Yesterday Sam blogged about death — why she thinks it’s a good thing to think about your mortality every day. Maybe it works for some people (whatever “works” means in this context). But I’m not big on the idea, even though I get the “life is short; every moment is precious” concept. Dwelling on that doesn’t suit my world view, which is more focused on being present to what presents itself and not being preoccupied with what might come down the pipe, including death. Yes, I or my loved ones could die any time. But I’m not about to spend my days focusing on potential loss. I realize that this memento mori thing is not supposed to lead to morbid reflection, but rather an appreciation of the time we’re here. But the “life is short” motive for action just doesn’t quite capture how I regard life.
In the circles I move, there’s a saying we have: “life on life’s terms.” What that means, roughly, is that ultimately we have to accept the reality of the situation, whatever the situation may be. Acceptance, they say, is the answer to my problems today. Only from acceptance can I take effective action. Mortality is part of that reality, yes. That’s the sort of big picture. Everyone dies. But to me that makes it sort of mundane. Maybe we make too much of death? I don’t know. That’s not really what I want to discuss right now. What I want to talk about is taking life as it comes, even when it doesn’t deliver itself the way we want it to. I am much happier when I am able to “roll with it” or “go with the flow” than when I rail against the heavens because things aren’t going according to (my little, limited) plan.
The Universe is a lot bigger than my little plans. And despite how difficult it is for me to accept this fact sometimes, it doesn’t organize itself to suit my needs and interests and desires. And that’s nothing personal. There are seven billion of us on this planet, and this planet is just one teeny tiny corner of the cosmos, so it’s ridiculous for me to expect that I can lord over even my little piece of it. Things will happen.
What got me thinking of this is that lately I feel as if I’m in a constant state of having my routine thrown off. As anyone who knows me knows of me, I crave and appreciate routine. I always have. As far as training goes, since even before Christmas, my plans have just gone to shit. Mostly it’s not for reasons that will inspire sympathy, and that’s not what I’m trying to get. I mean, three weeks in the Bahamas interrupted my running schedule. Boo hoo! And then I was home for a bit and…winter! And then India, where I couldn’t run because it was too hot and the sidewalks were too dangerous (but it was an awesome dream come true nonetheless, so this is not a complaint).
When I get back from these long absences I’m usually raring to go. And this time, the weather totally cooperated. It’s been beautiful. And so you’d think I would be back on task with my running schedule. But no! The Universe had other plans and has taken me down with something that is not pneumonia or the flu or bronchitis but is a horrible and relentless cough that makes it impossible for me to contemplate exerting myself. I can hardly even get through a work day and have even had to take a few days off.
And on those days off I’ve sort of attempted to rest, which is always a challenge for me. It’s like I need to be really down for the count before I will rest. Though in Vancouver the day I arrived there from India I did have the best sleep of my entire life for fifteen hours. Since then I’ve not been so lucky. Then the cough kicked in.
That’s life though. Life on life’s terms. I can handle it. My doc told me today that the cough could hang on for SIX WEEKS. This is bad news for me because despite all the rest and so forth I haven’t felt a smidge better for an entire week. But she also said I could do whatever level of activity I think I can handle, and suggested a bunch of stuff for symptomatic relief. I have not skipped out on the personal training, even with the cough. So since I know I don’t have pneumonia, I’m going to ease myself back into short easy runs and see how that goes. If it doesn’t go well, then I will need to pull back and wait until I recover a bit more.
Routine is great, but we have to adjust accordingly. All sorts of things can throw me off my game. The question is, how do I get back on it? This is not about finding motivation, at least not anymore. I am keen to get back on track because I love being on track. Running restores me. It’s just that it doesn’t always fit into the circumstances in which I find myself. That’s reality. Not much I can do about that. A little acceptance can go a long way though. Which brings me back to my approach of dealing with what presents itself. Like, for example, I wasn’t going to spend the entire time in India lamenting that I couldn’t run there. That would have been a waste of time. But it wasn’t necessary for me to dwell on my ultimate death to be present to the rich experience that India offered me.
So rather than “memento mori,” I prefer “life on life’s terms.” It somehow feels more immediate and practical to me. These aren’t ideas that need to compete with each other. If being reminded throughout the day of your death keeps you in a state of contentment, that’s awesome. I’m more inclined to focus on what’s in front of me and be as present to it as possible. That keeps me peaceful and grounded.
Does “life on life’s terms” work for you?
3 thoughts on “Tracy reflects on “life on life’s terms,” the fitness edition”
I don’t think these are contradictory ideas. You just need to realize that one of life’s terms is death. It’s not just personal death either. It’s the death of everyone we know and love. That’s a fact about the lives we lead that we can’t change.
I agree they’re not completely incompatible but I personally don’t need to be reminded several times a day that we’re all gonna die. It runs in the background enough anyway. And I don’t think of it as my primary motive for being present to what’s in front of me. There are lots of reasons other than (my or others) eventual death to settle into whatever I’m doing at the time I’m doing it. As I said (or intimated) different things work for different people. If regular reminders of mortality help someone find happiness, great.
From a safety standpoint, I probably try to behave on bike to enjoy the present, with alertness I can’t count 100% of others being equally responsible as myself. And even for myself, not infallible.
It saddens me that even a pedestrian standing on sidewalk or a bus shelter may not always be safe since there have been some tragic accidents where a car mounted the sidewalk and struck person.
I do think about loved ones in family, whom I’ve lost at least once a wk. –even if it’s fleeting. It puts into perspective any over-focus of my own perceived failures. My shortcomings in fitness and health is a small moment in time, though later might be long-lasting, am hoping will have senses to enjoy living all-round.
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