Thoughts from a death bed

candle light

A week ago, my father passed away at the age of 93. I was at his side the last three days of his life, and as he was drifting in and out of coma, I had many opportunities to reflect on life and death – thoughts that have been with me also this chaotic first week after his death. This blog post is not so much about him, although much could be said of the long and mostly happy life he led, but sharing some more general and universal thoughts that have gone through my mind.

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Befriend your breathing

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Your life started with an inhalation and it will end with an exhalation. If you are leading an average life you may take some 750 000 000 breaths in between. Your breath is always there, regardless if you are paying attention to it or not. In fact, your breath is the only constant thing in your life, which you can both observe and (within limits) steer with your will. Yet, most people never pay any attention to their breathing, except when being short of breath during physical exercise.

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The importance of being proactive

Dilemma concept

A book that over the years have inspired me a lot is Stephen Covey’s The 7 habits of highly effective people. The first of Covey’s habits, on which all the six other rest is being proactive. Being proactive means taking full command of your life according to your own abilities.

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The Buddhist way of speaking wisely

Right speech

One of the most important Buddhist teaching, and the third step on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path to enlightenment, concerns “Right speech”. The way we communicate affects both our own self-image and how we are regarded and treated by others. Communication is a powerful tool and its consequences could lead to peace, freedom and harmony as well as to hatred, terror and genocide.

According to the Buddha, right speech should be truthful, kind, helpful and promote understanding, harmony and unity. This sounds self-evident, and most of us would agree to this ideal and appreciate if this was also practised by those around us. However, we would only need to look more closely at ourselves to realise that this is not always easy to follow.

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Dare to ask questions

Doubt and solution concept on blackboard

One of the many fears we have as humans is not to be perceived as knowledgeable and competent. Not least, many new and inexperienced managers carry such fears, believing that they need to manifest their leadership by being the one who knows the best in every situation. But this is often destined to fail for two reasons.

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How do you define success?

children

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are doing a lot of things, but still unsure of where you want to go? In that case you are not alone, and you may recognise yourself in the famous episode in Alice in Wonderland:

– Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

– That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

– I don’t much care where.

– Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

                                                                ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Linear thinking: What is actually controlling our life choices?

linear-thinking

Linear thinking. In our conscious thinking, we can only handle one thought at a time, but this thought is not isolated. It instead builds on the previous thought and leads to the next thought, in linear thinking chains based on a broader overall plan, where A leads to B leading to C …

Our linear thinking works both in the small everyday situations and in our big life choices. If our interest is captured by a certain phenomenon early in life, it may be history, politics, motocross, fly fishing, veganism or something else, then the first, often random contact, may sometimes lead on to a life-time interest.

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What is your question?

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On her death bed, the American poet, novelist and playwright Gertrude Stein, asked her life partner Alice B Toklas “What is the answer?”. When Toklas did not answer, Stein sighed and said “In that case what is the question?”.

In our lives, we so often focus on providing the answers that we seldom reflect on the questions. We are going for the quick fixes, and by doing so we risk running in different directions without really knowing why or where we are going. If we are always seeking the answers, we also become reactive and steered by questions posed by others. Being the ones formulating the questions, instead puts us in the driving seat and allows us to define the direction, and eventually our lives.

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Turning crises into opportunities

Crisis-opportunity 2

From time to time we all experience crises in our lives. They could be personal crises (sickness, accidents, death in the family), professional crises (unemployment, bankruptcy) or societal crises (big disasters, large epidemics, financial downturns).

These events inevitably bring a lot negative effects; pain, grief, crushed economies, and as such we should try to avoid them, and when not possible try to minimise the negative consequences.

But a crisis will per definition also bring change, and any change will bear the seed of new opportunities. Indeed, the Chinese word for crisis, wēijī, is a composite of wēi, meaning “danger” and jī, meaning “change” or “opportunity”.

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My path to Buddhism

Buddha

When I started to write this blog a year ago, most of my focus was on various aspects of creativity, including creative leadership. However, soon I found myself writing more and more on issues concerning personal development, often reflecting on how our ego and obsession with the material aspects of life get in the way of our growth as human beings. I cannot explain this shift in writing as it was non-intentional, but I found myself more and more making references to Buddhist ideas, as the ethical and philosophical aspects of Buddhism have always had a special appeal to me. However, I had never made any serious efforts to go beneath the surface of Buddhism.

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