On Life, Death, and Living the Dash

I can see why people turn to religion.

Not those who have been brought up religious, as I believe that is indoctrination, but those who were never religious in the first place and choose to follow one of the many Gods that have been created.

It is the desire for meaning. The wish to have,and to know, your life has a purpose.

You are here to do God’s work. Part of a greater plan. Momentarily passing through this plane on your way to something much greater.

It is a comfort. A white lie that allows you to wake each morning and go to bed each evening believing that these 80-years are not just an accident of biology and evolution.

Because it is when you realise that, that you really begin to question, “what is the point? Why am I doing what I am doing?”

This is a topic that I have struggled with for many years.

Death terrifies me, but despite this, I have often thought of the end. But now, rather than hasten my way towards the finish line, I firmly wish to stroll along, intent on living.

Life is an experience.

An environment of sensations which we only truly capture though memory and experience.

We are glorified sponges on legs, soaking up that which we come into contact with.

When my university days came to an end in Brighton, I spent the summer doing nothing.

Nothing and everything.

Enjoying the freedom to do whatever I pleased, even if that meant doing nothing at all.

Much of that time was spent smoking weed and watching films and documentaries alongside one of my best friends.

A series of documentaries that I was introduced to was a profile on death row inmates and the staff that work in that hellish environment.

In one episode they interviewed a former death row prison guard who now vehemently opposed his previous occupation.

He followed by the motto, “live the dash”, explaining that when we die, all that is left is a brief record of our existence.

The year we were born, followed by a dash, followed by the year that we died.

That dash is out life.

“Live the dash.”

Now there are many ways to live it. And each individual is different. But knowing how limited the time that you have is, wouldn’t you want to experience as much as possible?

In the UK, we spend the first 16-years of our lives in some form of education. If we choose to attend college and university, we then go up to at least 21.

Once graduated, we then must get a job, and as our experience and bank balance grows, we are instructed to start on two ladders: property and career. Later a relationship and maybe a family accompany you and then you just continue. Up and up. Climb as high as you can, as quickly as you can.

You just do.

Day in, day out, until you reach an age whereby your mind and body begin to give up and you are released from this monotony.

A decade of rest, when you’re too old and tired to enjoy it, and then you die.

This is the blueprint.
This is the dash.

At what point during all of this are you doing what you enjoy? At what point are you happy and grateful that by some stroke of luck you were conceived and then entered this world?

I don’t believe that life is what you do on your coffee breaks, lunch hours, bank holidays, or weekends. I don’t believe that billions of years of evolution has led to answering phone calls, stacking shelves, or staring at a screen for 8-hours a day.

Life is not your annual allocation of leave. It is not your holidays, your gap year, or your sabbatical.

Life is every second of every day, and if any one of those seconds is not spent doing what you enjoy, it is a life wasted.

“Living for the weekend?” Why not living for the week?

Depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. And in the UK, the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is suicide.

Why do we continue to ignore the fact that our current lifestyles are building the foundations for our deathbeds?

We are enslaved to a system that is not only highly destructive and completely unsustainable, but it also only benefits an extreme minority, whilst oppressing the rest. And the lunacy is that we willingly perpetuate this system thinking that one day, if we work hard enough and if we consume enough, then maybe we will reach the promised land: happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is not the pursuit of money, and neither is it the accumulation of stuff. The sooner you learn that, the better.

Alan Watts exquisitely posed the question, “what if money was no object?”

“… because, if you say that getting money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”

And the same applies to consumption. If buying things truly made you happy, why are we continually encouraged to repeat the process? As Watts says on money, “it is all wretch and no vomit”. Continual dissatisfaction and the failure to fulfil desires. Forever seeing the end, but never quite reaching it.

If you are unhappy, spend. If you can’t spend, work. When, inevitably, work makes you unhappy, spend. Rinse and repeat.

We have eight decades on this planet, give or take. Minus 20-years for childhood and education, and 10 for retirement. That leaves half a century. What are you going to do with that time? Because that’s all you have got.

Somehow you are on this Earth, and you have 50-years to contribute and experience. You don’t owe anyone anything, you are free to do as you feel. This is your life, why live it for someone else? Why pursue someone else’s dreams?

Ask yourself, “what is it that excites me? What gets me out of bed in the morning?” Because if it is not your job, you need to change your occupation.

And that word. “Occupation”. What activity do you do that occupies your time? Your 50-years, how are you spending it?

Wages are the compensation you get for being diverted from your dreams. If you loved what you did, the money would be secondary.

The cheque you receive at the end of each month is just enough of an incentive to hold you there. Just enough for you to delay that project you have been meaning to work on, press pause on any aspirations you may have.

But income should not be a ball and chain. An anchor preventing you from doing what you love. Neither should it be a distraction, taking your time and effort away from what is really important.

Don’t lose focus. Don’t put a value on your dreams and don’t sell them for £20k a year. Your happiness is worth more than that.

Wake each day and do what you love. “Work” because it is your passion, because you wouldn’t rather be doing anything else in the world.

Live the dash.

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