Recently I found myself, quite unexpectedly, in the emergency room of the hospital, experiencing the worst pain I had ever felt, and wondering if my time on earth was up. One moment I was the picture of health, and in the next, I was doubled over on the floor, completely powerless to the whims of my body. In that moment, it hit me like a Zen Stick on the top of my head, just how brief and fleeting this life of ours really is. I realized, as I was poked and prodded by needles and nurses, that this could be it, that perhaps my allotted time on earth was up. Ready or not, I had no vote in whether I was going to stay or depart. This powerlessness and lack of control was humbling and very enlightening.
As fear attempted to take hold in my mind, a vision of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh arose within me, followed by his simple words, "Mindful breathing is my anchor to the present moment." As I settled in the breath, the mind and it's story of impending doom, subsided and, though the pain continued, everything (for the most part), was handled with surrender and acceptance. Over the next couple of days, as the pain passed away and I returned to a state of health and well-being, I realized again that, though it was not my time to go just yet, there will be a time when I, like everyone else, will depart this earth, probably when we least expect it. It brought home again how vital it is to use the remaining time we have to be completely present to the blessings of this life, and awaken to who and what we are.
After all, everything passes in the wink of an eye, and though we may feel as if we will live forever, we only have a finite amount of time to live our lives fully and to realize the truth of who we are. If we live each moment completely present, and truly appreciate the gifts in our lives, then we will be ready, as the Tao Te Ching teaches, "for death, as a man is ready for sleep, after a good days work."