This morning I stumbled upon on a Linkedin post by Blanca Juti. Blanca is a published author, Ph.D., chief brand manager at Rovio and a total badass of a lady. Blanca lives in Finland with her family but is originally from Mexico. In her native country, people are currently celebrating the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos). It’s a ritual that dates back over 3,000 years, draws from Aztecs’ belief in death as merely one part at the wider cycle of existence and is an integral part of the Mexican national identity. Perhaps because of my geographical and cultural distance from Mexico, or for some other reason, I’ve never really given deeper thought to the meaning of this colorful celebration of the what once was. Therefore, Blanca’s post helped shed some light on it:
“Some people may find this morbid, but it truly isn’t. I would say it is the opposite. In the modern world, we sanitize death and keep it away. But death is part of life and there is wisdom in not keeping it at arms length. Celebrating death ultimately means that you celebrate life. You remember with joy those that passed away. You celebrate those that stay.
When you are in touch with death you also see a higher value in life. You understand time is finite and what matters most are those you love. Which often brings me to that powerful quote from Steve Jobs: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
Building on what Blanca wrote, and why I too think we could all use more Día de Muertos in our lives, is indeed eloquently outlined by Steve Jobs in his famous Stanford speech. Naturally, these same ideas have been shared by many others, but this particular speech has become my favorite existential Prozac go-to for those days when I need to just ‘keep it real’ or find a way to rekindle my passion.
Jobs spends a good portion of is his time on the podium speaking about death and his relationship to it. It seems that contemplating death invites us to reflect on our lives and become more conscious about the decisions we make each day. It’s all too easy to get entangled in a routine, switch on mental autopilot and accept that the system just is what it is.
Below is an excerpt of the most important part of Jobs’ speech to me. I invite you to read it (or even listen to it) and spend a minute just holding a curious space for whatever thoughts may surface.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Now ask yourself whether there is something you would need to do or change as of today. The things we choose to engage with on a daily basis are the things that determine how we spend our lives. Time (and love, I believe) are our most valuable assets.
Let’s contemplate death and while doing so, allow this awareness expand to thoughts of what it means to be alive right now. Ultimately, allowing this consciousness inform the decisions we make and color the way we engage with those around us.
Celebrating death and the dead is not merely the celebration of what once was, nor it is only about commemorating our loved ones that have passed away. In a deeper, more existential sense, it is about what will be. It’s a chance to engage in a reflective process that helps us live better lives. Celebrating death ultimately means you celebrate life, as Blanca Juti puts it.
Any given moment is a chance to start something new or leave behind the things that hold you back. There is more strength to us than meets the eye. The pathway to finding this strength often begins with awareness and taking the first step — sometimes into the unknown.
Yours in Sisu, E