Somewhere recently I came across someone's account of being advised by his meditation teacher to "sit as if you were about to die." The speaker puzzled over that advice for a while before realizing that it's just a variation on "be present." A dramatic variation, sure. If you're about to die, there's no need to worry about taking the garbage out, or to plan your next career move, or to wonder if your butt is too big. There's a lot less room for ego and a lot more room for noticing what's really happening. As Dr. Johnson says, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
I've been working with that idea the past couple of days. If today is my last day on earth, I don't need to worry about my committee laughing at me at my thesis defence. I don't need to worry about anybody laughing at me, in fact, because at the present moment nobody is laughing at me. (Ususally. That I'm aware of.)
I feel a little self-conscious at having re-derived the cliche "Live every day as if it were your last"--but then again, we've all heard it said, but how many times have you thought in detail about what that means to you?
If I knew today were my last day on earth, I would have taken a nap. I would have told a whole list of people that I love them. (If you're wondering if you're on the list, you are. I love you, man.) I would have listened to some good music. I would have picked some violets. I would have winked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I would have put aside worries and fantasies and regrets as much as I could and concentrated on the task at hand.
--so I would have done pretty much what I did today.
...Well, I probably wouldn't have had quite that much ice cream at the departmental lunch. Like Anne Lamott, I want to have eaten dessert on the day I die, but I don't want to have a sugar rush when I go.