I recently watched a TEDX video, Dream Big, Live Small with Dee Williams, who shared how her illness and life changing experiences dramatically transformed her perspective on life and living. She shared about how her fears about her own mortality changed her perspective, caused her to reflect on her life and make some drastic changes. These changes included selling her home and getting a much smaller home (some would say tiny one bedroom, 7 windows and 4 wheels) and also disposing of most of her belongings(limiting herself to about 300 possessions). As I listened to her story I marveled to myself – How deep, moving and thought-provoking? Though some of us could never envision making those far-reaching changes, her story caused me to ponder on the question, how much do we really need? As she continued her talk, she asked, “If you were to die today, what new purchase or possession would want to hold in your arms as you die? Which favorite place or space in your house could accommodate your last breath?”
The powerful question on what possession I would want to hold in my arms as I died, truly resonated with me, and occupied my thoughts for a while. I couldn’t help thinking about how disconnected some of us have become from what truly matters in life. After mulling over the question, I could not think of any possession or item that I have, or hope to acquire, that I would want to hold in my arms as I die. The best I could come up with is that, I would want to hold my daughter or have her there. I don’t mean to sound morbid or depressing, but I think it was important enough for me (maybe you) to think about and share here in this post.
But as Dee Williams also pointed out, people don’t like to talk about their mortality, because we are uncomfortable with death. But seriously, what possession/item would you want to have in your arms when you die?
I also can’t help thinking about how the spirit of materialism and consumerism have come to drive our lifestyles and influence our perspectives about what we believe to be necessary, what we think we need to be comfortable or even happy. And though I am not advocating that we give up our creature comforts (Which may differ from person to person), I do think that each of us should spend some time reflecting on what we really need to live and survive. Moreover, we should perhaps go a bit further and ask ourselves why we need to acquire some of these things. Do we need the item(s) because it’s the current trend? Or is because it suggests status (Keeping us with the Jones’es) or help us fit into our social circles? I’m not by any means judging anyone for these are valid questions. But, I believe the answers to those questions can perhaps bring some of us, greater peace, less stress, and reduced debt as we come to realize that, none of those things truly matter. Our possessions won’t bring us the happiness or security we want and seek. In fact, in some places, the very possession of those things, may make one more insecure and prone to threat or a targets for thieves.
These consumer mindset and behaviors have also affected our attitudes towards food. In that, our consumption patterns have led us to eating more than we need, resulting in an increase in lifestyle diseases, that afflict so many people year after year, at an increasingly younger age. Adding to that, some of us have embraced the perspective of living to eat and not eating to live. Inherent in these different perspectives, is the recognition that we should not be slaves to food or any other item /possession. In fact we should use these “things” to serve/sustain us well. For as with make-up and many other things less can be more and more isn’t always better.
Unfortunately though, some of us won’t ever come to these realizations until we hit rock bottom or find ourselves having to make do with less than we are accustomed to. Sadly, some people will not be able to adapt, adjust or even make the necessary changes and this may only bring greater peril/ hardships and heartaches. Another likely pitfall is that some of us may begin to identify ourselves with our physical possessions, as the things we own begin to define us, and give us validation/meaning. Chances are if we were to do away with some of the things we have, our homes would be cleaner and neater. We would live healthier lives, have less debt, experience less stress and we wouldn’t even miss them. People can be held back their physical possessions as much as emotional baggage. In so doing, we miss the things that matter most, our experiences with family and friends and even people who we don’t know.
How then do we avoid all of this?
- Shift your perspective from acquisition mode, which is the need to rush to acquire the next big or new thing. Often times we find ourselves with stuff we don’t need or even truly like (such as the clothes we don’t wear).
- Truly pause and reflect on your life and life itself. Find out what truly matters to you, not your friends or family, and spend your time focusing on just that. Only then will you find true happiness.
- Collect experiences instead of stuff/things. Someone once said “The best and most beautiful things in life are free and are felt in the heart”. Take your cues from that and whatever you discover about yourself, make your changes accordingly.
- Be more humble. Be more grateful for what you have. Be more present in the here and now.
- Most importantly, resist the urge to compare yourself to others. You don’t know their true story, only what they project.
Finally, I will ask you what Dee Williams asked her audience “Are you doing the work you can do? Are you being the person you can you be? Are you learning about the truly important things- humility, gratitude and grace?
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So true. It takes strong faith to accept that life is short and to hope our best is good enough.