Halloween, All Hallows’ Day and Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) are part of family traditions for many. Halloween may be most familiar to you if you were born in the United States. Growing up in Guatemala my family used to celebrate el Día de Los Muertos. At that time families visit cemeteries, eat delicious food and remember their departed loved ones’ lives.
Today, I’d like to invite you to think about the Day of the Dead and imagine what your grave will look like after you’re gone. Most importantly, what would the engraving on your tombstone say? Picture your loved ones talking about you and trying to decide what to inscribe. What would they think of you based on the way you’ve spent your time and energy every day of your life?
What would they say based on how they saw you living? “Mary spent her life fighting her thoughts and emotions. Bless her soul.” “Theodore spent his life lamenting his mistakes.” Most likely, they would not say you spent your days ruminating and worrying because that’s not what really matters most in life.
It may feel eerie and morbid for you to engage in this exercise, but it’s never too early or too late to recognize what you want your life to be about. This exercise can help you if you’ve been distracted by other activities, such as trying to control your internal events (e.g., thoughts and feelings).
If you are younger than forty-years-old, you may feel invincible and eternal, but one sure thing we all can count on is that eventually death will find us all. What matters right now is that you notice if you are living up to your potential. Are you working towards the type of person you want to become despite your struggles?
If your actions haven’t been indicative of what you stand for in life, you can start making small adjustments. Consider where you’ve been, and what your actions say about you. Is what you do showing what you stand for in life? Are you moving in a valued direction each day?
You don’t need to wait until things get better to enjoy life and do what matters most to you. If that’s not evident by your actions, where is the disconnect? What’s getting in the way? Are you living with a purpose every day?
It takes the right skills, time, and effort to develop psychological flexibility. It is possible. So, what would you like your loved ones to say and write to celebrate your life when you pass on? Would they know what and who mattered most to you?
Life is not meant to be a smooth ride, and we can experience joy despite adversity. We can also continue to focus on what matters despite unpleasant thoughts, memories, emotions, and sensations. Consider what Hunter S. Thompson, a journalist now deceased once said,
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”
You don’t have to celebrate el Día de Los Muertos, but you can celebrate every day of your precious life by doing what matters most. You can decide what you want your loved ones to remember you by, not for self-adulation but as a reminder to live with purpose and vitality. Is what you are doing every day matching what you want your life to stand for?
After writing your epitaph, read it every day. Notice how it can change your outlook and what you do every day. Enjoy the journey. Take small steps and be consistent. The rest will follow.
What you care about most can only count when you act on it!
Steven C. Hayes, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2005.
“20 Best Hunter S. Thompson Quotes,” INSPIRATION, accessed October 12, 2020, https://www.burgerabroad.com/thompson-quotes/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CLife%20should%20not%20be%20a,What%20a%20Ride!%E2%80%9D
photo by jill-dimond-d53BtUWniBY-unsplash.j