On Desires, Deathbeds and Deeds

Now Rules! Instant communications, view-on-demand satellite television, three-minute pasta, real-time financial statistics, always connected mobile phones, feed me, feed me, feed me….. It is ironic, bizarre and sad that none of this ‘in the moment’ living either requires us, or indeed allows us, to be present. Verb, not noun.

What we think we want drives our behaviour and our choices; heck, it defines our playlists. When we have (usually way more than) the basics of what we need to survive, wants seem to swamp us. And wants are always, but always, comparative.  We compare things with what we had previously, or as children. We compare things with what others in our social circles have, or – gasp – what those beyond our social circle either do or don’t have, decide with whom we want to be identified, and pursue those things. We have dictionaries-worth full of clichés that demonstrate this: “when I was younger we did/didn’t…”; “…keeping up with the Jones’s” (as an aside, I’d love to see someday what the Jones’s actually have…); “does your cell phone do THIS? Insert mobile phone name here promises faster, better, more…”.

When you think about it, how does something come into fashion or go out of fashion? What does fashion mean in this sense? It means what (the ubiquitous but ever unseen) They have decided is de rigueur for the In Crowd / A List. I’m busy choosing paint for the house: various shades of brown and cream dominate, with names like Sifting Kalahari Sands, Soft Mushroom, Elephant Hide, Blanched Sunset. That’s another trend to help us think it’s all ok: call something after “raw nature”, and somehow it becomes more desirable or acceptable.

But I’m getting preachy and cynical, forgive me. What I wanted to share is the insight about desires and deeds from five too many – or perhaps simply premature – death-bed experiences of my own. By number 3 I was cool with it, quite keen in fact to explore the other side. But once you know that you’ve run out of time here, in this space, in this life, my word you wish you’d done things differently.  I discovered that fact by number four. (The first two I was too young to really appreciate my role in my own and others’ lives, and for number three I was too wrapped up in my own drama to care). Lying in the Intensive Care Unit, tubes in every natural orifice, and in some unnatural ones created just especially for the event, every cliché ever written about death flowed through me. I was 34. I didn’t regret not making more money. I didn’t regret the car, the house, the rather trivial corporate career. I was however devastated that some people might be left not knowing that I loved them, or perhaps worse, believing that I didn’t. I regretted that I had compartmentalised who I am so much that I was essentially two different people at work and at home. I regretted not pushing my beliefs about sustainability, about our capacity to change our lives, to change the world, with much more fervour. I regretted toeing the ‘acceptable’ line in so many ways. I regretted being scared of the labels, the judgement, and the rejection. I regretted not loving more, and not playing enough.

By DBE (death-bed experience) number five, I got it. I realised what my deepest desire for my life was: basically, why I’m here.  With extraordinarily hard work, I’m finding the courage to live in a way that won’t leave me with the same regrets, even if my death-bed gets made tomorrow. And the utter beauty of what I’ve realised is that we don’t need to nearly die five times for us to understand these things: I’m just a slow learner! Gaining an understanding what is of profound value in our lives and making every decision consistent with that, is what will create sustainable wellbeing, for ourselves, others and the world. Believe me, or not. Maybe I’d rather just invite you to just keep in touch.

About Julie Courtnage

With training in environmental science, I facilitate 'naked conversations' about sustainable wellbeing. Using facilitation techniques, systems thinking, art, music, writing, movement and photography, we explore the active creation of our uniqueness - personal and collective, as individuals, organisations and society - and our relationships with others, with sustainable wellbeing, and with genuine happiness. This journey of creation is a journey of Love. And fun.
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