Tag Archives: death

The Difference Between Living And Existing

During my lifetime I have done several big changes of direction, often kicked off by a strong gut feeling. Some of the changes have been jumps into the unknown.

At the moment I am again planning something new, and as I’m not young any more, I have asked myself what it is that still pushes me forward – while some of my friends are already talking about retiring.

A couple of days ago I was in the middle of these thoughts. I was doing some daily chores at home. Suddenly my own thoughts caught me by surprise. I noticed myself thinking: “I don’t want to die before I die!”

“That’s a strange thought”, I thought. And then I thought: “But it is actually an interesting thought.”

After that came the next thought: “I really want to live until the day I die.”

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Not to die before I die… I stayed for a moment with that thought. Until I realized I was sitting on a train of thought, and I decided to see where the train takes me. My next stop was:

If you are alive, it does not necessarily mean you are living. It may mean that you only exist. “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all,” said Oscar Wilde.

There are lots of people who only exist, who have lost their liveliness. And that has nothing to do with age. There are young people who are already dead, and there are old people who are still full of life.

I give you an example: I remember someone I met a few years ago. This man was already 82 years old, a professional in his own field. He was still working from his home. Still sharp, still having a twinkle in his eyes. I worked for two months with him, and I actually never thought I was spending time with an old man. He was very much living, very much alive, very much in contact with himself. He was a true human being in the best sense of the word. “One does not retire from life,” he said one day when we spoke about retirement. He also showed me photos of his parents when they were still rather young: “They were already dead when this photo was taken,” he commented in a dry matter-of-fact manner. Coming from the mouth of a 82-year-old gentleman those words were very amusing.

Living and dying, existing and being truly alive. My train of thoughts takes me to India. I remember a little girl and her eyes – they had already seen and experienced it all. The sparkle of life had died… And then some old people in Vietnam, sitting on the steps in front their houses… Still as slim as they probably were when they still were young, now only with a wrinkled face. Looking alert, following life with curiosity and dignity.

So what is it to liveI guess we all give a bit different answers to that question. These are my answers today:

  • I feel truly alive when I am totally present in whatever I do, and I thereby give the best of myself.
  • I feel truly alive when I am able to see and appreciate the wonder of life. William Blake said it like this: “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.”
  • I feel truly alive when I acknowledge and accept that I am a wounded human being, and yet at the same time I see that there is also a lot of potential for growth and inner richness in me, just waiting to be discovered.

I do not end the list. I leave it open. Instead I ask you to write your own list.

  • When do you feel truly alive, full of life?
  • How could you live so that there would be more liveliness present in your life?

Share your answers with me and others. Leave them in the comment section below.

May you feel fully alive today! 😊

The Wonder of The Human Body

Death recently walked past me with quiet steps. He did not come very near, but I could sense the cool breath of air that followed him.

Two people died in different corners of the world: One was a grown-up child of a very dear friend of mine, and the other was a professional who had regularly taken care of my health for many years. I did not know these two people so well, but particularly the sorrow of my friend who lost her child has deeply touched me.

These two events have made me to remember the passing of my old mother, and I thought I’d like to share with you the last moments that I spent with her.

My mother died twelve years ago. It was a cold winter night in the North, and she was already in the hospital, unconscious. As the night progressed, her breathing got heavier and heavier, and the pauses between each breath got longer. Then came again one arduous breath and a long pause after it. For a moment I sat and waited  – and waited. There never came another breath. She had left.

The peace that settled into that sterile and quiet hospital room was indescribable. All the agony was gone. Everything was so quiet and still that I could almost touch the silence of the moment. There was nothing, absolutely nothing frightening about death.

I have never experienced such a beautiful and deep peace.

I got up from my chair and walked to the window. The landscape that opened in front of me was covered with pristine, white snow. The little town in the North was sleeping.

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Living in the physical reality

Why have I chosen this slightly dark topic to write about?

One reason is obvious: This is my way to say goodbye to the two friends who are no longer here. They have been in my mind. I’ve been thinking of them, their lives and families.

Another reason is that I’ve also been contemplating, on a more general level, our life in physical reality.

I think we don’t give our humble human body the respect, love and care that it deserves. Yes, we do polish it and beautify it, and try to feed it with all kinds of healthy food, and we exercise to make it stronger – but it seems to me that unconsciously we still consider the body as a kind of necessary evil, something that we drag along, because there is no choice.

It is the head that we consider the centre of our life. The head governs everything below it. The head is, so to speak, the rider, and the body is the horse – that has to be thrashed every now and then for better performance.

Life without a body?

Let’s explore for a moment what living in the body means.

Without the bodies of my parents I would not exist. There would not be that specific “entity” that my parents named “Maarit” – that entity of body and mind, and that something special that we call consciousness that can observe even the thought processes of Maarit’s brain.
Without the body I would not have the brain.
Without the brain I would not be able to write this blog.
Without the senses I could not tell you what I have seen, heard, tasted, touched and smelled.
Without my fingers that now tap the keyboard I would not be able to pass on my ideas and thoughts to you.

And if it were not your physical eyes that see these marks on the screen and your brain that processes the information, we would not be able to communicate like this, mind to mind.

We are all this and so much more!

It is not only my thoughts that matter.
I am not only these words that I write.
It is not the weight and height of my body, or the color of my skin, or the shape of my eyes that make me who I am.
It is not only my personal history that created me.
It is not only the culture that produced me.
I am much more, just as you are so much more.

But it is absolutely sure, that just now – though I can’t promise you for how long – I exist in this body, in this world, in this country and in this house, and I’m happy for my body, because it supports me while I sit on the couch. I celebrate my body, because I can still feel in my mouth the taste of an apple that I just ate; because my eyes can see the clouds moving in the afternoon sky; because I can hear the dog parking in the neighbour’s apartment; and because the fragrance of coffee is spreading into my nose from the kitchen.

And if you were sitting in front of me, my dear reader, you could sense that I exist, and that you exist, not only in the artificial world of the Internet, as words and images on the screen, but in flesh and blood, in a human body that carries in it all the memories and experiences, all the capacities and possibilities.

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To celebrate all the precious people who have been or still are present in my life, or who have already left or disappeared for various reasons, I want to finish this post by playing a song by Violeta Parra: Gracias A La Vida (Thanks to Life), performed by Mercedes Sosa. Both artists have left us but their music lives. You can find the English translation of the lyrics here.