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Oct 10

Momento Mori Through the Eyes of Steve Jobs

Momento Mori is a Latin phrase which translates to “remember your mortality”. I first heard this phrase several years ago shortly after I joined the Freemason fraternity, and it is a phrase that has profoundly shaped my life ever since. It is a phrase that has both motivated me to achieve my goals, as well as caused me to enjoy life to the fullest, to truly live in the now, because tomorrow, or even the next minute, is not guaranteed.

Death is generally a taboo subject in Western culture, and as such it is rarely discussed, and most people earnestly try to not even think about it. Most people may think about the concept death when they learn of the passing of someone, but most generally quickly file the subject away, in order to avoid thinking about it too much. The subject of death can be an uncomfortable subject, because the death of our physical body represents the end of life as we know it, it is the end of everything we are certain about. As Shakespeare so eloquently stated in his Hamlet “To Be or Not to Be?” soliloquy, death is that, “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns”.

Death is something that we each will face, and instead of being something negative, it can be a powerfully motivating force in ones life. I know for a fact that I am not immortal, and because of this I will someday die, perhaps sooner than later. By being aware of this, I am motivated to live life to the fullest, to achieve my goals, and to accomplish as much as I can in whatever time I have left on this earth. As one of my favorite historical figures, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do today”.

After hearing about the death of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, I stumbled across a commencement address that he gave at Stanford University in 2005. Mr. Jobs delivered a powerful commencement address in which he spoke about his background, rise to techno-stardom, as well as his then recent brush with death after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (the same form of cancer that recently killed Patrick Swayze, and most likely the cause of Mr. Jobs’ recent death). I have found Mr. Jobs’ statements on death the most moving:

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful, but purely intellectual, concept.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but some day not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

What Steve Jobs was telling to the graduates was, and still is, a powerful and timeless message: Grab life by the horns, be who you want to be, live your life to its fullest potential. By remembering death you can remember to live, and enjoy life to the fullest. If you have a goal or a dream pursue it, but make sure to enjoy life as you pursue your goals and dreams. Don’t just go through the motions of life, truly seek to actually “live” life.

“Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives”

– A. Sachs

Practical Tip:  Since we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, enjoy spending time with those you love, and seek to accomplish your goals and dreams. Strive to live life to the fullest, live the life that “you” want to live, and above all enjoy every moment of life.

The video of this quoted section can be found here: Steve Jobs on Death

The text of the full address can be found here: Steve Jobs Full Commencement Address Text

The full video of this commencement address can be found here: Full Video of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address

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7 comments

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  1. vishvarupa

    Some of the most ancient and powerful practices in yoga are meditating in charnel grounds, and watch impermanence . There is a lot of wisdom in remembering ones mortality.

  2. step on a crack

    YES! my meditation practice focuses on Anicca “impermanence”. My Catholic practice urges that we ponder death each day; if we live knowing we will die; what choices will we make? How does that shift the paradigm? quite a bit, I found. I LOVE this post on so many levels: tribute to Steve Jobs, essay on death, our cultures hang ups. Well done and well written! I am glad to have found you!

    1. Jason E. Marshall

      Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it! If we come to the realization that we will someday die, it can be a powerful force for actually “living life” and fulfilling our purpose, rather than just going through the motions. On one level you can even use Jesus as an example, in that he knew he was going to die, it was his destiny, but instead of bemoaning that fact, he did God’s work right up until the end, which was also his destiny.

      Take care,

      – Jason

      1. step on a crack

        YES! Jesus is the perfect example, ‘Forgive them; they know not what they do.”

        What Love and Grace! He set the standard. The Buddha too. There is an important reason they were here. I watch the Dalai Lama walk his path with China or Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker House and KNOW there IS a way to live. They have all embodied it.

      2. step on a crack

        YES! Jesus is the perfect example, ‘Forgive them; they know not what they do.”

        What Love and Grace! He set the standard. The Buddha too. There is an important reason they were here. I watch the Dalai Lama walk his path with China or Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker House and KNOW there IS a way to live. They have all embodied it.

  3. erranttranscendentalist

    A good friend of mine (she happens to be a wonderful Shaman) has a great motto that I thought of as I was reading your eloquent post: “Do not meet the day of your death with a perfectly preserved body. Rather, slide into home base with a thoroughly used-up body shouting, ‘Woohooo! What a ride!'” Thanks for a great post!

    1. Jason E. Marshall

      What a great saying! Thank you for sharing!

  1. Make Today Meaningful « Living In The Now

    […] As referenced in the above quote by H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama, we should try to make each day meaningful. Instead of looking at today as a list of tasks to accomplish, we should try to make today matter, make it meaninful. In order to make each day meaningful, you must not get caught up in negative mindsets, because negative mindsets make your day miserable rather than meaninful. In order to accomplish this, I have turned part of the quote into a personal mantra, that a repeat to myself each day when I wake up, I simply tell myself to ”make today meaningful”. By making each day meaningful, it allows me to stay engaged with living in the now, rather than pushing through to the weekend, or some other point in the future, which may never come (which goes hand in had with my previous piece on living each day like it is your last- Momento Mori). […]

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