Authentic living—the bravery to be pulled forward by the dreams of our own true selves—heralds creativity and freedom.
I’ve been a hospital chaplain now for eight years at hundreds of deathbeds.
I want to tell you something I’ve witnessed. Most people, at the end, realize
they’ve spent a lot of their life hiding. Sometimes by choice, or because they
could not safely choose to be themselves.
At a deathbed, if my patient can communicate, they show they’re dying twoJS Park
deaths: the one they’re dying & then the death of the life they really wanted
to live. But in their dying, some are also free. To tell me who they are. What
they wanted. Who they had to hide. Finally free.
Dying to Be Free
Death is inevitable.
I have known that death is a fact of life since I was three or four years old. But I didn’t really begin pondering my own mortality until I was in my mid-40s.
My experience of consciously considering the length of my life wasn’t marked by fear or foreboding. I did, however, become acutely aware of time and how I used it.
I began thinking a lot about what authentic living would be, the dreams that had gone unfulfilled. The rich, transformational adventures I had written on pages in journals but not yet lived. The desire for authentic living, to live full-out without filters, apologies, or regrets—with the expectations of others completely peeled away from my existence.
I craved the freedom to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” as Thoreau said.
A few weeks after I began my Memento Mori journey, I came across an article in The Guardian.
Australian palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware, recorded the regrets of patients during their last days. The most common regret of the dying as witnessed by Ware?
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
I required no other convincing that I had to act boldly and make significant changes in my life. I knew that if I hid out in the dark corners of denial, the big life I longed for would go unlived. I needed vast stores of courage if I was going to achieve authentic living and avoid deathbed regrets.
I found the bravery and daring I was desperate for in the most astonishing of places.
I wrote about this surprising source of the power to be our true selves in my book, BUOYANT:
“And underneath our desired state of freedom lies one central concept: agency. Merriam-Webster defines agency as “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.”
Now, let’s be clear: I am talking about reclaiming your power. Power over the self, not over other people. Power to craft one’s destiny. Power to create, moment to moment, how you want to feel. Power to choose. Power to align your soul with meaning. Power to bring your true self forward. Power to experience the ecstasy of being fully present and aware. Power to positively influence and impact yourself and others. Owning and reclaiming your power for good.
And guess what lies underneath achieving agency? Making art. Any art, any medium. Good, bad, recognizable, unrecognizable, fancy, plain. We can choose to head to the kitchen, the dance floor, the canvas, the blank sheet of paper, or the typewriter. We can pick up a chef’s knife, a pair of dancing shoes, a brush, a pencil, or a pan of paint. The medium doesn’t matter. Your skill level doesn’t matter. The art form is irrelevant. You choose whatever calls to you. Whatever sounds fun. The act of getting going and making art is the only thing that matters. And guess what forms the raw material for making art?
Inspiration. Most likely, though not in the way you think….”
We get power by creating.
Each time we engage in the act of making something, of authentic living, more and more we become our authentic selves.
Cultural lore tells us that making something is frivolous, a waste of time, for the retired or very young. It details all the ways we are not creative, not artists. That the point of making something is only a perfect outcome, a piece worthy of grand exhibition.
Not only do these lies keep us from what I believe is one of the greatest joys of the human experience, but they also keep us in the margins of our own lives. Weighed down by the painful knowing we are living someone else’s life and not our own.
Burdened by the expectations of others, duties, and obligations that squeeze out oxygen for our happiness.
No more hiding. Let’s set ourselves free, engage authentic living, and choose to be our true selves. We can lean into the alchemical power of our innate creativity and usher in agency fueled by inspired action.