“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”
In one of the final chapters of The Obstacle Is The Way, Ryan Holiday talks about how near-death experiences act as a catalyst for people to reinvent themselves and 'emerge from the experience a completely different, and better person.'
In the past 12 months I have thought about death more than any other time in my life. The Base jumping course I attended at Snake River Base Academy begins by sitting down and writing a letter to your family and friends saying that you have died while base jumping, why you chose to do it despite being aware of the risks, and that it was no-one's fault except your own.
They do this for 2 reasons:
1, It acts as their waiver. If you die they are able to produce a handwritten letter saying it was your fault.
2, It makes you really think about what you are about to do. In Base jumping, fractions of a second can mean life or death, so it's definitely not something to be taken lightly.
I attended that course three times last year; twice as a participant and once as an assistant instructor. Each time I wrote a different letter. In the times between I gave a lot of thought to my mortality and I can honestly say that it has made me a better person.
Death is inevitable. It is really the only thing you can guarantee on happening in life but it's also the one area most people don't like discussing or even planning for. This past year I knew two people who died tragically; one in a skydiving accident, the other in a fire. One day they were here and the next they were gone. This was a huge reminder to me of how precious life actually is and how it can all be over so quickly.
Selfie by Snake River Bridge before jumping it — by John McEvoy
Following my initial Base course I started writing more letters to friends and family, and making audio recordings with the intention that they would only be read or heard if I happen to die unexpectedly. When I am going out to make a jump I am fully aware that there is a chance that I may not come home. People may think that's morbid but actually it has the opposite effect on me and my interaction with those around me. I'll be eating dinner with my wife or walking my dog and think 'This may be the last time I ever do this' and it forces me to be present and savour the moment.
I want those I share time with to remember those moments as being ones where I was connected to them and showing I care for them, rather than being distracted, playing on my phone, or whatever. I am not saying I am perfect in these actions - far from it - but having those thoughts is extremely beneficial to me and those around me.
I can honestly say that I do not fear dying. I know it is coming eventually and when it happens, it happens. The world will go on as normal.
Having said that I want those I care about to know that I care about them after I am gone. I want something to exist in my place. This also makes me want to set high goals and accomplish big things while I have the opportunity. Tomorrow, I could be in a car crash and end up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. For me, this is not a reason to play it safe and be conservative, it's a reason to go after what I want even more. Base jumping is what pulled this to the front of my mind but, increasingly, I'm applying it to everything in my life.
You do not need to have a close call or traumatic event happen for you to view the world this way. You just need to acknowledge the fact that someday you will be gone. Being prepared for your own mortality can give you enormous perspective on how you want to spend the life you have.