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Death and the Art of Living: Crafting a Life of Meaning in the Face of Impermanence

woman overlooking sunset

As one facet of my music business, I offer regular artist development coaching to musicians, both established and aspiring. One of my clients is in the middle of putting her first EP together, and has been in the process of transitioning what was once just a fun and fulfilling hobby, to a full-fledged business with a budding professional music career. We were scheduled to meet today, as we typically do, until a family emergency happened and turned her life upside down suddenly. She took her father into the hospital in New Jersey for what was supposed to be a routine cardiac checkup, but ended up being faced with the reality of never seeing him alive again just 24 hours later. Her message to me when canceling our session today was poignant and deeply reflective, informing me of what had happened and expressing fear that she may never get the chance to tell him that she finally had the courage to go "all in" on her dreams of being a musician. She told me how happy he would have been to know that, how proud she knows he'd feel, and how she hoped she'd get the chance to share this with him. The irony in all of this is that my client has come to many transformative realizations during our recent sessions, gradually stripping away decades of social conditioning about how she thought she was "supposed" to live her life, and eventually arriving to the place she is now - fully in touch with who she is at her core, identifying what truly brings her happiness, and realizing there is nothing standing in the way of her going after her dreams. We have discussed, at length, the realities of mortality. It is an extremely powerful thought, and I am grateful that she allowed me to usher her mind into a "darker place" in order to help her see the light she needed all along in order to discover true meaning and purpose.

This may sound strange, through the confines of what you'd imagine we do in one of my private coaching sessions, but it's actually more commonplace than not. Music is deeply personal and spiritual. For people that take their craft seriously, it churns up all kinds of imagery and emotions while navigating through the creative process to produce art. It's immensely important for artists to find authenticity within themselves in order to make things that are honest. So my sessions do often end up in many intense discussions about life, prioritizing, knowing oneself, and dabbling in existentialism. And everyone is better for it. It's not that most people don't have the capability to go there with themselves; it's that life is busy, and carving out the time to have these types of powerful thoughts within a totally quiet mind are often impossible, if not being intentionally (or subconsciously) avoided. Think about your day-to-day. I'm sure your schedule is bustling with rushing around from thing to thing, getting ready, feeding yourself, appointments, responsibilities, box-checking, errands, work, traveling, caring for family, attending to your personal health, and anything else you can fit in if you're lucky... all to numb your mind at the end of the day in front of a screen in an attempt to decompress after another long 24 hours is done. Then go to sleep, and do it all over again. It is for this reason that, if not prompted by someone else in your life, these important conversations with yourself never happen, until it's usually too late.

I realize now that I'm perhaps a bit unusual in how my mind is wired. I have always been a deep thinker, and maybe that's why I find myself struggling with surface relationships throughout my life. I truly just don't understand how anyone else could be built another way, but that's part of my journey to learn too, I suppose. My closest relationships are with people that have the ability and willingness to be present in all aspects of their life, demonstrate unwavering honesty about who they are and their circumstances, and are courageous and enthusiastic about taking action toward bettering themselves a little more every single day. If you take a moment to reflect on the aforementioned concepts, where do you feel you fall? Honestly? It's okay if this exercise drums up feelings of guilt or inadequacy in some ways. Instead of pushing that out of your mind, why don't you stay there? Stay uncomfortable for a few minutes. Ask yourself why. Why do you feel this way? What is your honest evaluation of how you've lived your life so far? What would you want to change? What steps can be taken to put you in a direction to make you feel differently? Why does any of this matter?

Once you make the decision to face the idea that you won't be here forever, and in fact, it's a guarantee that all of us will die one way or another, you start to reflect upon things differently. You act differently. You think differently. You plan differently. You consume differently (mentally and physically). And you prioritize differently. Then once it stops feeling scary, it will start becoming freeing. You realize your time here is impermanent. Everyone's is. Then take it a step further, and recognize that your time could end tomorrow. Maybe even today. Maybe even before you finish reading this article. You have no control. It's not up to you. So why are you spending your time doing anything that is not fulfilling your most honest desires, passions, and dreams in your life? And once you've answered that question for yourself, you can take it another step further to realize, well, nothing is actually about you at all.

Your life does not matter if it has not positively impacted another.

Follow me here: let's imagine you are being put to final rest. Who is there, who has put everything together, who is tying up the "loose ends" of what you've left behind, and what are they saying about you? I've often imagined my own obituary being written, and I think it helps keeps me accountable for how I live every day. Because it forces me to think about what matters in life, at the end of it all. I think it is the dream of most people in their death to be able to bring together a room of individuals that will feel your loss, because they felt your life. If you live a life just for you, that will not be possible. If you haven't created, developed, maintained, or nurtured meaningful relationships, there will be no one there to pay their respects or carry on the stories you told or share about the life you lived. If you haven't worked hard to make something of yourself while you had the chance, and really build something, there will be nothing left behind. No family, no legacy, no wealth to bless anyone else with. And if you haven't taken the time to do your part in making this world a better place, well, it seems like your life may have been pretty meaningless in that case. Congrats, you played the game, you lost, the world keeps on spinning. What's the point?

Imagine dying and never making the time to fulfill your dreams, share them with the people who matter, and be generous with your gifts? Your gifts can be creating art, dedicating time to people less fortunate than you, being the backbone of your family unit, or taking a chance on building something you always dreamed of that inspires others and creates opportunities that didn't exist before. Some people leave their mark on the world in a loud way, with a presence that transcends physical space. Others make an impact more quietly. Both are okay. Both are equally meaningful at the end of it all.

Facing the realities of death can help you craft a life are proud of. This is your reminder to stop playing it safe, and "do the hard thing" if you know it is the right thing - in personal, business, and all aspects of your existence. There is a reason the quote "live every day as if it were your last" is cited frequently around the world, for generations. It is the most honest and kind gift you could give yourself, and a gentle reminder to follow your heart and remember what's truly important, today and always.


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