TWENTY FOUR HOURS: CONTEMPLATING THE FUTURE AS A MEANS TO STAY PRESENT
If you were given notice that you only had 24 hours left to live, how would you spend them?
. . . It seems like a pretty cliché question, yeah? Perhaps it’s even a question we have considered before, discussing amongst family and friends. A question sometimes thrown around in a similar vein as “would you rather” questions. A question that we, likely more often than not, answer with a knee-jerk response, haphazardly blurting out the first thoughts that populate our mind.
For me, the answer has always been “travel,” with no particular rhyme or reason; with no thought put into the logistics of how much time spent actually traveling, whether in a vehicle or a plane, would eat up my, at least for now, hypothetical last remaining day. Travel was just it.
My whole philosophy on the twenty-four-hour question was overhauled when I was asked to consider, and document, what I would do if I was notified I only had twenty-four hours left. The last assignment given to myself and the fellow yogis I went through yoga teacher training with tasked us with doing just that. And, at first, I struggled.
I am no stranger to writer’s block. From my years spent as a writer and editor of my high school newspaper, to my years spent writing for the University of Colorado’s online newspaper, to my years spent freelance writing, I have come to understand and willfully embrace that writer’s block is oftentimes just part of the process. Albeit a frustrating part of the process, I know that once writer’s block is loosened, softened, it opens the proverbial floodgates.
But, I could not for the life of me get words on paper for this damn 24 Hours left assignment.
“Why are my yoga teachers tasking us with this?” I asked myself. What in the hell does contemplating what I would do if I was only given 24 hours left to live have to do with yoga? We’d already written three papers, completed one individual project, one group project, practice taught countless times, and done more Chaturangas over a twelve-week period than I thought physically possible. And now this?
Frustrated and ready to give up, I decided to quit trying to be eloquent, quit trying to be clever, and just start listing what I love, from people, to places, to food, to drink, and everything in between.
The result was not an intricately-worded piece of writing. There was no fancy language detailing grandiose plans of international travel. Instead, I found myself writing vehemently and vigorously, without over-thinking every word and without being keenly aware of grammar and punctuation like I usually am. And when the words started to slow and I began to read through the thoughts I put to paper, I realized why this was the last task assigned us in yoga teacher training. This realization was only reinforced when, on the last day of teacher training, twelve of us gathered in a candlelit circle in the yoga studio and shared our reflections on how we would spend our last 24 hours.
The group of humans I went through yoga teacher training with was a diverse one, spanning many ages and many different walks of life. But what I noticed as we shared our pieces is that, despite our differences, each of us touched on how tightly we would hold and squeeze our loved ones. Each of us reflected on how we would make time to do what we truly love. Each of our pieces touched on one of the fundamentals we strive to maintain in our yoga practice: basking in and embracing the present.
A-ha. I finally got it. We weren’t tasked with writing about what we would do if we found out we only had 24 hours left as a meaningless final task, or as an exercise in morbidity. We were tasked with writing about what we would do if we only had 24 hours left because it caused each and every one of us to reflect on the absolute glory and beauty of the present.
While it may seem counterintuitive to appreciate the present by contemplating the future, the exercise of asking ourselves what we do if we knew our time was limited can be a powerful reminder of what is really important to us in this life, and what is not; of what we should make more time to do for ourselves, and what we should let go of; of the people, places, and experiences that have shaped us, for better or worse.
So, next time you find yourself feeling uninspired, or ungrounded, or restless, or even just bored, you might ask yourself what you would do if you only had 24 hours left. Put some thought into it, write those thoughts down, and read over them from time. Contrary to how it may sound, it can be a lovely way to remain rooted in, and appreciative of the present.
The following is this yogi’s scattered list, in no particular order, of how I would fill my last 24 hours. It includes many of my favorite places, some fancy cheese and wine, a little bit of Kurt Vonnegut, and a lot of lovin’.
As I sat down to contemplate what my last 24 hours of life would look like, if given notice that, that was all of the time I had left, I noticed that what came to mind was a series of small, everyday, commonplace acts that, while perhaps seemingly unextraordinary, have brought me the most joy in life.
I would solicit and give as many hugs as possible, particularly to my family and friends. I am in one way, shape or form composed of and shaped by every being that has been in my life, past, present, and future. Relationships may come and go, but I am forever indebted to the people and beings I have encountered in this life. They have truly made me who I am, and without them, I am not me.
I would tell my brothers and sisters what an honor its been to be their big sister, and how amazing it has been to watch them grow into the brilliant, kind, spectacular, grounded, beautiful humans that they are. They are perfect to me, in every possible way.
I would thank my mom for being my pillar of strength and for truly being my rock in this life. Through all of the good shit and all of the bull shit, she has been the one constant and truly is my whole heart.
I would thank my dad for always pushing me to be my best self and for making me laugh even in the grimmest of situations. I would tell him that the day we spent listening to the Beatles on his record player in the basement for three consecutive hours was truly one of the happiest moments of my life.
I would eat as much cheese as possible.
I would buy all the expensive champagne and wine that I was never able to truly afford.
I would set aside a few hours to read as much Kurt Vonnegut as possible, and to revel in the fact that someone I have never met has taught me so much about life and what it truly means to be a good human being.
I would set aside a few hours to listen to as much music as possible, mainly those musicians who have shaped me in so many ways. Bob Dylan, The Clash, the Beatles, and the Doors would be prominently featured in my “Last Day on Earth” soundtrack.
I would ask my loved ones to make sure all my material belongings, included my beloved Jeep, found their way to a new home, preferably to someone truly in need.
I would ask my loved ones to take care of my plants and my two frogs, Clifford and Elton.
I would not sleep.
I would write as much as time allowed. About all the beautiful, scary, heartbreaking, amazing experiences that have shaped my life.
I would visit Red Rocks one last time to say, “thank you” for the wonderful crazy times that I have had there. It has truly always been a home away from home and I have never taken for granted growing up so close to its magic.
I would visit Mary Jane ski resort and Berthoud Pass to say, “thank you” for humbling me; for challenging me; for teaching me how truly small I am in the big scope of beings. I am blessed to have been born and raised in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. They are ingrained in my being and have always been a huge part of who I am.
I would be outside, as much as possible.
I would make my way to Boulder and reflect on how much growth and beauty my years at the University of Colorado brought me. There is such a special and unique nostalgia that I feel for the people, places, and experiences that my college education afforded me. I am truly forever grateful for the people I have found there.
I would thank my friends, many of whom I have known for 20+ years, for loving me and accepting me through every stage of my life. They have truly seen me at my rock bottom and, conversely, been there by my side to celebrate every triumph, and I could not be more grateful.
I would shout, as loudly as I could, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” to the universe. For everything. My life has been full of so much fierce, unwavering love that my heart can barely take it. My life has been a beautiful thing. While I would be tempted to be sad about only making it into my 27th year, I know fully that I have fit as much life and experience possible into those 27 years; contemplating what I would do if I was told it was all coming to an abrupt end is a powerful reminder to continue to do so every day.