I want to die gracefully. Moving and transitioning with grace and ease is also how I wish to live my day to day life. My desire for greater connection with loved ones inspires me to allow space for grace.
In the past, transitions challenged my sense of calm and ease. From day one, I felt the pinch of forceps on my temples, hurrying me to a place I wasn’t ready to be. (I’m talking about the birth process.) Therefore, I historically run a few minutes late. I rush past my beloveds, spill my coffee, and wonder which clock to believe. This frenetic energy didn’t get me where I wanted to go.
Developing an observing quality of mind, I saw myself racing around and my connections with others suffered. This woke me up. I began to slow down, say good-bye with a soft gaze, offer hugs, and guess what, grace and ease entered my heart… and I ended up being on time!
Being Mortal & Transitioning Gracefully
I highly recommend this book, Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande which encourages us to find a new conversation around medicine and what matters most at the end. He describes the experiences of several of his patients’ deaths and the deterioration of his own father. He explores new ways of working with others to empower them to contemplate their own death and the considerations of family before they find themselves in the “throes of crisis and fear.” He highlights what I find myself infinitely curious about, which is, what is the story we tell ourselves about our lives?
To quote directly from the text,
“People seemed to have two different selves–an experiencing self who endures every moment equally and a remembering self who gives almost all the weight of judgment afterward to two single points in time, the worst moment and the last one. The remembering self seems to stick to the Peak-End rule even when the ending is an anomaly. Just a few minutes without pain at the end of their medical procedure dramatically reduced patients’ overall pain ratings even after they’d experienced more than half an hour of high level pain. ‘That wasn’t so terrible,’ they’d reported afterward. A bad ending skewed the pain scores upward just as dramatically.”
We have purposes larger than ourselves
“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments–which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life can be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.
Unlike your experiencing self–which is absorbed in the moment–your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole. That is profoundly affected by how things ultimately turn out. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed minutes at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter.”
Invite space for grace
I agree wholeheartedly that endings matter. I also think beginnings matter. We must pay attention to quality of ease in the transitioning of our mundane existence. I think this is precisely why we should all be asking ourselves the question, what is the story I am telling myself about my life? It is a valuable exercise to book-end our day with two essentials: wake up with a smile before our feet hit the floor (this sets up positive cascade of neurotransmitter responses) and review our day before our head hits the pillow with a gratitude list or a www list (what went well) and write this down and/or share with a loved one.
These two simple practices, practiced on a daily basis, provide the fundamentals ingredients for helping us enjoy a better quality of life, a more accepting and gracious remembering self, and an experiencing self who notices what is going well in the day. This adds up to a more wholesome self who is better equipped at “Being Mortal” and making the difficult choices around life and death, and transitioning gracefully. So, for today, let us narrow the lens of the “good life” to this 24 hours of today.
Perhaps this one wild and precious life is workable and worthy of appreciation in each and every moment.