Every so often something happens that makes you question the meaning of life.
Stuff comes along that makes you look at your choices, goals, and ambitions, and decide what’s really important. To think about life from a death perspective. To evaluate your ‘day-to-day’ as if you were lying on your deathbed, and this was your last day on earth.
Would anything you’re doing now, or anything that you’re working towards, qualify for a deathbed mention? Are you creating memories that will make you proud and joyful? Are you focused on meaningful things, or just moving through life chasing the material? Are you stopping to be thankful for the silver linings, or is it easier to complain about these dark corona clouds?
I think I speak for many of us when I say that it’s easier to complain. Just as it’s easier to replace goals that will truly enrich your spirit, body, and soul, with an ambition to acquire things like status, power, and wealth. It’s easier to coast through life without the intention to manifest the best of who you are and make the best of what you have been given.
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That’s a reckless way to live because nothing’s more important than being intentional. It’s a waste of time to live your life without being clear about what you want out of it. You end up wandering about leaking energy on things that won’t benefit you in the long run.
Things that won’t get a deathbed mention because they will have added nothing useful to your days on earth.
But truth be told, even with all my rhetoric, it’s a struggle. This Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world on its head.
So many things that we took for granted have been put into storage indefinitely.
Doctors and researchers are now describing Covid-19 as a systemic disease, not just a respiratory infection. It attacks multiple organs in the body, eventually leading to a failure of the entire system.
Even if you’re lucky enough not to have been symptomatic, you surely have been affected in your mind. The pandemic has affected minds, lives, and livelihoods with systemic and deadly precision.
At the most basic level, many Kenyans are struggling to feed themselves and their families. To pay their rents. To keep clothes on their backs. To make sure their children continue to access some kind of education and to ensure that they maintain a level of stability as the world continues to veer crazily off its axis.
We used to have a rug under our feet, threadbare though it was in places, now we are standing on cold, hard reality.
There is no comfort here. No sense of security. Just a low-key, pervasive sense of dread for the future. We’ve been thrown off course because it’s important for people to feel like their feet are firmly planted on the ground.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been training in martial arts. One of the key lessons you learn early on is to be light on your feet. You have to keep moving, ducking, dodging, guarding, and deflecting.
At the same time, you have to be grounded, otherwise, you will lose your balance. The grounding comes from technique, and the balance comes from a strict focus on your target, and the deliberate quieting of your mind.
It’s easy to interpret being grounded as digging your feet into the earth so that you remain upright. But to be grounded on a spiritual level you need the ability to pivot, to change course, to adapt, and to do it with balance, focus, and a sound mind.
I’m not going to lie, staying calm in the midst of a storm is tough. Especially at a time like this, when the storm is taking people out. When daily updates bring news of sickness and death.
It’s a struggle to keep the train on the tracks, but in the struggle is the opportunity to look inward and reflect.
To create new goals in this neo-Covid-19 season. To change the way we think about life and legacy, and become deliberate about our personal choices. Because the last thing that you want when you come to the end of your life is regret that you didn’t choose the things that really gave you joy.
To quote BJ Miller, a palliative care physician who treats patients with terminal or life-altering illnesses, “(It’s liberating) to realise you can always find a shock of beauty or meaning in what life you have left … we can learn to live well -- not in spite of death, but because of it.”
- The writer is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation