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Start with the End in Mind

There is a lot we can be doing with this time of COVID-19 stay at home orders and self isolation.

There is spring cleaning inside, post-winter yard work outside, and countless TV and on-line series to catch up on.  Of course, all of this is possible when we’re not balancing some combination of work-at-home, online-learning support for the kids, managing everyone’s health and stress level and expectations, and trying to keep our personal space requirements in check. Whew! Who says we have more time1

Yes, we may actually need napping and binge-watching as we balance this different kind of busy with the influx of horrific details from the locations hardest hit in an effort to remember why we’re staying away from those we love and sheltering-in-place. And, as was true about life before COVID-19, we need to make discerning choices about what we turn our focus on and allow to fill our time, and what we invite to take up our precious internal space.

Instead of letting the tidal wave of this wild and fearful time take us over and take us down, what if we look at it as an opportunity to pause, to think and reflect? On life, on death, on impermanence, on fear, on grief, on loss, and on how we want to move forward with what we’ve learned?

Admittedly, we may not have the bandwidth for such deep thinking. As traumatic and challenging as things currently are, I’m wondering, how can we get creative and work with the internal space we do have available?

Clearly, end of life issues are at the forefront right now as we witness medical professionals working to beat back death en masse and at all costs, as people are barred from visiting their loved ones, and as many of those currently dying are dying alone. Questions about how we are handling these unthinkable situations if they are in our purview, or how we would handle them if they become so are knocking on each of our proverbial doors. Certainly, we can escape them. But what if we don’t?

Earlier this month, End in Mind founder, Cathy Wurzer posted a powerful quote on social media by Dave Hollis that reads: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”   And, I think it follows, use this time to consider what parts of this new world we are currently experiencing, crazy as it is, are worth bringing along with us as we continue on.

It may feel strange to consider this. But as an end of life doula working closely with the dying, I have been aware for quite some time that we are on the front edge of a transformation in how we look at and work with mortality—both personally, and on a global scale. Of course, I couldn’t have imagined this is how we would get there, but what’s happening now feels purposeful in that we can now see up close and personal how our widespread fear of death is not sustainable for living meaningful and fulfilling lives through to the last breath—for any of us.

We are actually perfectly poised to do something about it, if we don’t turn away; if we choose to engage what is happening instead.

We each have a part to play in how this shift from fear to acceptance happens. It won’t happen overnight, and it likely won’t be enough, in enough time, to systematically influence our current situation. But the more of us who are willing to really take a look at and explore our individual relationship with impermanence—our fear of death and lack of control, our willingness to find some modicum of comfort in the discomfort of the unknown—the more we can ensure this larger shift will indeed take place.

So, maybe the more pressing question to consider is, How do we start?

In her book, The Art of Dying Well, author Katy Butler invites us in this way:

“Have a vision and work back from there. What does a ‘high quality of life’ mean to you now? What steps do you need to take to start living it today?”

Yes! Let’s start with the ending.

In a way, the hardest part of this process of inner inquiry is being done for us in this very moment. As we are in the midst of one of the largest collective upheavals most of us have been alive to experience, it seems we’ve got a bit of a head start in the change-making department! If we each make use of this tenuous COVID-19 climate to play with our vision for the ending we most want to have, and share it with those we love, we can work back from there as we consciously choose which aspects of “normal” are worth going back to, and which are not.

Perhaps in doing so, we will create for ourselves an entirely new normal based upon the values and new discoveries we encounter in our exploration, as what is most essential in our lives bubbles up, and what is decidedly non-essential continues to fall away.

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