While visiting Scotland for the first time, I was met with a shocking, yet obvious, reality – one you could relate to the feeling of a cold breeze sneaking up under your kilt to remind you it’s cold. I was reminded that I am alive. Which, of course, I know, and you know, but how often do we really think about this?
When I arrived in the magical city of Edinburgh, my room was wonderful. I noticed that the view from my window was underwhelming – it was just a dingy stone wall. I was on level -1, so what could I expect?
I made my way up to the roof with my travel companions and we looked out at the Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat – what a view! It was gorgeous. Edinburgh is a very old and beautiful city. It was a real treat. Taking in the views, I meandered over to the other side of the building. There was a lot of activity and tourists below. I watched in neutral curiosity for a few seconds and then it hit me. When my mind met my eyes, or, rather, when they crashed together in that horrifying moment, I realized that it was a graveyard. There was an ancient graveyard on the other side of that wall, right outside my bedroom. And I was sleeping on floor -1.
After two sleepless nights in Edinburgh (and no visible ghosts, btw), my companions and I made our way to Glasgow to meet with another group. As I shared my experience with the last hotel, they were quick to meet me in my horror. In the U.S., graveyards are typically off on their own, certainly not next to homes or businesses. They are separate, because death is not a part of our lives that we acknowledge regularly. Right?
At the hotel in Glasgow, I was getting settled in my room and there was a knock on my door from one of my travel companions. “Did you look out the window?” she asked. Guess what was out my window? If you guessed “another graveyard,” you are correct!
For me, a big part of traveling is just showing up to experience other cultures and learn from them. I set intentions to get out of my comfort zone. Clearly, the obvious presence of a cemetery next too ones sleeping quarters isn’t abnormal in the everyday life of a Scottish local, but it was a bit of a culture shock for me. Comfort zone exited.
That evening, we explored the wonderful city of Glasgow. We enjoyed local music and had some lovely fish sticks and peas. We walked past the Glasgow Necropolis, a huge and gorgeous relic lit up fantastically against the dark city evening. I thought at first that a ‘necropolis’ was a cathedral due to its appearance. I quickly learned that a necropolis is, in fact, a graveyard. Of course it is! We ventured into this ancient graveyard in the dark, feeling apprehensive as we stood among the ancient graves, surrounded by the dead.
When I joked with my fellow travelers and our guide for the trip about my discomfort with all the graveyards of the past few days, our guides response caught me dead in my tracks: he said, “Jasmine, I think the dead are trying to tell you something.” “What?” I laughed – thinking he was teasing me. “They are telling you to live.”
His words stuck with me, perhaps more than he had anticipated they would. I realized that he was right. I am breathing, but am I truly alive?
In the Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes about embracing the angel of death. When I first read this, my mind struggled with my desire to avoid the topic of death. Ruiz says that death is our teacher. “What the angel of death can teach us is how to be truly alive.” It is a “choice to use every moment to be happy, to do what we really enjoy doing” (p.118).
How would you live differently if you received a terminal diagnosis and knew that you only had a short amount of time left to live? When asked what they would have done differently, many people on their deathbeds often share different versions of the same theme: they would work less; spend more time with those they loved; not have waited to do things they wanted to do; and would have cared less what other people think of them. They share their experience from a place we probably can’t fully understand, but their wisdom is invaluable.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you have your diagnosis, as do we all – we are human and only have a limited amount of time on this earth. Death does not need to inspire fear in us. Death reminds us that we are mortals and we must take action to live our fullest and most rewarding lives. We are lucky to have this message while we still have time to act.
Rarely does a day pass without me thinking about that experience in the graveyard in Scotland. Every time I pass a cemetery, I try to pause for a moment, express gratitude for my life, and remember to live. I am so grateful for this mental shift – because it’s an important one. The most important. I do not want to waste my life. I want to live! Do you?
We are alive. Sometimes we just need a reminder.
So, in honor of the simple reminder that you are alive, here are some key things you can do to live your life at its fullest:
1. Participate in life
Stop and smell the flowers, literally. Mindfulness is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that we are here (also a great tool for anxiety). Our senses are a wonderful gift use them! Listen to good music and look at beautiful scenery. Eat delicious food. Show up, even if it means stepping outside of your comfort zone. If something is uncomfortable, be conscious about it. Don’t hide from your life.
2. Get away from technology sometimes
Okay, I get it. I am nowhere near perfect with this either. Most people are shocked when they realize how many hours per week are spent on social media. Even if it’s not that much, it’s too much.
3. Don’t be afraid to make changes
Is there something in your life that isn’t working? Change it. Quit the job. End the relationship. This is hard, and you can have support for these decisions (see below). If something is not bringing you fulfillment and happiness, remember that wherever you are headed, that’s where you are going. Think about it.
4. Take good care of this body that enables your walk through life
Get enough sleep. Eat mostly healthy food. Exercise. It’s simple, but it’s not easy develop healthy habits. Are you a smoker? Drink too much coffee? Addicted to processed foods? Maybe just try to do less harm to your body. That’s great progress.
Seriously, just do an internet search for a topic that makes you laugh, but be careful not to get lost in the rabbit hole of related items.
6. Get some support
Yes, therapy and/or life coaching are an additional expense, but how do you measure the value of a life with purpose and meaning? Get some support, in whatever way it makes the most sense for you. Consider it an investment in yourself!
These tips are a great start, but are only the beginning in the journey to feeling alive. Explore how you want to live and do it. You are given the choice of how you want to spend your time on earth. You can choose to be fully alive, starting now.