What would you do if you had only 37 days to live? Where would you go? Who would you spend time with? Hendersonville author and social justice activist Patti Digh has pondered those questions ever since her stepfather died just 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. The experience of losing a loved one, she says, gave her a profound sense of what it means to fully live each day.
“The time frame shocked me, and I started asking myself each morning, ‘What would I be doing today if I only had 37 days to live?’” Digh explains. “It was a question that changed my life in significant ways.”
While some might find the notion morbid, Digh says contemplating life as if it had a rapidly approaching expiration date actually reminds her to take care of herself and savor each moment.
“It takes a certain amount of mindfulness to be aware of the need for self-care in the first place. A consciousness of ourselves in the world and of the world is a prerequisite for intentional self-care, especially in a hyperfocused, hyperfast world,” Digh maintains. “Mindfulness is a verb — it also requires action of some kind to be sustainable and effective.”
Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally, the book Digh wrote about her experience, offers six mindfulness practices illustrated with personal stories showing how to create self-care habits, tune in and listen to your inner dialogue. The book also stresses the importance of prioritizing yourself even before attempting to meet the needs of others.
“Part of living intentionally is being attentionful about our own well-being: I can’t be a good parent to my children unless I take care of myself,” notes Digh. “I try to fit self-care into the in-between moments, like just after waking or just before bedtime. Fit it in where you can. It all adds up.”
Starting each day with the idea that you might not live to see your next birthday can lend significance and perspective to mundane or even unpleasant events, she says. And since the thought of one’s own mortality might also beg the question why should you bother washing the dishes or walking the dog, Digh says it’s important to maintain a balance between existential contemplation and everyday life.
“Yes, you probably still have to make the kids’ lunches and do the laundry, but you can do these things intentionally and with joy rather than dreading them.”