Mortality: Life May Be Shorter Than You Think

Mortality - Life May Be Shorter Than You Think


Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying.


We’d all like to believe that we will live well into our 90s, or at least our 80s.  But it’s not possible for all of us to live that long. None of us think WE will be the ones to get cancer early or die from other causes. But we will. A significant percentage of people reading this will not be here in 5 years.

That includes you, and that includes me as well. We don’t like to think about that fact. But there may be positive, life-affirming reasons to take very seriously our mortality, and its unpredictable nature. For one thing, when we really accept that time may be short, we forgive others more quickly and we keep our priorities straight. But accepting our situation regarding death confers us many such advantages.

Mortality Creates Morality (and Passion)

Our knowledge that life is finite can be annoying, depressing, enraging, or, for a lucky few, unremarkable and un-moving. But whatever painful thoughts and feelings this knowledge may bring, knowing that life is finite, and usually ends without our own consent, allows us to see that our acts are lasting and significant, and not necessarily revokable. To understand that our actions have consequences and we may not have time to remediate those consequences, makes us more aware that we have a responsibility toward others.  This is a basis for moral, ethical living.  On the more positive side, knowing that our time may be short — shorter than we’d prefer — can spur us to live more fully and passionately.  Carpe Diem, seize the day: gather ye rosebuds while ye may!

Loving Kindness Arises from Mortality

Knowing that we are all “in the same boat,” we naturally become more compassionate toward others. Seeing that we all suffer with the knowledge that we will all die, and that most of us will have serious illness during our lives, as well as lose loved ones to illness and death, we can understand that what we suffer, others suffer too. We can open our hearts to others and become more connected to them in so doing.  Also, knowing that death may come anytime, we may be more mindful of our relationships to others, more willing to forgive minor spats because, after all, our time may be quite short.

Pettiness SHRIVELS in the light of mortality.

Mortality is Motivating

Truly accepting that death may come much, much sooner than we think or hope offers us a sense of urgency.  Do you want to do something with your life? Get on with it, because time may be shorter than you think. Whatever you are passionate about, get on with it. Don’t wait for “obstacles” within you to somehow disappear, through therapy, drugs, meditation, or whatever means your mind considers. GET ON WITH IT! It’s later than you think!

Mortality Builds Mindfulness, Mindfulness Means Passion

Living fully requires the ability to be PRESENT in THIS moment. When we live constantly lost in thoughts, stuck in our minds, we cannot appreciate this life. We cannot live fully. This is a choice we make, though we may not see that we make it. Mindfulness means choosing to live in THIS moment regardless of our mind’s insistence that we return again and again to infertile, circular, repetitive thinking. You CAN do it! You can practice returning again and again to the present moment, and notice the fruits of doing so over time. No words you read can convince you of the value of mindfulness. But perhaps motivated by your limited time, you might decide to see for yourself whether practicing mindfulness enriches your life. With possibly just a few years left here, with possibly so little time, wouldn’t you like to be fully present — at least sometimes? Wouldn’t you like to really see beauty, smell nature, hear music, laugh with others, feel deeply your connections to others, and really experience this life fully?

Mortality brings an urgency to this question. Knowing that our time may be short can powerfully motivate us to practice mindfulness, the most important skill set we can possibly learn, because mindfulness allows us to live as we choose, regardless of our circumstances.

Do you experience mortality as a source of motivation?

Have you had brushes with death that have opened up your world view?


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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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