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STOIC POETRY | Holding our breath

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

September 25, 2019

Dear Eric,

How did you engage your mind during those final minutes of life before the lights went out for good? You knew the moment was coming. I know you had time to think about it. I wonder what you did and considered then? I'll bet you made good use of that precious remaining time. You always made good use of your time. You always knew your time was precious, and very brief.


I've been around long enough to watch many fall away and die. Some go quickly, others slowly. Some see it coming while others are gone without their even seeming to know. I sometimes pretend I've just a minute to live - sixty-seconds 'till lights out. I do this as a sort of reminder and practice of my mortality. As a swimmer, I know that a minute is as long as I can hold my breath while not resting. So, a minute is what I give myself when I rehearse this game of final moments - sixty seconds of life when the countdown timer begins ticking loudly in my ear. What to do in that time? How to best make use of my last minute of life?

How would you engage your mind If you had one breath left?

As a Stoic, my final knowing minute of life should be nothing more than a restful countdown. Maybe, if someone I loved was nearby, I'd walk over and give them a reassuring last hug and smile. If no one close was near, then I'd sit or recline where I could, and fix my attention upon some object of interest, or perhaps close my eyes and just listen and measure my breathe. I would not withdraw, however, too deep into the mind. I'd remain in the here-and-now. I'd just be for as long as I have left to be.

Life's end may be eased with practiced effort. A simple, daily reminder to always be ready to die will help us to put our affairs in order ahead of unplanned departure. Do this in the morning, first thing after we are fully woke, and fed and just before our routine of work begins. Remind ourselves to be ready to die; asking after our affairs regarding our estate and the care of our loved ones, our connections and the state of our relations, and our art - namely, have we spoke all we wanted to say to everyone we wished to say our best words to?

Then, begin the day ready to both live well and die well. Take not even the most routine moment for granted. Find some way to improve the world through living such that death - should it come next moment - will not be attended by panic or reflection upon time or opportunities lost, but instead a simple, final act and meditation of peace before oblivion's return.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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