I was reading a list of 100 pieces of advice from centenarians, and one of the more common things that was said was don’t die early. On the surface that sounds pretty basic, the biggest obstacle to living to 100 would be dying at 50. But yet, I don’t think the interviewees were talking about physical death. You can die long before your heart stops beating. In this case I am talking about mentally or spiritually dying; dying on a soul level if you will.
This dying at a soul level is akin to giving up. Death on a soul level has nothing to do with what religion you profess or if you even profess a religion. Soul level death is insidious because on the surface you are still alive, and yet deep down you have given up.
I know how easy this kind of death can be, because there have been three instances where I began the process of soul death. Each time it was a different circumstance and a different manner, but the result was the same, I was down and ceasing to live a full life. The first time, I basically just fell into the soul killing pattern of work, watch TV, go to sleep, work, watch TV, go to sleep, etc. I wasn’t engaging. The second time was right after I had gotten back from Hunan, and I was so disappointed in coming back to America, that I continued to live in the past. I basically shutdown and refused to move forward. I couldn’t let go of an awesome experience and instead I became a real pain in the butt to those around me. Luckily my friend told me that I was really annoying and I needed to be present rather than living in the past.
The most recent incident of soul death in my life was probably the worst. I have been living in Beijing for about two and a half years, Beijing is one of the world most unfriendly cities according to a survey, and after being here a while I thought things should be getting easy I found them to be getting harder. On closer examination, I realized I had given up trying to understand Beijing and live within the tension and had started demanding that Beijing become logical (to be fair to me, Chinese people are crazy and nothing makes any sense here). This was all on the subconscious level; I wasn’t running around Beijing yelling at bad drivers and people pooping on the sidewalk.
I realized that the feeling of being other had finally gotten to me, I am a 6’1’’, 285 pound, bald white guy, who doesn’t really speak Chinese, living in a country of small, not white people, who do speak Chinese. As much as that makes me stand out, what makes it worse is that the Chinese go to great lengths to point out how much you stand out. It got to the point where I was just trying to hide and create some normalcy, which in and of itself isn’t bad thing, I but I created a paradox in which I was living in china, but trying to negate the fact that I was living in China and it put me into a pretty big tailspin. Luckily a couple of my friends managed to snap me out of it.
I have been really thinking about this a lot lately, and I came across some quotes that I feel really sum up what is at the heart of the matter here. The great leadership and self-help guru Robin Sharma said, “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life”. Mel Gibson, in the movie Braveheart, said, “All men die, not all men really live”.
It is so easy to fall prey to this soul death. It basically happens when life doesn’t live up our expectations and we start to withdraw parts of ourselves as a way of minimizing the damage. When this happens we engage less, and when we do engage it usually in a negative way, i.e. complaining, sarcasm, cynicism, or criticism. A constantly negative outlook is the major warning sign that it is time for introspection.
This self-examination is necessary to getting to a place where you deal with this. You have to be willing to dig deep into yourself and face your fears and foibles. It hurts but it’s rewarding.
Living is not just something we do as long as we’re breathing; it’s something we do as long as we’re engaging. Living is something that happens when we stop fearing. Living is something that happens when we stop worrying about the status quo and start worrying about who we were made to be and the impact that that person has on the world around them.
So look deep inside yourself. Search for the real you, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Live my friends, and live well.