In the NY Times article, My Own Life, written several years ago, acclaimed neurologist, Oliver Sacks, spoke of his reaction to being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Dr. Sacks’ words on being face to face with dying are profoundly moving but perhaps more surprisingly, they are also intensely uplifting. What Sacks shared is immensely inspiring and motivating. A man with an incredible passion for life, bravely describing how it feels to know his death is imminent. Yet Sacks is also conveying something precious and magical, detailing the lessons learned about the meaning of life.
Whatever age, or stage of life we find ourselves, Sacks’ observations provide five profound yet practical lessons from a life well lived.
Lesson one: Live in the richest, deepest, most productive way
It is easy to be so engrossed in the routine of daily life that we lose sight of the impact our choices make on the way we live each and every moment of our days.
Sacks is emphatic that he has a choice in how he lives his remaining months. For Sacks that choice must be to,
‘live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.’
This choice to live in the now and choose the richest, deepest, most productive way possible is powerful. What magical opportunities and moments might be created if each of us challenged ourselves, every day, to live these words?
Lesson two: Live a life of passion
A self confessed man of passion, Sacks was determined that his illness would not detract from his intense love of life. His passions during his remaining months would not be dampened but redoubled, as he shared,
‘I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.’
It is easy to lose sight of passions and interests, allowing them to be consumed or eclipsed by everyday responsibilities. Passions are are made of that which lifts us above the everyday tasks of existence. Pursuing our passions enables us to flourish and maintain a sense of the bigger picture in life. A life of passion allows the heart to sing.
If, every day, you committed time to something that inspires and ignites passion within you, how much more enjoyment and fulfilment would each day hold?
Lesson three: Have a clear focus and perspective
Sacks was clear that there was no longer any time for anything inessential in life. Focus and perspective have a sudden clarity. Only the most important, the absolutely necessary would command his attention.
When we understand that our time is limited, we are able to focus our attentions, efforts and our strengths on the task in hand. Learning to prioritise and nurture that which we hold dear ensures that a clear focus and perspective always remains paramount.
Lesson four: Be yourself
Rather than living our own authentic existence, we can find ourselves living a life we think we should live, in accordance with the expectations of others. Sacks offered his unique insight, as a neurologist, into the importance of being yourself,
‘There will be no one like us when we are gone … When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.’
It takes courage to live a life that authentically portrays the ‘real’ you. Fear of failure, of rejection or the fear of being judged can impose a lifetime of constraint and regret. Sacks’ describes our uniqueness beautifully,
‘there is no one like anyone else, ever.’
Be yourself, it is a great accomplishment that only you can achieve in life.
Lesson five: Live a life of gratitude
A profound sense of gratitude runs through the words of Oliver Sacks. When contemplating his final months he even identified gratitude as his predominant feeling. Sacks’ sense of fulfilment, happiness and love of life has clearly been immeasurably enhanced by gratitude.
The ability to cultivate a sense of gratitude guides our attentions throughout the day. In the longer term, developing a sense of gratitude enables us to actively identify and enjoy the joys that life presents rather than concentrate and dwell on the negatives.
To cultivate and live a life of gratitude, regularly set aside time each day to identify people, things and events for which you are grateful.