The Bucket List


There’s a hole in this bucket?

Last night I watched a programme on Channel 4 called 24 hours in A&E. It’s compulsive viewing and filmed in Kings College Hospital in South London where I was treated on more than one occasion during a previous ‘career’. In last night’s episode one of the senior nurses was talking about his reaction by being confronted by people who are close to death every day…he said something like “you can’t help but think about your own mortality and try to wring as much out of life as possible while we’re here”. Not all of us work in environments where we are confronted by death in a way where “the message is repeated” as this nurse put it “over and over again”.

And it’s not just about being busy, not just about the bucket list, sure fulfilling ones dreams and ambitions in life is a great and positive way to approach the world, but being fulfilled doesn’t end at ticking things of a list…what about supporting your family, being there for a friend in need or just putting a hand out to a complete stranger in distress? Anyone who has ever done any one of these things (and of course it’s not an exclusive list in any way) will know how fulfilling helping, thinking and acting for others can be. Who does our life belong to anyway apart from the community in which we live, grow, flourish and die?

I suppose that’s where the motivation for this blog came from, because it doesn’t really matter what you believe happens after death, the important thing is to fully understand that you will die, that it is an inevitable part of life…the loss of a loved one is hard and sad but thinking about death (ours or anothers) is not morbid unless your perspective is one that  only understands life as good and death as the end of that goodness…well no-one knows what lies ahead so it’s not constructive to think that way, indeed for most of us life itself is a battle…and why? Largely because we see death as the end…and that’s the paradox. If death were the end doesn’t it seem bizarre that for the infinitely small period of time (compared to the eternity of death) that we’re alive that we spend most of our time on this beautiful and bountiful planet fighting one another and struggling to compete for something we are not even sure is real…on the other hand if life is ongoing in some form, where’s the rush…? Why bother when you have the next million lifetimes to enjoy?

As the Buddha came to realise neither of these views is useful, they serve neither to inspire or enlighten, they simple deepen delusion or create stronger attachment.

“Based on the concept or dependent origination – one of the truths to which Shakyamuni became enlightened – the sufferings of age and detah are seen as arising from the innate ignorance within the individual. The Buddha teaches that these sufferings can be overcome by extinguishing this inner benightedness.

The wisdom or insight that enabled Shakyamuni to attain enlightenment represents the wisdom for conquering delusion and suffering concerning death. Based on this wisdom the Buddha rejecetd the two most commonly prevailing views of death – two extremes – both of which he considered errouneous because they could not fully enbale people to transcend the fear and uncertainty of death as the annihilation or complete cessation of self (the view of annihaltion), while the other was the view that death as the self continuing in the form of an unchanging immortal soul or spirit (the view of permanance)”.



Have we been here before?

Buddhism teaches that life and death comprise the great and eternal rhythm of the universe itself, neither ending with death nor beginning with birth. Both life and death are impermanent.

That might be worth contemplating if you’re writing your bucket list.


The Elephant’s Footprints

Yes. I know what you’re thinking. Well probably thinking, I thought exactly the same thing, and why would I think my confabulations poured forth in this manner might be any more appealing or insightful than the millions of blogs already taking up cyber space? I’m not famous, I’m not a prostitute and I’m not an expert in anything that I can think of. I am passionate about things like music and art. Some days. On other days? Not so much.

The honest answer is I don’t know. Anything. And I certainly don’t know where the idea of a blog was conjured from. Maybe it’s the fact I’ve been stuck in doors with a terrible cold for the past few days. Who knows. I guess the truth is I need to write this down (or more accurately write it out) and if you, dear reader, get something from it or enjoy it for any reason (which I hope you do) then it will perhaps serve some higher purpose than just providing me with an outlet for my vanity and a forum for my less than cogent thinking and general musings on this wonderful, complex (that’s where I come in – life itself is pretty straightforward after all) thing we all call life. My aim, at least, is not to pollute the internet with more rubbish so I hope you’ll enjoy the experience in some way.

The title of the blog, by the way, is not meant to be dark or depressing. All great philosophers (not trying to suggest that I’m one of them) have emphasized the importance of contemplating death, how it gives meaning and value to life:

“Of all footprints

That of the elephant is supreme;

Of all mindfulness meditations

That on death is supreme.”


I think we could do with a bit more of this in the West. In the West death is largely seen as a full stop to the paragraphs of our lives. Life is to be extended at any cost and yet very little is said about the process of Death itself or what we feel may or may not happen after it. Whatever your beliefs happen to be, the fact is, that on this side of the planet* death is not public anymore, it’s become a dirty word – a hidden word and a hidden process largely tucked away inside hospitals. We are ashamed of death, because it completely refutes the illusion of everlasting life and youth that we seem hell bent on propagating in order to sell more stuff. I for one, think that’s pretty morbid; the refusal to acknowledge death. Death should be celebrated or at least accepted and contemplated. It’s important to remember that in the midst of life we are always in death, in fact they are two ends of the same pencil, not opposite even; one is the other and this is where any true evaluation of life must begin.

I really don’t think it matters what you believe in but it’s useful to contemplate death and the possibility of life after death at some point.  Who hasn’t? And when you think about it (which is what I am suggesting here) it shifts your awareness and sense of identity from the idea of being a separate, isolated, limited individual to a far more timeless, settled sense of Self. This shift changes your energy, attitude and beliefs in relationship to your entire life and all that it contains, hence its value.

It helps tune you into the very value of life and that’s the important word. Value.  Becoming aware that this is the last moment before your death is powerful and transformative. Tuning in to this energy has one other major benefit; helping to overcome the fear of death. Once life is perceived as part of something larger, something perhaps infinite then death is simply part of the process. The Ancient Egyptians didn’t even have a name for it, they simply called it ‘Westing’ as in heading West – like the setting of the Sun. The Egyptians were a very spiritual bunch (mostly) and of course the whole civilisation was based on spiritual grounds. The Sun as we all know is born again in the East, transforming darkness into light and marking another day (the time of light between one night and the next).

So with contemplation of death and what happens next, everything begins to change and it’s almost impossible to reap the full fruits of any decent and genuine teaching of Life, without getting to this understanding in some way shape or form.



So there we have it. Stayed tuned for other fun musings, abstract pictures and prizes. Okay so there won’t be any prizes – you can’t have it all. Just count your lucky stars. Really. Think about it…how extraordinary to be living- that we have a life? The odds are stacked against us. Think of all of those ancestors who had to kill with their bare hands, live off the land, survive wars, famine and plagues so that you can breath oxygen? Well worth contemplating the next time you’re getting angry in the queue at Tesco’s.

So thanks for joining me on this cosmic journey so far. As we travel together I hope we’ll find inspiring insights into time, consciousness and eternity shedding new light on the meaning of existence and our desire to make peace with Death. If not we’ll also hopefully have time to share some biscuits and a nice cup of tea (in a virtual way) as well.

*I have always had a problem with North/South East and West…earth is floating in infinite space and I just can’t get my head around a top or a bottom