for the purpose and passion, not the praise. You do it to break down barriers and blaze trails. You do it to lead by example and motivate others. You do it to contribute to your chosen craft, not to take away from it.

When you compete in the right state of mind, and for the right reasons, all of the fear, stress, and anxiety disappear. There is no fear of losing what is not yours to take with you when your time comes. Praise is fleeting and promiscuous. Possessions are of this world. Only the bigger purpose remains immortal.

And what of this need of the truly ego driven to build a legacy and make his or her name last forever?

Your legacy is left to chance. All you can control is your actions in this moment. Bring some bricks to the construction site. But the statue that the world ultimately decides to build for you is up to them.

Why not focus on doing what you love and strengthening the connections in this life that matter most vs. worrying about whether or not some stranger centuries from now knows your name?

3. You learn the difference between major disasters and minor inconveniences.

Some people are truly like fleas and mosquitoes and they bite — but what does their biting amount to? It itches a little, that’s all; it won’t endanger life. These are the words of one whose Bushido training was tried in the fiery furnace of adversity and triumph. — Bushido

There is only one true disaster – death. And even that is not a disaster if you’ve lived a good life. Sometimes when you’ve done what you wanted to do, it’s time to move on to something different. Perhaps those who want to live forever are not truly living at all.

As such, all of your problems are just minor inconveniences. You can deal with it all without any single thing destroying your day. That’s good, because today just might be your last. Do you want to waste it stressed and depressed.

If you are having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning to face the day, think about how this might be the last time that you ever get the chance. That’s better than an alarm clock and cup of coffee combined.

Your I-phone is acting up? Someone said something bad about you? Work sucks? You’re struggling a little in your career or personal life? The things we normally complain about don’t seem that bad now do they?

It could be way worse.

With death always in your thoughts, you realize what is a catastrophe and what are merely inconveniences. They are all inconveniences, although we often treat them as otherwise.

4. You lose your illusion of living forever, and start focusing on the most important things.

The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings. He knows that he is going to die, and he has nothing left to hold onto: no illusions in his mind, no resistances in his body. He doesn’t think about his actions; they flow from the core of his being. He holds nothing back from life; therefore he is ready for death, as a man is ready for sleep after a good day’s work. – Tao Te Ching.

Most of us fear death, so we keep it as far out of our minds as possible. This leads to the biggest mistake of all-time – letting our subconscious believe we are going to live forever.

You must face the tough love truth to start living a better life today. All of us are in the same situation. All of us are dying from the moment we are born. We all have an expiration date. And we should all be living with that understanding – both consciously and subconsciously.

It’s the loudest wake-up call of all-time to truly appreciate your life, even the struggles. At the very worst they are lessons for later on.

A lot of us say we do, but few of us have a true understanding of what that statement really means. Most of us live our lives like we are going to live forever. We procrastinate, we take for granted, we let petty differences ruin relationships, we hold grudges, we focus on the wrong things, and we put off our dreams and passions for some time down the line (which usually means never).

All of the little things in life that we stress about distract us from the big things that truly matter, and that we would focus on if we constantly remembered we had a finite period of time.

We wake up old men or women full of regret, realizing we never lived up to our potential, rarely did the things we set out to do, got caught up in the grind, and left our dreams behind. In short, we settled.

And it’s all because we thought we were going to live forever.

When you remember death on a daily basis, all of those little distractions that fill up your life and are really meaningless disappear. That lets you focus on the big things that truly matter.

Make amends, connect with someone you love, tell people what you feel, chase after a passion, drop your emotional baggage, ignore the noise, live out a dream, and be who you really want to be.

And if you actually do wake up tomorrow, it’s like Christmas morning. You get a new gift you get to unwrap and enjoy.

5. You’ll stop waiting for a savior to solve all of your problems, and learn to solve them for yourself.

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.
~ Miyamoto Musashi

The sands of time are ticking away and there is no stopping them. Don’t accept suffering and sorrow today in hopes of a better tomorrow. Don’t sit around and wait for a savior to solve all of your problems for you. You must accept personal responsibility, take immediate action, and learn to solve them for yourself.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have faith. Whatever gives you strength, resolve, confidence, conviction, and inner peace, is a valuable tool. Use it. But then you must look at life as a team game. God (or the gods, or the Universe, or your own warrior spirit) helps those who help themselves.

This illusion goes beyond religion and spirituality. A lot of us think that if we just meet the right person, make the right connection, or get a lucky break, all of our problems will be solved.

We lose accountability. We become baby birds waiting to get fed. We let life push us around. We are at the mercy of circumstance and chance. This will get you nowhere. You must take control of your own life, and become the captain of your own ship.

Maybe the next life exists. Maybe it doesn’t. But you should deal with them one at a time regardless.

Post Dedication

Trust me. Everyone should experience the power of a good bowl cut before they kick the bucket.
Trust me. Everyone should experience the power of a good bowl cut before they kick the bucket.

I wrote the following a while back, dedicating an upcoming book to my mama. Since I have no idea if it will actually make it through the publishing process, and given the topic and the timing, it seems much more appropriate to drop it down now. You know, just in case I die tomorrow. Have you already forgotten the lesson my friend?

THIS POST is dedicated to my mama. The book?  Hell, that’s left up to chance:

This post is dedicated to my late, great mama – The Champion of All Things Chocolate, The Super High Sweatpants Savant, The Chardonnay Sipper, The Cigarette Flicker, The Oakland A’s #1 Fan, The F-Bomb Bombshell, The Laughing Pumpkin, The Red-Headed Rager, The Ol’ Irish Avenger, The Always Unpredictable — Patty Hourigan a.k.a. Mama Miyaki a.k.a Mom.

Although she never quite understood what I do – as her dietary advice was pretty much to drink a bottle of wine and smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, and she was never too fond of Eastern philosophy (she actually ended up quite racist against her own children after her divorce with my dad) – she always supported me in whatever I did. For that, I am forever grateful, and forever in debt.

If you were right and I was wrong, I’ll be seeing you again soon to make things square. If I was right and you were wrong, I wish I would have said some of these things when I had the chance. But I hope you knew it regardless.

And just in case both of us were way off, in addition to this post, I promise to drop a few F-bombs and flick a few cigarettes at some unsuspecting tourists today in your honor. That should appease The Four Winds somehow.

I’m totally kidding. Or am I? That is another Patty Classic tale for another time…