That night, I watched Jack Nicholson’s movie The Bucket List, and changed my mind.
This story is the continuation of my previous post in which my friend Gena and I added hang gliding to our joint bucket list. Was hang gliding and The Bucket List movie only about having good times before we die? Or did they have something to do with the deeper issues?
If you’re not familiar with the movie The Bucket List, it’s about billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and car mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) who are complete strangers, until they end up in the same hospital room. They both have a desire to complete a list of things they want to see and do before they die. Against their doctor’s advice, the men leave the hospital and set out on the adventure of a lifetime. And it turns out their adventures help them come to terms with who they are and what they have done with their lives. That’s the part that interested me.
My interest goes back to the 1970s when on a routine annual physical exam my general practitioner announced: Paul, you have a ticking time bomb in you. And if you don’t do something about it, you will be dead soon. Fast forward ten years, and in spite of all my efforts including changing my diet and exercising, my heart went into what they call sudden death syndrome. I won’t go into all the details, but basically, my heart stopped pumping, I went unconscious, and I ended up in a hospital room just like Edward and Carter – twice!.
And like Edward and Carter, after treatment and surgery, I was given a reprieve. But while their story was about remission from cancer for between a month and about year, mine has been about vigorous health and daring adventure for thirty more years and counting.
That experience of sudden death produced no dramatic, heavenly visions at the other end of a long, dark tunnel. But it did produce many important lessons, two of which I’ll share with you now.
Lesson 1: The importance of meditation
Lying there flat on my back on the way into the cardiac surgery operating room, and with no time or strength left to be otherwise, I began the process of stop bullshitting, and becoming who I really am.
I learned that in life threatening circumstances, and at the end of life, this kind of rethinking normally and naturally happens. Maybe it’s because illness and decline causes a sort of forced sitting meditation. You know, don’t just do something, sit there.
And as a result of meditating and being aware of what’s really important, I found myself becoming more courageous, and open, and intimate, and honest. I started to do brave stuff like change my mind, and apologize, and forgive. I could express love where it needed to be expressed. And I managed to find joy in the smallest moments. My motto became: Are we having fun yet? I began to slow down, to let go of unimportant things. My perspective shifted. And the present seemed to actually expand.
Lesson 2: The importance of letting your doing flow from your being.
Have you ever asked yourself the question: What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Well some life coaches say it’s the wrong question. Perhaps the better question is: Who am I being with my life?
And when it comes to the relative importance of doing and being, I’ve become pretty sure that being comes first. What I’m supposed to be doing with my life will flow out of who I truly am. And it might not be by jumping out of an airplane or riding a bull for 2.7 seconds, or completing a bucket list of adventures. As the poet William Butler Yeates said:
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
And the same can be said of being and doing. Living my final chapter is not so much about filling a bucket, as it is lighting a fire, i.e. reFirement.
Conclusion: So I’m taking a hint from how people actually spend their last days. If I really want to reFire my life, then I’m doing some meditation. I’m discovering and expressing my amazing uniqueness in the world. I’m doing the best I can to stop bullshitting. I’m making my bucket list and life story about who I truly am. And I believe that the world needs me to.
I’m not wait going to wait until I’m at the end of my life to find out who I really am, and what’s really important. I’m going to explore how to reverse engineer my bucket list, so it will reFire me become the person I really want to be. More in my next post. In the meantime, check out my FREE eBook, “Retirement Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone”! In it, I’ll share how turned my retirement from the standard “final chapter of decline” into a DARING adventure of becoming the being I was always meant to be!