A harsh truth

In the end, all of us die.

We’ll lose all our relationships and all our possessions. As will everyone else we know.

What to do with all of this?

You could slip into a denial of life itself, as many people do. If it’s all going to end, and if you can’t have immortality for yourself, your ideas or your projects, you could lose yourself in a sea of triviality: toys, distractions, status symbols, diversions. You could numb yourself, turning away from life so you can avoid the anxiety of facing its finiteness. If you’ve never really lived, perhaps life’s end will exact less of a price.

Our you could try frantically to build, to make a mark so you’ll be remembered. At least this way it looks like you’ll have a way of cheating death. Inflate your ego, shout the loudest, build the tallest, be the richest, out-fame the famous. Make a name for yourself, whether for good or for ill. But, apart from for the tiny handful of people whose fame is enduring, within a couple of generations your name, all your achievements, what we take to be your legacy will be gone: all faded into the vast, anonymous, shifting background of human life.

The problem with both of these responses is that they put you at the centre of the world. They’re an attempt to force life to treat you on your terms alone, to give you what you want because you won’t take life as it is.

Instead, and more meaningfully, you could turn into the fierce heat of life itself. Understand that the point of life is life, and that you cannot be separated from it. Discover all the ways in which you are an expression of a process that is immeasurably bigger than you are and is at the same time undeniably part of you.

From here, the response to your own life’s finiteness is no longer cheating death but finding a way to contribute to life’s unfolding.

This calls on us to connect deeply with others, to contribute generously without knowing what will come from it, to find the courage that comes from openness and vulnerability, to speak out, to lessen suffering, to cultivate dignity, to seek wisdom, to create, to teach, to innovate, to serve. And to do all this as an expression of whatever work we’ve taken up in the world: running a business, founding corporations, mastering a profession, raising a family, inventing technology, leading a team, educating people, designing a product, investing in markets, delivering the numbers.

All of this is what makes possible living life not as a way of getting what you want, but as a contribution. And perhaps it’s also a way of living life as a work of art.