60-Second Inspiration: 5 Tips on Living from a Man who Serves the Dying.

By Mercurywoodrose via Wikimedia Commons
By Mercurywoodrose via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a regular column in the New York Times called “The Sunday Routine” which details how a variety of City dwellers spends their Sundays. It’s usually a pretty good read, especially a couple of weeks ago when it featured the routine of one Koshin Paley Ellison.

Koshin is a monk and Zen teacher, and also the co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. It’s a nonprofit that offers training for people who provide end-of-life care and, in his role there, Koshin spends a lot of time with those who are dying.

While I’ve written before about how being close to death can shape your perspective on life (See: Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Die), I think that Ellison brings some fresh insights to the topic.

What you see below in italics are actual quotes from Ellison, the first four are from The Times article, the final one comes from a story published in the online version of Spirituality & Health magazine.

  1. Realize each moment only happens once, never to be repeated. What I’ve learned from this work is that each moment is so precious. It’s why I kiss (my husband) Chodo in the morning. This is it, and actually it is it, because this moment will never happen again.
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of each person you meet. I visit someone who’s sick. It feels like a privilege to do that and just show up and see what’s needed, without any agenda. It’s such a rare opportunity to sit across from someone and really wonder what it is to be them.
  3. If you’re preoccupied or worried, you’re not engaged with life. I find such inspiration from people who are really struggling with knowing that their time is limited, because they’re the greatest teachers. They’re constantly thinking, “What was I worried about, what was I doing? So busy and not paying attention at all.”
  4. Fill your days with the things that matter most. My Sunday routine doesn’t feel routine, each thing feels so imbued with what matters to me: to love the beings in my house, to be in my body, to take care of the mind, to have friendships and to take care of people in our community. It makes me want to cry sometimes how I just feel so blessed.
  5. Live in each and every moment. In Zen, the teaching is that birth and death are happening in each moment. Each moment is born and then dies. Working with dying people has brought a mirror to my daily life that this is it. There is no future moment. How I treat myself, and the world, matters—moment by moment.
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