Stoic Tools for a Good Life: The Last Time Meditation
In this second installment of VRBs Stoic Tools for a Good Life series, we're outlining a few actionable tools for improving your life – significantly, quickly, and relatively easily. The goal is to provide straightforward tools you can use today that answer the questions of what, why, and how.
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Today's topic: meditating on the "last time."
"You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think."
— Marcus Aurelius.
It is exceedingly common for people who overcome terminal diagnoses to see their lives in terms of before and after the diagnosis. Before, they often spend their time thinking and acting on the trivial aspects of life as most of us do. Their work consumes them. They find it hard to find time to spend with family. They watch endless hours of TV. They move through their lives in a blur, as if they have an infinite clock with which to live their lives.
Then there's after. It is not uncommon for people diagnosed with or who have beaten terminal illnesses to change their lives wholesale. They take the trip around the world. They give up video games for time with friends and family. They give up the job they hate for one that really matters to them. They make every second count.
At some point, you will say hello to someone you care about for the last time, and you probably won't know when that is. We have a finite number of days of unknown duration to live.
Similar to the stoic tools of negative visualization and memento mori (the practice of meditating on one's own mortality), we meditate on the last time we might do a thing to face the finite nature of life regularly.
Having a finite amount of time available increases the urgency to maximize what time you have left in life. The meaning assigned to seemingly unimportant actions or interactions changes when you're doing something for the last time. We tend to savor the event when we know it will be our last time, even when that event has become rote.
Knowing that you're doing something for the last time increases the meaning behind an activity. If you know you're doing something for the last time you're much less likely to take that thing for granted.
Pre-meditating death, or the last time you'll be able to do something you love, can increase appreciation for the things and relationships we have today. This increased appreciation leads directly to a more enjoyable life today.
By building this meditation technique into your life, you will increase your time spent fully "in the moment" – appreciating what you have; savoring what you're able to do.
Imagine talking to a loved one (mother, father, brother, daughter, best friend, etc.) on the phone. You're half paying attention, half looking at Instagram. She asks about your day, and you say, "it was ok." You absent-mindedly fill the time until it's time to hang up.
Now imagine this is likely the last time you'll ever speak to her. What would you say? Would you still be looking at your phone? Would you fill the conversation with mindless small talk, or would you savor this moment and give it your undivided attention? Would you get off the phone without telling her that you love her?
Incorporate this tool into your life regularly, and you will find yourself engaging deeply in the things and with the people you love. This will make you happier and more fulfilled. Rinse and repeat.
How do you incorporate this into daily life? Easy.
- Periodically pause during the day.
- Consider the fact that there will be a last time you do this activity, and this time might be that time.
- Imagine what that might feel like. What would you lose? What would change? How would that feel? Lean into it
- Sit with that for a few seconds or minutes.
- When you've had enough, take stock of the experience and do your best to internalize the amplified meaning that comes from having rethought your perspective.
- Now take action. This can be as simple as giving 100% of your attention to a conversation or making a point to tell someone you love them.
This concept of pre-meditating the last time you'll be able to do something or your own mortality may sound a little morbid. It's not. I mean, it kind of is, but it's not.
In fact, the opposite is true. Spending time in this headspace can make us happier now and encourages us to live better, more meaning-filled lives.
Try this technique 1-3 times today, and let us know how it goes.