Keep thy mind in hell!
Two of my heroes impacted me with similar messages while spending their lives on very different paths. One walked a road of prayer and repentance, the other gave us tools that change the way we create and interact with the world. Both taught me a very simple lesson that I often fail, but do my best to follow: live each day as if it were your last.
Saint Silouan the Athonite was a Russian peasant who fled to the Greek peninsula of Mount Athos to find salvation after a life spent following his most base passions. It was here God broke him and Saint Silouan found salvation and humility. In the midst of this wilderness he came into the light of grace and was granted the saying, “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”
What!? Keep they mind in hell and despair not. That’s a little dark you might say. But is it?
Remember you are going to die!
And then there is Steve Jobs, the imperfect genius who was the force behind Apple Computer. At Stanford’s 2005 graduation ceremony, he said something very similar to Saint Silouan,”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something….Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
We are already naked!
Saint Silouan and Steve Jobs point us towards similar places. Against the eternity of time, our short lives are over almost as soon as they begin. Whether your last breath occurs at 25 or 85, in a sense, you are already dead. Most of the things we think are important, are not. We are already naked.
So what are the things you focus on to make sure that the day is satisfying enough to be your last? It comes down to purpose. You want a day filled with those things that are built on a foundation of purpose. Everything else is temporal and distracting at best, soul destroying at worst. This is hard, especially in a world that sells you everything that is meant to distract, meant to become obsolete and replaced, meant to suck you in and separate you from that which sustains.
Purpose is actionable, it guides us. It is something we wake up to and follow. It is a force that impacts others. A life without purpose is worse than death. Death is not avoidable. Living without purpose is. You don’t have to muddle.
Purpose can be found volunteering. It can be found pursuing a dream, or even better, in the simple things — a walk with a loved one (without technology), a book, a call to an old friend, or spending a few moments alone to ponder the question, “How should I be living?”
In the light of death, taking the steps to build a life of purpose is no risk at all. You truly have nothing to lose, you are already naked.
Seize the day my friend. It’s all that you know you have.