Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.

On vacation at the beach with my family, we decided to take a stroll through an antique store. We do this ritual every year around the fourth of July, so I have seen most of the items in this shop over the last several years. Nothing new to me, but I indulge my curiosity just the same.

Browsing the same cubbies I always do hoping to score a relic of the past that I can’t live without, I stumbled upon a bronze plaque. It looked like it came off of a memorial or a grave of some sort. It had Chinese characters and the words, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” etched onto it.

The words of this Chinese proverb turned international hit song struck me. I am in my mid-thirties now, young by some standards, but nearing elderly if you ask an adolescent. Surely though, I have many more years ahead than behind, so why should I be concerned? Ah, but it is later than I think.

In the last month, I lost a friend who was 31 to cancer. Another young friend, 18 and getting ready to do a triathlon, was hit while cycling with her mother. The sad reality is that we only get this one shot at life and it is a short one.

Seneca, one of the big three Stoics, wrote on the brevity of life. He said, “You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.” A stream that will not always flow. That is a certainty we often fear facing.

The question is what are we to do with our time while it is yet in our hands? A longtime training partner and friend of mine was diagnosed with ALS last year. At one point in our lives, we talked about how to fight human opponents. Now, he is teaching me how to fight the frailty of a fleeting life. In a recent post, he offered a reflection on things we can do to make the best of our time:

  1. Take that walk on the beach. Wheelchairs don’t roll well in the sand!
  2. Hug your family. When your arms don’t work anymore, take advantage of lifting your hands and worship! I really miss this.
  3. Eat that extra piece of cheesecake. Nobody really cared what you looked like anyway… lol
  4. Keep your words sweet. And forgive often.
  5. Call in sick to work every once in a while. When you’re laying on your deathbed, nobody ever says they wish they’d spent more time at work!
  6. Go outside and pet your dog. I think you appreciate that.
  7. Visit someone in the hospital or the nursing home. Even the shut-ins. This is a big one for me
  8. Don’t make a big deal about small things.
  9. Don’t waste time! It’s something you cannot buy back.
  10. Do good things people will remember you for. Not problems you caused.

I often get asked why I continue to put my body through hell in the martial arts arena. It’s because I enjoy it and I may not make it to retirement age. I don’t want to get old and have nothing to look back on with a sense of accomplishment. There is no sense in having wrinkles without a few scars to prove you lived. I will leave you with another of Seneca’s thoughts on the matter: “Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.” Remember to enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

*Roy Cobb, my longtime training partner and friend, passed away November 14, 2018. Go rest high on that mountain, my friend.

Be Prepared for Bad Days That Kick You in the Face

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One night after class, I had a conversation with a student who rarely misses. I mentioned to him about having to cut back on his training in the future if he gets married and has kids. His reply was, “I won’t get married if she won’t let me train three or four times a week.”

While this sentiment displays his determination and passion for our arts, it does not deal with the reality that bad things, and even good things, can take us away from what we love to do. Too often, when these setbacks occur, we are heartbroken and cannot overcome it. Are you equipped to cope with life when it kicks you in the face?

There is a way to prepare for such events. In Stoicism, there is a practice known as premeditatio malorum, or the premeditation of evils. This exercise involves negative visualization. You think about the worst possible outcomes for your day, your week, or any time in the future. By dwelling even in the least bit on the bad things that could happen, you inoculate yourself from the sting should those things occur.

As the story goes, a Buddhist teacher was once known for saying, “This cup is already broken.” He loved the cup, but knew that one day it would shatter, whether by his hand dropping it or it tumbling from the table to the floor. By accepting its fate, he was free to drink without the anxiety of losing the cup.

In my training, I often think of what I will do when I need surgery again (two knee operations and shoulder reconstruction since I began training). I even think about the day I can no longer grip efficiently due to arthritic fingers. What if an illness robs me of my abilities for good? These are just a few scenarios in my life.

Some may think it morbid or depressing to dwell on these things. I find it liberating. It also encourages me to train while I can, to live my life with reckless abandon, because tomorrow is not promised and if it is, it will not be like today.