Survival, Mortality, Desert Art, and Understanding

How much time do you have left?

Hello friends and welcome back to Life Reimagined, a free weekly elixir designed to make you feel good and live better.

This week, we’re going to talk about stories of suffering, art, death, and what it means to live in a world that you will never fully understand.

📚 I. Book I’m Reading

I’m reading Survival In Auschwitz, Primo Levi’s vivid account of his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In addition to detailing the horrors that he and others endured, Levi discusses the implications of this unimaginable suffering for individuals and society at large.

Suffering in Auschwitz reminds me of the first half of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book that I first read in my early 20s and that had a profound and enduring impact on how I view the world.

If you’ve never read direct accounts of people who experienced the concentration camps, consider making one of these books your next read.

These stories will give you perspective on your own life and remind you of the importance of never allowing this type of suffering to happen again.

🦿 II. Burning Man Art Archive

Burning Man has a mixed reputation. Some people think that it’s the best place on earth; others think that it’s a hedonistic festival for privileged druggies.

Regardless of what you think about the event, one thing that’s difficult to dispute is that Burning Man has some of the coolest art in the world.

Every year, people band together to create large art installations that communicate the experience of being human, raise awareness for important social and political issues, and speak to the collective consciousness of the tens of thousands of people who venture to the Nevada desert for the event.

Every time I leave Burning Man, I’m sad that more people don’t get to experience the art. I always assumed that you have to go to the event to experience the art, but then this week, I discovered that there is a catalog with pictures and descriptions of all of the Burning Man art going back to 1992!

Of course, looking at pictures is not a replacement for the in-person experience, but it does give you a sense of what you may discover if you go.

And even if the art doesn’t inspire you to head to Burning Man, it may generate some ideas for your work or be a fun way to spend a few hours on the internet.

If you’re interested, you can see the full catalog here: Burning Man Art Archive.

Burning Man art created with Midjourney.

⚰️ III. Mortality Calculator

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought about my own mortality. On most days, I think about death at least a few times. Some people think that’s sad or weird, but I honestly think it’s been a positive force in my life.

Regularly remembering that I and the people around me will die has allowed me to be more patient with my family, give more of my presence to friends, make “risky” career moves, forgive myself for mistakes, and operate in a way where I’m never trading too much of today for tomorrow.

In a sense, the knowledge that I’m not here forever has helped me spend my days in better alignment with how I actually want to live. I don’t think you need to think about death as much as I do to be a good director of your life, but I do think that actively considering your mortality from time to time can be helpful.

There are many ways to introduce more mortality consciousness into your life, but one of the easier entry points is to spend a few minutes on, a tool that uses actuarial tables to help you understand how much time you may have left. Hat tip to Kevin Kelly for recommending the tool.

After entering a few data points on the site, I learned that:

  • On average, I’ll live for another 53 year

  • 49% of the world population is younger than me

  • My chance of dying in a given year is 10%+ starting at age 55

I came away feeling like I’m definitely not young anymore, but that I still have a good amount of time to experience more of what the world has to offer. And as I considered the statistical risk of dying over time, I felt motivated to continue front-loading the things I still want to do while I’m still around to do them.

This tool is obviously rudimentary and cannot tell you when you’ll actually die, but it’s still useful in giving you a sense of how much time you have left. And I think that even seeing the estimated number of years you have left may help you think more productively about how you want to spend that time.

🧠 IV. Something I’m Thinking About

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to understand myself, others, and the world.

And while I’ve had glimpses of insight that make me feel that I know more about what this whole thing is all about, in recent years, I’ve come to believe that the answers to life’s mysteries are behind the grasp of humans.

We may have moments of understanding, but they inevitably fade into the muddy waters of the complex and ineffable nature of existence.

And it’s with this idea in mind that I wrote the poem below.

“this moment”

In this moment,

couples laugh and quibble

people consume their final breath

and toddlers take their first step

In this moment,

whales and dolphins swim

trees fall down

and people plunder the land

In this moment,

rain and snow fall

the sun peaks through clouds

and waves arrive at the shore

In this moment,

businessmen shake hands

animals procreate

and writers toil over words

This moment, like every moment

is filled with the never-ending

pain, suffering, pleasure, and joy

that make the world dance

Moment after moment, the world

goes on in its beautiful complexity

laughing at all of us silly beings

who try to understand why

That's all for now. See you next Sunday.

— Cal

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