Living Beyond The Bucket List

The unexpected has no respect for bucket lists.  Our latter years are not all fun and games, and life can and does creep up with the bucket list, however it might be imagined, still glaringly incomplete.  Perhaps a heart attack arrives out of the blue, and things can change.  So it goes for many.

So are there other ways to try to improve the quality of later life and perhaps be better prepared for disability and even death?   Certain philosophies advise us to live as if death were sitting on our shoulder.  Many Boomers may have come across this idea decades ago in the shamanic writings of Carlos Castenada (Don Juan and the Yaqui Indian etc). It’s not an idea that was ever meant to be gloomy, but to wake us up, to bring us into an awareness of the preciousness of life and the need to stay alert so it doesn’t just pass us by while we’re off in our bucket list fantasies.

Maybe you don’t feel ready yet for such serious considerations.  Lighten up, buttercup, you may say.  However like any set of skills or strength training, it’s really best to get started while you’re fit and healthy.  As conscious aging and eldering specialist, Ron Pevny points out in his book, Conscious Living, Conscious Aging,  waiting for wisdom training until one is very old may result in missing the boat.  What’s the use of a bucket without a boat?

For an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Megan Johnston recently interviewed some Australian women with their own unique take on the subject.  Many found severe health crises to be liberating. Mostly the focus was about wake-up calls, healthy changes in priorities, getting off the treadmill, inner contentment, and living life more fully.  Many readers may share this observation, having noticed that such fullness of living is achieved in low adrenaline pastimes like spending time quietly in nature or regularly taking part in simple but powerful practices like meditation, tai chi and yoga.

Johnston shares the story of Nel de Geir, who suffered her first heart event while she was at the hospital where she works as a nurse.  Lucky to be in the right place, that’s for sure.  But perhaps equally fortunate was the meditation practice that she had discovered the previous year.  She found the technique more than just calming and relaxing.  It helped her deal with her fears of death aroused by her serious illness.   With anxiety recognized as the most common type of mental illness worldwide, the ability to reduce anxiety around one’s own illness or dying is a gift that liberates our courageous spirit.

Johnson also interviewed Sydney psychologist Kerrie Noonan, about the taboo we face in Western society around talking about death.  Noonan runs the GroundSwell Project”.  Each year in August  her group organizes a “Dying to Know Day”…. it’s all about increasing “death literacy” i.e. making it easier for people to talk about dying.  You can find more on their website if this is something that interests you.

Of all life’s experiences, “end of life” is surely one of the most personal. Some will think deeply about it for some time and welcome the conversation, others engage more intermittently or hardly at all.  Though noone hopes for unexpected debility, many hope for an unexpected death, like Renaissance French essayist, Michel de Montaigne, whose wish on this subject was: “Let death take me planting my cabbages, indifferent to him, and still less to my gardens not being finished”.

A common thread relevant for most people who wish to live (and possibly to die) well is the idea of cultivating a moment by moment ability to notice and appreciate one’s own life. Enjoy the little things because eventually you’ll understand that they were in fact the big and precious things.  Buckets, parachutes, Tahitian palm trees, helicopter drop-offs on Mt Everest etc entirely optional.

It’s a big topic and time for it to get some airing.  We’d appreciate reading your ideas.


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