Death has a way of making you live. When faced with the possibility—or inevitability—of your life ending, you become aware of death standing behind you. And if you listen closely, you’ll hear it’s whisper, “I’m here.” That awareness is an opportunity to use its presence to inform your life and live more fully.
My husband has always been a fan of Carlos Castaneda’s books, including The Teaching of Don Juan, A Separate Reality, and Journey to Ixtlan. I only began reading them recently, but I recall him telling me that Don Juan said you should live with death on your shoulder. The quote I found specifically says, “When you need an answer, look over your left shoulder and ask your death.”
In other words, death is always there waiting…just behind you. So rather than fear it, use it to inform your decisions and life.
“Death is the only wise advisor that we have,” wrote Casteneda. “Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong, that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’”
Life is Uncertain
When I finally understood the lesson Castaneda—or Don Juan—offered, I realized how essential it was to live fully. After all, we never know how long our life will be. We never know whether today or tomorrow will be our last day. If we live with that awareness, we live differently.
Live each day as if it could be your last. Do this by constantly reminding yourself, “Today…this moment… I’m going to be present, enjoy each moment, and live fully. After all, I don’t know if I’ll have that chance tomorrow.”
Let Your Death Advise You
How do you use your death as an advisor? First, consider how your decisions today or tomorrow might be different if you assume you still have a long life—or a short one—ahead of you.
Ask your death, “Knowing you are there…waiting to touch me…should I do X or Y? Which option helps me live fully, fulfill my potential, and achieve my purpose? Which one will leave me with no regrets when you come for me?”
Or simply imagine that you have a day or a week to live. What would you choose? What would you decide?
I have never been as clear about this lesson and the need to exercise it as I am now. After April 1, 2022, I will never again make a decision without consulting my death.
Why? Because that was the day death came looking for my husband.
The Universe’s April Fool’s Day Trick
On April Fools Day, the Universe played a massive trick on my husband and me. It won’t seem like a trick as I tell the story, but read until the end. I’d have to admit it didn’t feel like a joke at the time, but, in retrospect, it does.
Around 11:30 a.m., I heard odd noises from my husband’s office—keys jingling repeatedly, papers falling, thumping, and shuffling. I went to the door, saw him half-seated in his chair, and said, “What’s going on?”
He looked a bit angry and as if he had hurt himself. And he didn’t answer my question, which I repeated several times.
One side of his face seemed droopy, and his left hand seemed impaired. And he definitely couldn’t speak, although he tried. He used his left hand to pick up his right hand and then dropped it. He also attempted to show me that his right leg wasn’t working by trying to pick it up with his left hand. He could hear and understand me, but he could not respond.
In less than a minute, I assessed his condition and called 911. “What’s your emergency,” the woman asked.
“My husband is having a stroke,” I responded.
In under 20 minutes, the ambulance left with its sirens screaming. As I drove to the hospital, my mind raced. I knew enough to realize that my husband could die, be disabled for the rest of his life, spend months in rehab, or end up in an assisted living facility. I thought about the people from whom we purchased our home in New Mexico just four months earlier. The wife moved closer to her husband, who had suffered a stroke and ended up in a nursing home.
“How will I handle this?” I wondered. “Do I need to call my brother-in-law to come help? Will I want to live in the big house in a new place by myself? How will my husband handle being impaired? How will I handle this…will I be able to handle this?” Hundreds of questions flooded my mind.
Angels and Guides with Us
The University of New Mexico Hospital doctors asked for permission to give my husband t-PA to dissolve the blood clot. They also wanted to perform a mechanical thrombectomy to remove it from the left side of his brain. I agreed and was told to wait.
After texting or calling everyone in my family and some friends, I took a breath. Then I opened my Divine Traveler Oracle Card app on my phone. As the doctors did their work, I asked, “What do I need to know about my husband’s stroke?” Then I digitally chose three cards.
The first card indicated that angels were all around him. The second card talked about staying focused, and the third card reminded me that spiritual support and guidance were close at hand.
I took some comfort in this card reading and continued to wait. Finally, my phone rang.
“Hi, I’m one of the doctors treating your husband. We finished the procedure successfully. In fact, your husband is smiling and back to normal.”
“What? That’s amazing! Thank you so much! Can I see him?”
“Sure, come up to the Neuroscience ICU.”
Indeed, when I arrived at his bedside, my husband looked and acted as if he’d never had a stroke. He smiled, kissed me, and showed me that his arms and legs were working.
I had no context for what had happened. It seemed like a miracle.
“He is very lucky that you acted so fast,” said the doctor. “Time is of the essence when someone has a stroke, and you called 911 within minutes, and the paramedics acted fast, too.”
A little later, one of the doctors who had performed the procedure came to see how my husband was doing. I mentioned that the other doctors had attributed this miracle to my quick action. “I respectfully disagree with them,” he said. “It was Divine intervention.”
Some April Fool’s Day trick, huh? The Universe, God, Source, my husband’s death…whatever you want to call It…says, “Here. Experience a stroke and almost die or become impaired.”
And then It says, “Oh…never mind! It was joking.”
Look Over Your Shoulder and Ask Your Death
There’s an adage that you can never unsee what you’ve seen. The same goes for experiences. You can never un-experience what you’ve experienced.
I, for one, could not unsee my husband having a stroke. And he and I both can not remove the memory of that experience.
My husband returned home just over two days later with no deficits and was told to go back to normal life—and take his new medicines for high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. But, despite how things seemed, nothing felt normal at all.
After all, my husband now has a higher likelihood of having another stroke—a more catastrophic one— at any time. So that leaves us both with the constant reminder that his death is standing behind his left shoulder.
But I sense my death’s presence, too. It is close enough for me to feel its hot breath on my skin and icy fingertips reaching toward my shoulder.
Rather than feeling afraid, though, I realize this is an opportunity to put all my choices through a different decision-making process. If my death were ready to touch me, what decision would I make at this moment?
I will look over my shoulder and ask my death if I’m unsure. I will allow my death to inform my choices, and I will use it to help me make decisions that leave me with little or no regret when I finally feel that touch.
Now is the Time to Examine Your Life
There is no better time than now to examine yourself, your life, and how you live. You don’t want to wait for your death to arrive to consider if you are living fully or if you have regrets, do you?
We moved to New Mexico because my husband would like to retire and didn’t feel he could do that in California. We have been considering how we would like to change our lives so we feel happier and more fulfilled.
It’s been just over a week since the Universe’s April Fool’s Day trick, but every day I ask myself, “How do I want to live going forward?” And I turn around to see if my death is still behind my left shoulder. (It always is…) And that gives me a new perspective.
You don’t have to wait for someone you love to almost die to change how you see your life. Nor do you have to wait until you have a severe car accident, get cancer, or suffer a heart attack. You have an opportunity right now to take a close look at how you’re living and how you want to live in the time you have left in this lifetime.
Take an inventory. Then ask yourself, “What will I regret most at the end of my life if I change nothing?” Are you willing to die with those regrets?
Personally, I’d rather live in a way that eliminates those regrets entirely.
Live a Regret-Free Live
Ultimately, I’m sure you want to have a regret-free life. You want to spend more time with loved ones, do things you enjoy, make a difference, leave a legacy, love freely, connect with God, play more (work less), and express your gifts and passions.
And you want to feel grateful for the life you have now. My husband and I feel enormous amounts of gratitude right now…for the miracle we experienced and our lives.
Take an hour…or a day or week…to evaluate your life. Then, focus on aligning who you want to be and how you want to live.
Make a list of all the things you would like to do with your life. Then, make a plan for how you will become the type of person who does those things. Also, make a plan for how you will take action to make that life a reality.
It’s time to start living that life today, is it not? Don’t wait. “Your problem is that you think you have time,” wrote Castaneda.
So do the things that make you happy or help you feel fulfilled, excited, and awestruck now…today. This is what living fully means. It is also what it means to live a life that leaves you regret-free when your death taps you on the shoulder.
How will you do a better job of living fully and creating a life that feeds your soul? Tell me in a comment below, and please share this post with a friend.
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