Live like you were dying

The WisdomReading group is off and running. Today we read Psalm 4, the latter half of Mark 2, and part of the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is especially interesting to me, because I’ve never read it before. One thing I’ve noticed that keeps coming up in the Gita readings is action combined with “detachment.”

book coverA contemporary gita (song) that’s heard a lot these days is “Live Like You Were Dying.” It express the same desire: to live actively, purposefully, yet with no concern for the results:

I went sky diving;
I went Rocky Mountain climbing;
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.
And I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
And he said, “Some day I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”

“Detachment” is one of those “spiritual” words (God save us from them!) that causes so much misunderstanding and grief in the world. An extreme case I heard of recently was a father assisting his son’s birth didn’t fully enter into the joy of the moment because he felt he needed to “practice detachment.”

How sad! Spiritual detachment has nothing to do with emotional distancing–it’s about not demanding God or Life or anyone or anything do things “for” you. It’s about accepting whatever happens, whether it thrills you or breaks your heart. It’s detachment from your will, as Jesus yielded his will to God in the garden of Gethsemane. It’s freedom from the future, that phantom that doesn’t even exist.

Life can only be experienced now. God is only encountered now. I only exist now. A billion billion nows flow in a stream, like rubber ducks in a river race; yet only the one that’s here, is now. Detachment means I don’t know what tomorrow, tonight, or even the next moment will bring, but now, I will do what I need to now.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna

Always perform with detachment
any action you must do;
performing action with detachment,
one achieves supreme good.

In the Tim McGraw gita, a man learns that he may have a terminal disease. Like Arjuna in the Gita, he’s despondent about the battle he must fight. Then he learns that it’s an opportunity to engage life more deeply than he ever has before; to straighten out his relationships; to savor every moment; to forgive unconditionally, to enjoy life every moment.

He becomes detached from expectations… every moment might be his last, but he, as Krishna said, achieves supreme good.

In high school, this very question was on my mind for a long time: “How would I live today if I knew it might be my last?” It’s one of the more relevant questions out there: because any day might be. Live like you were dying? You are, so do it.

My teacher once told me that the way to courageously face any encounter, is to simply determine in your mind that you will not come out alive. Then, with the fear of death gone, you are free to do whatever you need to. As dramatic as it sounds, it’s eminently practical in everyday situations. A friend of mine was once asked how she was able to finish her projects at work so fast, and she said, (shocking her co-worker) “It’s because I’m not afraid to die.”

Father, help me live like I am dying.