Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Have to be Present to Win

Be where you are or you will miss your life. –Buddha

Several people I know died last year. People my age. People who were busy making other plans that did not include dying. So besides missing them, I’ve had my own mortality in my face, up close and personal. And if I didn’t realize it before, I certainly realize now that life is short. While I’m worrying about all the things that might happen in some future I might not even live to see, I’m missing my life right now.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is just showing up. It’s like that contest rule, “You have to be present to win.” There is nothing like spending time with a dying friend to remind you about priorities, about living each day like the precious gift that it is, about not wasting time, about showing up, about being present to win.

I remember an afternoon I spent with my friend Greg the week before he died. He was not up and about too much, so we just lay on the bed and chatted. Thanks to the miracle of morphine, he was not in a lot of pain. He thanked me for stopping by, but it was I who was grateful for the time with him, to laugh, to remember life, to ponder death, to appreciate our friendship, to rest in the present moment together.

My friends gave me many gifts during their lifetimes, but with their deaths they gave me the gift of an intense appreciation for the preciousness of every day.

In his book You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Our appointment with life takes place in the present moment.” We miss so much of our lives because we just don’t show up. My conversation with Greg reminded me to show up for my appointment with life. On time. Every day. With joy.

Life is short, and we have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel this way with us. Oh, be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. –Henri Frederic Amiel


  1. You are here now, and I am happy to be here to exchange ideas. While I fully expect to make way for others someday, I find no sadness.

  2. There is so much love and joy surrounding us. If you sing and dance and follow at least one passion, who has time to dwell on dying.

  3. I love this post. I was with my Dad his last week of life and when he took his last breath.

    Your ending quote is wonderful, especially the part...Make haste to be kind.

    Your blogging friend,

    Ellen Marie

  4. Hi Galen.....wise post only go around once.....being in the "now" is the only way to do it.



  5. Hi Galen,

    I am sorry to know that death has taken away people close to you. It is really hard when you know that this separation is final.

    A little while ago, I told someone dear to me that all we have in life are moments. Nothing really lasts forever and if we do not treasure and make use of these moments with the people we love to the fullest, we will have regrets instead of fond memories.

    As you rightly point out, we must truly appreciate the moments we have with intensity and show up in each moment.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  6. JJ--Yes, it's the natural order of things. I am content also. Thanks for your comment.

    Manzanita--As the Tao Te Ching says, if you know how to live, death has no place to enter. Singing and dancing all the way! Thanks for commenting.

    Ellen Marie--I like that quote, too. Our former pastor said that at the beginning of the benediction every Sunday. I have memorized it. Thanks for your comment.

    Jo--Well said. Thanks for your comment.

    Irving--Welcome back, my friend. Thank you for sharing that lovely and wise sentiment.

  7. I haven't yet learned to live in the moment much, but I remember my mother's last few days and her final moments. I was absolutely there, right there, in those moments.

  8. I love what you shared about what Thich Nhat Hanh said. Yes, it is about showing up and being fully present. That way, we will die without regrets.

  9. It is so true that we do not know the day or the hour of our end, so each moment should be lived to the fullest. Thanks for makin' me think...

  10. Hi Galen,
    Thank you for sharing so succinctly and powerfully from your heart. Spending time with the dying is an enlightening experience. When viewed rightly, we see that death is just as natural and beautiful as birth. I too, felt immense gratitude for being privileged to spend time with a dying friend - it was a great service and gift he gave me. One that I carry with me everyday.

  11. How important it is to be here in the moment, to remember death will take us away one day without knowing when.
    My worries and fears seem useless when I read these lines. I should better appreciate the beauty of being alive, reading these words of wisdom. Thank you.

  12. Lovely reminder Galen :-)

    I spent today at the hospital with my youngest daughter. She underwent surgery at 10.30 am and came out of theatre around 2. During that time I doodled and wrote a few words on my blog but my heart wasn't in it. My heart was with her... and what on earth I would do if I lost her. It was a huge wake up call. We take life [and health] for granted... until reminders like this come along and give us the king sized boot in the pants we need... to simply get on with it and do what we must... not tomorrow... or on some dark distant day... but TODAY. Right here... right now... right away.

    She's doing fine tonight by the way [thank God]

    Thanks Galen :-)

  13. This is an absolute truth that I have come to appreciate by working in a Chemotherapy unit with people who have been diagnosed with cancer. I realized that the only difference between myself and them is the few seconds it takes to hear the words "You have cancer". Life changes in that instant. I have learned to appreciate my health more than I had and more importantly I have learned to appreciate each and every moment I am given and to spend it wisely and to try to be loving in all things that I do and say. Thank you Galen, for communicating this truth in the way that only you can :)

  14. Sorry for your losses Galen. I like what Steve Jobs says, "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've encountered to help me make the big choices in life.There is no reason not to follow your heart."

    Life is wonderful when we live each day like we were dying. than we enjoy the little things and enjoy people rather that material things.

    Great wake up post Galen and blessing to you,

  15. Linda--Sometimes I think back to a moment when I was fully present, like you were with your mother. Remembering the experience of being fully present can sometimes bring me back to now. Thanks for commenting.

    Evelyn--Dying without regrets. I think for me that means, besides being present, forgiving myself for the regrets I already have. Your comment made me reflect on all the practices of self love that you are writing about in your new book. Thanks for commenting.

    Clint--We don't know, just as you say. That can be scary for some, but it can also awaken us to live fully right now. That doesn't mean throwing off responsibility, but it does mean appreciating what we have. Thanks for your comment.

    rob--You raise an important point. Death is as natural and mysterious as birth. When my mom was dying, she said she was curious about what would happen. I loved her open attitude. Thanks for your comment.

    Marie--I have to remind myself of these truths all the time. It's so easy to forget in the hectic pace of my everyday life. Thanks for commenting.

    Jean--I share your gratitude to God for bringing your daughter safely through surgery. A sick child can quickly reset our priorities! Thanks for your comment.

    Denise--I got chills when I read your description of those few seconds when your life changes. I have this sense that people who work with people who are dying or who have life threatening illnesses, are very much aware of the gift of each day. Thank you so much for sharing these powerful words.

    Debbie--Live each day like we are dying. That is the key. Not in a morbid way--in a life affirming way. Thank you for your comment.

  16. A very insightful post today! I was a Hospice nurse for a few years. I remember sometimes when I wasn't feeling well and I would force myself to go to work. After visiting a few patients; I was so much better. Right now I attend some meeting for the Daughter Of The Utah Pioneers. I have ancestors that were pioneers. Everytime I attend a meeting I look around at all of the woman which are mostly in their 70's and 8o's. I love being around them; but I sometimes looks at them and think I am going to be just like that in 5 to 10 years. Yes, I am a big believer in enjoying the moments of our lives. Thanks for the reminder and blessings to you!

  17. Being present is so important, and it's too bad it isn't emphasized enough in school. I know I spent most of my life up to adulthood trying to be somewhere else in my mind. Later experiences encouraged me to be here, while my body's here.

    Your reminiscence about your friend was poignant. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. This virus I am presently living with and trying to separate from just does not want me to get out of bed in the mornings - all my get up and seize the day is missing. I know that sleep is a great healing force and necessary...I am learning how to be grateful for the cozy feel of the sheets and blanket and the warmth of the comforter and then just so happy that I have to get to the bathroom and get moving...feet to floor.
    Today I was walking with ZIP and ran into a pre-school class discovering the joy of nature to make mobiles Now there were 6 souls open to the full experience of the moment and the earths treasures...
    Being present

  19. LeAnn--Thanks for sharing your experiences as a hospice nurse and with the pioneer women. Yes, we'll all be there. Thanks for your comment.

    Mikey--I spent most of my adulthood that way, too, not just childhood! Thanks for commenting.

    Patricia--Love the image of the pre-schoolers making nature mobiles! Thanks for your comment.

  20. “Our appointment with life takes place in the present moment.”

    Yes, every moment. I remember my parents last days and am grateful I had the chance to visit from so far away. We were all with my Mom at those last minutes that Hospice prepared us for.

    For me all moments, both good and bad, happy and sad, count as equal. The difficult experiences-being more intense at times-make me even more aware of that moment, a living moment in life that I value more and more each day.
    Great post, Thanks...

  21. Loved this post. And I am using my NOW to tell you Thanks ;)

  22. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.

  23. Barbara--Thank you for making an important point about all moments being precious, without judging them good or bad. Thanks for commenting.

    Sparkylauris--Thanks! (Looks like you intended to add something but it didn't show up in the comment.)

    Kara--Thanks for your comment.

  24. Your post really makes me think. It's true that we plan our lives but all we know we really have for sure is this moment. A good friend of mine died a few months ago. She really wanted to live and had young kids.There was so many things she still wanted to do. Her death really shook me. Thanks for this post....

  25. Sarah--I'm so sorry about your friend. As her kids get older, I'm sure they will treasure your memories of her. Thank you for sharing your comment.

  26. hi Galen
    its my first visit here and i like your blog
    i have a friend who passed away this year as well
    good bless em all

  27. Farouk--Welcome! I'm so pleased you stopped by. I'm so sorry about your friend. Thank you for sharing a comment.


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