Perhaps more than ever, mortality is the focus of our news – day after day, week after week, month after month. Over time such persistent messages find their way into our minds and we start thinking of life as a fragile thing. A decade ago I wrote a series of Dragontree newsletters on longevity and I’ve decided it’s time to revisit the subject. In the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing the most effective ways to imbue ourselves with a stronger life force.
#1. Live For Now and Love Life
Time is malleable. When we have a practice of intentionally living in the now – even if it doesn’t make our life measurably longer (and it probably does, since it greatly reduces stress) – our experience is that our moments are both longer and richer. In contrast, when we habitually depart from the present to meander in thoughts that are elsewhere, then, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, this moment is “dead” to us.
Survival is a primitive drive, and it’s deeply and powerfully wired in us. It motivates us in many ways, both obvious and hidden, often through the arousal of fear. I feel it’s important to clarify, when speaking of cultivating longevity, that I don’t mean pursuing immortality out of a fear of death.
When we’re driven by fear, we may find ourselves thinking always of the future – incessantly planning for “someday,” trying to avoid undesirable possibilities, attempting to ensure perpetual safety and comfort for ourselves, etc. Paradoxically, future tripping causes us to miss out on what’s happening right now. In effect, we can spoil our experience of life through our efforts to hold onto it.
It’s useful to take stock of our relationship with the present. If longevity sounds appealing to you: why?
- What would you do with an extra few decades?
- Do you want to live longer because you just don’t like the idea of dying?
- Do you love your life?
- Are you afraid of the impact that your death would have on those you’d leave behind?
- Do you want to live longer so you can finally get through everything on your to-do list?
- Do you spend more time savoring the moment or being distracted by thoughts of the past and future?
My intention with these questions is to help you see the mentality that’s sponsoring your desire to live longer.
More than our personal circumstances, it’s our perspective that dictates our quality (and sometimes length) of life. That’s why I want to begin here, with the why of longevity and what I believe to be the single most important factor in quality of life, regardless of how long it lasts: living for the present moment and loving life itself. Until we investigate and challenge the factors that infringe on the quality of our life, what’s the use of trying to prolong it?
A difference of perspective can have an enormous impact. How often do you view a view a day or situation as something to “get through” rather than be in? Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a naturally happy-go-lucky disposition, you can change your wiring. It just takes discipline. Notice the good; stop indulging in negativity; practice gratitude; keep playing; stay in the here and now, and remember, remember, remember: life is a gift. It’s not the perpetual struggle we’ve taught ourselves to believe it is.
There’s much more to come, but for today I wanted to not clutter this core concept with anything else. Share with us about your experience of perspective and tell us what you’d do with some extra years.