DEATH…comes unexpectedly. Those immortal words from the film Pollyanna no less, soaked into my brain at a tender age and I find myself coming back to them time and again.  Even more so now the years are unravelling faster than they ever have and, beat around no bush, I’m well past the half way mark. But hang on……is it really a matter of the number of years we live?


Not it seems, according to the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (AD 121-180).

Aurelius saw it this way:



“Even if you were destined to live three thousand years, or ten times that long, nevertheless remember that no one loses any life other than the one he lives, or lives any life other than the one he loses. It follows that the longest and the shortest lives are brought to the same state.  The present moment is equal for all; so what is passing is equal also; the loss therefore turns out to be the merest fragment of time.  No one can lose either the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess?…….


Jolted is what I felt when I read that.  Yes!!  What brilliance I thought as I pondered the deeper truth Aurelius expressed so well.  We can only ever lose this one moment.  We have ALL lost yesterday. Or even this morning.  NONE of us have tomorrow yet. We are apportioned a tiny fragment of time, the present – and in this, we are all equal.  If we were to die today, we would lose exactly the same thing as everyone who doesn’t die today: a non-existent past and an equally immaterial future.


You may find yourself arguing ‘but what about the unlived life yet to come? What about the potential and promises of the future? – the children, grandchildren, the new relationship, the better job, the this and the that…  We surely lose all of that when we die.  If we die young – we must lose more of it.  More possibilities that is.  It is only when we are old and done that we don’t have anything in the future left to lose, surely – meaning it would be much better to die old.


It is a point, but not one of the higher philosophy.  As Aurelius says, we cannot be deprived of what we do not possess.  We do not possess those hopes and potentials. They are as insubstantial as moonlight. They are nothing. They do not exist.  Just as our past no longer exists. Everything we have experienced, achieved, enjoyed, endured, is nothing more than a collection of memories.  We probably have some stuff that denotes the achievements and acquisitions we have made alone the way. We may have children and see in them our brightest hope of any sort of legacy or continuance.  But coming back to you and your life, what of the past, of the life you have lived is really there anymore?


All that does exist is this sliver of a fragment of time we call the present moment.  And in this we are all equal.


In over five decades on the planet, have I made peace yet, I find myself asking, with the flip side of life? Do I truly live each day with awareness that death could come at any day, any moment? The philosophers tell us this awareness has the power to enhance our lives by making every moment matter. A moment can only matter when we absolutely get the fleeting nature, and therefore the preciousness of it.  If we forget to remember our moments they disappear, as moments do, in an unremarkable stream of nothingness.


My answer to the question is to try to make a habit of saying to myself as often as I remember, “this moment, this set of circumstances, this walk in the bush, this sky/sunset/moon rise will never ever happen, just like this, again in my life.”  Every moment is precious when you become conscious of it. Call it mindfulness. Or paying attention. Or just, noticing.  We need to notice our lives – before they have gone. Every day, give thanks for waking up to live another day. Gratitude is a neat way of bringing us into present moment awareness.  We cannot value and appreciate what we do not notice and the Buddhists tell us this life is valuable beyond measure. Strengthening this habit of present moment awareness then is my best response to idea of death coming unexpectedly. And there’s another positive; when we fully absorb the nearness of death, suddenly ageing doesn’t feel so bad. Who cares that another line has mysteriously appeared? What does it matter, when the whole shebang is going to disappear one day anyway.


Life, Alan Watts said, is just another word for change.  Change then is the nature of what we are doing here.  We are not living, we are changing.  Everything, from the molecules in your cells to the stars in the heavens, is in a state of flux. The momentum of change we see in the mirror and call ageing. The planet turns, season after season and in each return things have changed from the last time.  The feeling is different. We are older. Our life situation has shifted.  Nothing is as it was. Millions of the cells in our body have died. New ones have been born.


To live in awareness of the present is a relief, actually. It is not for no reason that our reflections on the past can give rise to nostalgia – literally, ‘pain of the past’.  We feel sad for what we have lost – for those happy-days-when-we-were-young-and-everything-seemed so-much-simpler.  A song from those times plays and instantly the feeling of the energy we knew then is evoked. We cannot capture it. It is like a passing cloud of fragrance. Here but not. And then gone. Leaving us a little more dissatisfied with where we are right now, with this moment. Grief is intensified nostalgia, longing for what was.


To live in awareness that every moment matters frees us too from the burden of the future.

The mind can only focus on one thing at a time generally. (Well, unless yours is like my son’s who can work at graphic design while listening to a podcast – I couldn’t).  If we immerse our consciousness in the experience of right now – there is little left over to tow us into worry and fear of what is to come.  There’s peace in that.  But how the mind loves to take us back and forwards. Past, doesn’t exist, future, doesn’t exist.  It is a ploy of the ego-mind to try to drive us crazy with fears and regrets (why it does is the topic of another essay). Ironically the ego’s very existence is dependent on the continuance of our physical selves, here and now – not in some imagined future.  And the truth is, it is only through our physical existence, right here and now, in this breath, this heartbeat, that we do truly exist.  All the rest is ephemeral, fantastical, nebulous – and other Neptunian words.


But, you may ask, what about the moments that suck? What about those all too frequent and unwelcome episodes of pain –  physical, mental, emotional?  We hardly want to dwell in those moments – let alone appreciate them.  My response is: we must do what we will (and need to do) in these moments.  There are times in life when we need some healthy pain relief – or escapism in whatever form to help us through our human-condition vulnerabilities.  But let us not discard our philosophy of being in the moment…….This too shall pass is a present moment awareness motto that has the power to offer comfort during in the bad times.  A higher sort might use it during the good times as well.


When we make every moment matter, we naturally make every encounter with our loved ones matter too.  We appreciate the fleeting nature of it all.  One day, perhaps very soon, we will lose this person from our lives. Remembering this reminds us to make every moment a kind one, a loving one.  If it is our own death that separates us, we’d like to be remembered for being kind and loving.  We’d like that to be our legacy. If our loved one goes first, we would like to know we loved them as best we could. There are then no regrets.


So when all is said and done, it is true, we only ever lose this one moment. Nothing else matters. The age we get to, the age another didn’t get to – is irrelevant.  We all lose the same thing – this fragment we call Now.  Let’s EnJOY it. Live it and Love it. This minute, this hour, this day, will never come again.


“It has been shown how the mind’s incessant movement creates the time-sense and retards one’s entry into the timeless Absolute…… Then, by overcoming this motion one should be able to overcome the tyranny of time.  The reverse of movement is stillness. The reverse of time is eternity……… One must seek therefore to cultivate the state of stillness, mental no less than physical, if one would conquer time. Consciousness as mentalized movement = time; Consciousness abiding in itself in a response as deep as that of a deep sea free from waves = eternity.”    (Paul Brunton)  

















 You are the awareness