The idea of someone coming to a new appreciation of life after having a close brush with death has become a cliché. That’s probably partly because the idea has been central to the story lines of popular movies and books. And also because it’s easy to understand how thinking we are near death, but then escaping death’s grip, could make us appreciate life more than ever before. When, while watching a movie, we vicariously experience someone’s terror as an airplane goes down but then see him walking away from the plane crash unhurt, we feel his profound relief, even his elation at having survived the incident. And it just makes sense that if we were in that situation, we would fall in love with life all over again.
That’s what happened to me after my near death experience (NDE). I fell head-over-heels in love with life once more. As a child and young man I had been enamored with life. I wanted to travel, learn, and experience as much of life’s sweetness as I could. That was even true during my medical training and the first few years of my career as a physician. But then, as I started making more money, the materialistic bug started biting me, then burrowing in under my skin like a tick. And as it burrowed, life started becoming more ordinary and humdrum, losing its flavor.
My NDE changed all that. Life regained its flavor in a big way. Or maybe I should say that my taste buds for life’s offerings became renewed. Because actually, life does not have just one flavor, it has limitless flavors. How refreshing to enjoy the look, smell and feel of vibrant roses on a bush laced with morning dew. How beautiful the crimson-lined clouds at sunset or the deep orange of a ladybug’s wings as it rests on your finger, the feel of its tiny feet. How wonderful the sound of your spouse’s or child’s breathing as they sleep. I could go on for a lifetime listing all the unique flavors of life. But of course it’s better to spend a lifetime experiencing them.
You, the reader, know what I mean because you have your own exquisite experiences in life, your own unique flavors. It’s likely that some of the most meaningful experiences for you happen at “ordinary” times. Others may miss them altogether, but to you they shine out radiantly. It might be something as simple and ordinary as the way the light reflects off your dog’s coat, or the smell of baking cookies on a Sunday afternoon, but simple things like that are wonderful morsels to be relished and savored at the table of life.
When life starts losing its radiance, when its flavors grow bland or become a humdrum mishmash with no separation between them, that’s when we fall out of love with life. This can be for any of several basic reasons. It might be because of losing ourselves in materialism as I did. Sure, we may appreciate the expensive new watch or vase or car for a little while, but soon enough we become blasé about it and find ourselves hot on the trail of some new item we feel we have to have. Ordinary things like roses and ladybugs and the smell of baking cookies that at one time we appreciated lose their luminosity and fade into the background. In fact, the entire everyday world may fade into the background as we become obsessed with buying more and more stuff.
Another thing that dims the love of life is stress and anxiety. If we are very worried about some situation we are facing, the perceived problem moves to the forefront of our experience and takes precedence over everything else. Not only do we no longer see the beauty of many “ordinary” things in our lives, but we are barely able to appreciate those very extraordinary beings that happen to be our family and friends. Other negative emotions such as disappointment, fear, and anger tend to have similar effects. Each of these affective states has its own caustic taste that tends to contaminate the rest of life’s flavors, sapping them of their unique nature. One way they do this is by giving rise to a lot of “chatter” in our heads about whatever it is that concerns us or that we are angry at. This chatter itself draws a veil over our perception of the world and tends to make everything somewhat hazy and indistinct. No longer wonderful and unique, the world’s many flavors go unnoticed due to the veil of chatter that keeps us locked in our minds
This is why the emotional acceptance of the world that I wrote about in The Soul of Wellness is so important. A calm, easy, and accepting attitude toward life, an attitude granting that what will be will be, allows the world to show its infinite flavors as they are, not mixed with negative emotional baggage.
True love is non-judgmental. It is always accepting of the foibles, idiosyncrasies, and even faults of the other. The same is true of loving life. To love it truly we must accept it as it is emotionally and then embrace it fully, enjoying its many wonderful flavors with all our hearts and minds.