Before I die I want to.... that was the question sitting there blank on the blackboard. The answer not to be engraved in stone, a fixed and unmoving testament. Just chalk--so it's okay to morph it, play it by ear and adjust to the rhythm of life. I was intrigued by Candy Chang's interactive art projects, as I flipped through the magazine:
"Through a series of large-scale projects that combine installation art with social activism, Chang has encouraged people to engage with public spaces to let their voices be heard. In 2008, while living in New York, she invited Brooklyn residents to anonymously reveal their rental costs on sticky notes posted on a local storefront—helping them determine the fair market value of their apartments. In 2011 she constructed a blackboard over an abandoned house in her current city of New Orleans, stenciling it with the phrase BEFORE I DIE I WANT TO.... Passersby wrote in answers like "go to school," "feed an elephant," and "understand," in chalk. Chang says the project served as a reminder of "what matters to people as individuals and as a community." - Oprah Magazine, "How Candy Changs Public Art Projects Are Changing Communities Everywhere," September 2011
Somehow that story reminded me of at least two things (plus a few interactive art projects I'd been musing around). Before I die, I want to get back to New Orleans to culminate a creative project I started there. Preferably way way before I die, like more like next month. October 2011.
Before I die, I want to be real. In the interest of saving face (clients and potential employers Google our names and hold our vulnerabities and voice against us as I've been told by HR folks...) I've not been sharing much of myself over the last three years. Screw it, I can't pretend and I can't live that way (i.e. meekly, in hiding). Plus, context is everything, and since this site is 100% coming from my lens, my voice, it helps to have a glimpse where I'm coming from and going to.
This is a question I got in my inbox a few months ago from a reader:
I jumped off in late 2004, ever since the surviving the tsunami, I've never again been attracted to that world, but I also try not to be repelled by it either. I was set up to start a firm with some friends, the four of us were going to do a consulting and coaching practice around social media for business when we all came back from holidays, etc. to kick off Jan 2005. Not.
Obviously too much coincidence to just happen to be in Thailand, just happen to be on the beach, when such an unmistakable wake-up call knocks on one's door. I don't exactly go to Thailand every day, or any of the other nations hit [by the Indian Ocean disaster on December 24, 2004].
The peace came because having witnessed the enormity of that disaster and its aftermath (I returned a year later in Dec 2005 for nine weeks), I immersed myself in a monastic life for the next 16 months. My main thing has been enlightenment/self-realization/whatever-name-you-give-it since that time, everything else is a backdrop. Luckily, I didn't leave Bay Area right away as that is where I found my teacher, Adyashanti.
Speaking of Before I Die, I Want to.... this oldie blog post came up as something to share. Especially for those of you who have only been reading for a couple of years. Wow, and Geshe Michael Roach shows up in it pretty prominently in this post after I rustle it up and skim it. I only just re-read my favorite chapter (on the Economics of Limitlessness) and promptly wrote to his office two months ago. I want him to come speak in New Orleans. Why? A hunch.
"Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
August 11, 2005
There's a practice called "Death Meditation" in Tibetan monasteries. The idea you get in your mind when you hear that phrase is probably lying down on a cold piece of sidewalk somewhere and trying to imagine a lot of tubes up your nose, relatives crying at your side, and heart monitors going off with a beeping sound. But this is not the point at all. To put it simply, you just wake up in the morning and stay there in bed, lying down, without opening your eyes. And you say to yourself: "I'm going to die tonight. What would be the best thing to do with the rest of my time?" via Geshe Michael Roach, The Diamond Cutter
Which is eerily similar to this quote I referenced the other day from Steve Jobs:
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. - Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford commencement speech
I suppose you might get the urge to to try skydiving that day, or maybe go sing in a karaoke bar, or get the most expensive tickets to a Broadway play (assuming there's a matinee). The Death Meditation practice has to be done on a regular basis, over an extended period of time - and that's when it has its strongest effect. One result you'll find comes pretty quickly is that you streamline your life: You cut out the things that you own or do that slow you down...
If you were really going to die tonight, would you sit and read through the whole Sunday paper, or most of the magazines you subscribe to? Would you really surf around the TV looking desperately for anything of even minor interest? Would you still go out and spend an hour or two at lunch or dinner, gossiping about the other managers. Decide then: If not on the day I die, then not now either. Because, frankly, it may really be today. - Geshe Michael Roach, The Diamond Cutter
I read these words last night.
I did the Death Meditation this morning. I did not have an intense desire to beam myself to the Parthenon in Greece (I'm an ancient civilization junkie) or bask in the glow of the Taj Mahal at dawn. I'd no desire to bungie-jump into a canyon, or race a car at top speed across the glistening salt flats. You'll say this is only because I've already done many exotic or biochemical fueled adventures. Yes. Run Boston Marathon, check. Run fifty-milers weaving through mountain ridges, below glaciers, facing oceans and fjords, check. Run intense white water, check. Run off to Prague, Hong Kong, Venice, Bangkok, Oaxaca, Tokyo, Auckland, check. Run through matchbox villages, hidden serene canyons, fern chocked valleys, check. Yes - and no. With all I've done there was still...well, more I wanted.
Or was it less?
There was a practical part of me well aware that I have to wrap up my presentation for the BlogBusinessSummit by tomorrow. Can I make the presentation memorable so that if it was the last thing I did it would be worthwhile? So many folks whip together a few bullet points with little feeling for what they are leaving behind. And then there are presentations that seep into you like Julie Leung's on the social masks we wear (you had to be there because the visuals and Julie's presence are inextricable; but here's the audio).
There's a few things I won't get to by tonight. Beginning the book that won't go away or this new blog I'm working on launching. That's ok. But could write a poem. Better yet revise that poem I'm working on. Get the class blog up and share the poem (for my fellow Taos Summer Writers Conference's The Yoga of Writing students). Today.
And if this was the last post I wrote would it be reflective of what I am for? I think of this not only because of this Death Meditation, but I was reminded of it reading Steven Vincent's last post last week (more context: my RIP post). Yes, at any time this could be my last post. That's not meant to stop me dead in my tracks. Unperfect is what blogging is all about (as Tom Guarriello and I joked at a Starbucks in Manhattan when I meant to say imperfect!). There are days where I rant and days I whine. So I wondered: What was my very last post before the tsunami? Yes, thankfully, it's precisely what I'd have left behind. It's titled: A Story of Peace and Goodwill.
I read about the concept of survivor's guilt the other day (why am I alive when all these others perished?). Strange, I don't feel guilty about surviving the tsunami. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and those we lost. I do feel like I have a responsibility to really live and to give and to share.
But the honest truth is I don't feel the quite the same urgency as I did in, say, January without constant reminders.
This morning as I laid there I thought of calling up a few family members and friends and catching up with personal email (including to some of you out there). I called up a friend to go on a hike this afternoon. It's not about the hike, though.
I won't get to it all today, but I get a chance to die again. I hope.
p.s. Just finished The Diamond Cutter (and am still too spellbound to do a proper review). It's hands down the best business book I've read this year - maybe ever. If it matters at all Roach was founder of Andid International Diamond Corporation which has sales in excess of one hundred million dollars a year. He started out as an errand boy (ok, not your typical errand boy - he'd been Princeton-trained and is an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk).