Category Archives: Don’t Wait

Reflections on Mortality: There’s No Time To Wait

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the mother of someone very close to me. In the mist of the deceased’s loved ones mourning the loss, I inevitably reflect on our mortality and if there is a silver lining to someone’s passing, its the reminder to those left behind of how brief and precious life is.

In 2004, at the age of 58, my mother died of cancer. I wrote about how this event changed me previously (link below) so I won’t retread that theme, but I do want to highlight how keeping an acute awareness of how little time we have on this world is key to having a full, fulfilling and authentic life. A month before she died, I took her and my father to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She had previously never been out of the country. She knew her prognosis: her lifespan was no longer measured in years but in months and days. But the magical part was: I had never seen her so happy. Wheelchair bound, she reveled in bouncing along the bumpy, cobblestone streets, taking in the bright colors of the painted buildings, fabrics and glassware. She loved bartering with the merchants and ordering exotic and beautiful food she knew she would not be able to eat. Sitting on the beach, she watched the ocean for hours.

On the day before we left I pushed her wheelchair out to the sand and we sat and watched the sun set over the ocean. We were quiet for a long stretch of time before she spoke.

“It’s so great to be here, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I love Mexico.”

“Yes, but I mean it’s so great to be here.”

And then I knew what she meant. It was great to be here, alive, now, in the present moment. And I could feel the bittersweet realization she had come to, and I witnessed the sense of peace, not regret, that it gave her.

My mother was able to experience the preciousness and beauty of the world in a heightened way because she knew her time was limited.

But here is the truth that we all run from: Time is limited for all of us. But when we don’t have death breathing down our necks, when we can look to the “indefinite” future that we all believe is our destiny, what do we do?

We procrastinate. We delay. We put off our big dreams and follow the path of least resistance, letting ourselves become consumed with the minutia of the day-to-day trials. This is choosing to live in a false reality. We don’t have the time to put off what we truly want to have in our lives. There is no perfect time to do anything, there is only now.

Start the business of your dreams.

Write your book.

Travel to that exotic land.

Learn that new language.

Ask that girl out.

Help that person in need.

Tell everyone you love that you love them, and I hope you find love for everyone.

Do it today.

 

Read “Six Life Changing Lessons I learned from My Mother’s Terminal Cancer” here:

Six Life-changing Lessons I Learned from my Mother’s Terminal Cancer

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

 

If you like the blog, the best way you can support it is by sharing it with others. Abundantbohemian.com. And thanks.

Six Life-changing Lessons I Learned from my Mother’s Terminal Cancer

1.Sometimes you don’t know whether something is good or bad until much later. 

I lived my entire life in Ohio and when I graduated law school, I wanted to experience something different.  I was fortunate to land a job with a small firm in Golden, Colorado, a small town outside of Denver nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  The locale was beautiful, the city life vibrant, and I spent weekends hiking, cycling and enjoying life in what remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in the world.  But I was struggling with my job: I was barely eeking out a living, I didn’t enjoy the work, my boss and I didn’t click.  Less than two years after arriving, I got an offer out of the blue from a firm back in Ohio that would double my income and offer better opportunity for growth.  Logically, it was a no-brainer, but I still felt like I was giving up, taking the easy way out, going home with my tail between my legs.  A few short years after coming back, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and she died nine months later.  Those nine months I spent with her—able to spend it with her because I lived in the same town—were irreplaceable; some of the most important moments of our relationship happened then.  This could not have happened if I was still living in Colorado. Instead of feeling like a failure, I now understand what a monumental gift I was given in the opportunity to come home at the time I did.

 

2.Happiness can still be found in the most despairing moments.

As anyone who’s experienced cancer or has had a loved one go through the ordeal knows, it is horrendous experience.  I watched my mother shrivel in size, constantly feel sick, have excruciating pain.  But my mom became awake in a way she had never been before.  She opened up and shared things with me that I never knew about her.  She valued each moment of beauty she was given, and this rubbed off on the people around her.  She suffered from stomach cancer and her stomach was surgically removed in an attempt to stop the disease spreading.  Despite this, when we went to Mexico the last month of her life she ordered exotic foods to experience new things even if it meant only nibbling at them.  She had no stomach, and found a way to enjoy beautiful meals with her family.  Joy is present in everything if we are strong enough to find it.

 

3.We don’t have time to put off important things until later.

Whether we die in our twenties or live to a ripe ninety, our time here is brutally short.  My mom wanted to travel, but there were always things taking priority, always something else to get done.  When she got to Mexico she reveled in it—spending hours communing with the ocean, having a Pina Colada for the first time, haggling with merchants.  I wish she could have had many more of these experiences.  Within the past month a friend invited me on a trip to South Africa, and it took me about 30 seconds to commit to going.  Seeing every continent is on my bucket list, and after this year, I will only have two to go.  Yes, this will cost time and money.  But these experiences are what I value, much more so than a newer car, bigger home, or fancier watch.  I’m not going to let them slip by.  If you want to write a book, write now.  If you want to paint, paint now.  If you hate your job, change it.  There really is no tomorrow.

 

4.Not everything happens for a reason, but value can still be drawn from awful things.

If you tell me that my mom got cancer because “everything happens for a reason” or “its part of God’s mysterious plan” I will probably punch you in the face.  Cancer and other tragedies may have causes, but they are tragedies, mostly random, and not part of the Universe’s grand scheme.  But watching my mother’s courage, the joy she took in life even while in pain, her acceptance and offering of love amidst hopelessness, forever changed me for the better.  I am a deeper, more empathetic, more present person solely because of my experience of her suffering and death.  I will not undervalue that gift she continues to give me, ten years on.

 

5.Petty things do not matter.  Ever.

That slight that your coworker gave you, the aggressive driver that cut you off, the hatefulness of the pundit on tv, the remote control that doesn’t work, the computer that crashes.  These things are irrelevant inconveniences that have no effect on your life except that which you give them.  They are as relevant as the puddle you step over to cross the street. Stop giving them importance they do not deserve.  I’ve had full days ruined because I’ve obsessed over a perceived insult. Whole days lost because I gave that power to someone else.  No more.  If you feel slighted, feel it, acknowledge it, laugh at it, and let it go.  As Wayne Dyer says, other peoples’ opinions of me are none of my business.

 

6.Happiness doesn’t exist without sadness.

Like yin and yang, dark and light—we can’t truly experience, understand or value true joy and happiness unless we’ve experienced it’s opposite.  And don’t worry—you won’t have to seek it out: sadness, loneliness, heartbreak and loss will find us all eventually.  But knowing this gives happiness a value and a meaning that it would not otherwise have.  We must revel in our moments of bliss.  We must turn over every rock and look behind every tree to find joy.  But for the sadness of the inevitable moment of death that was coming for my mom, I wouldn’t have had those deep, long moments of true connection.  It took the sadness to push us deeper into our happiness.  We built happiness out of sadness.  Everyone can do this, even when things seem darkest.  Look for the light in the dark.  And if its not there, light a candle and make it exist.

 

 

Thanks, mom.

 

Want to See the World? Do it Now. Here’s How.

After listening to the wonderful Ted Talk “Before I die, I want to ___________” by Candy Chang,* I requested people answer that very question on my Facebook page.  Of the many eclectic answers I received, the highest percentage of responses (40%) expressed a desire to travel, explore and experience the world and other cultures.

I was pleased to hear this as travel is an opportunity that is achievable by almost everyone.  But I was surprised by how many expressed their desire as something to do in the indefinite future, something that would be nice, but not necessarily plausible in the short term.  If you are deferring seeing the world, I encourage you to reconsider.  The experiences you would have now cannot be deferred and are well within your grasp if you are willing to make different choices.  When it to comes to killer traveling tips, I defer to Chris Guillebeau.**  But a simple way for anyone to succeed quickly at being able to explore the world is this: sacrifice your short distance travel for your long distance travel.

Short distance travel is how you get from point A to point B day-in and day-out, every day.  To work, to the grocery story, to the kids’ soccer practice.  Long distance travel is how you achieve that grand experience of stepping out of what’s known to the unknown, the faraway, the exotic, the new, the challenging and life changing.  How do you achieve one by sacrificing the other?  We in the United States, spend, often unthinkingly, an inordinately large amount of our income on our automobiles.

According to a study in by AAA, owning an automobile costs Americans an annual average of $9,122 for a sedan, and $7,000 for a small car and $11,600 for a SUV. The costs included expenses such as fuel, maintenance, insurance, tires and depreciation, but NOT a monthly car payment.

The average cost of a new car hit a new record in August 2013: $31,252.

The average car payment? $630 a month.

That’s a lot of money—our life energy—used to get back and forth from places; money that could take us to the Great Wall of China, to Bali, or to Stonehenge.

But we can change that.

Option 1: You sacrifice the short term by getting rid of your car if you live somewhere with quality mass transit.  Get rid of the auto expense altogether.

Option 2: Reduce the costs of your car by getting rid of your expensive car (or preferably, not buying it in the first place) and opting for something reliable and less expensive.  And then keeping it for a long time.  The money many of us spend on car payments—most of which will never be recovered due to depreciation—can provide invaluable travel experiences.

For example, if you kept your “old” car for one extra year instead of purchasing a new one with the average $630 car payment, here are a few things you could with that money that I randomly found in about ten minutes of searching:

1. For one-month’s car payment, you could buy a roundtrip ticket from San Francisco to San Jose, Costa Rica.

2. For two month’s car payments ($1,260) you can fly from Dayton, Ohio to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (I just bought this ticket for the World Cup this summer) or go to Paris from Chicago and have some money left over.

3. A year of not making this car payment will pay for a weeklong African safari.

The list goes on an on.  We say we want to see the World.  Now let’s give this desire the priority it deserves.  Happy travels!

 

*  http://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to.html

**  http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/

What is an Abundant Bohemian?

 

A bohemian is at his her or core, is simply someone living an unconventional life.  Many associate bohemianism with scarcity, living the “starving artist” lifestyle.  But many people, through many ways, have carved out a purposeful existence, a life of fullness, autonomy and compensation to meet their needs, monetary and beyond without handing over the leash to Big Company, Inc.  This site and the book tells their stories and the lessons they have for all of us.