Premeditatio Malorum (A Meditation)

Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.
— Seneca

I'm going to get a bit morbid for the next few minutes. I apologize. I promise it won't hurt and it won't last long.

While I typically preach relentless optimism as the HWW mindset this particular dark meditation serves an important purpose: to wake you up from your slumber so you can finally get down to the business of taking care of yourself (I'll be back to relentless optimism next week).

Imaging worst-case scenarios to better prepare yourself for an uncertain future goes back at least 2500 years. The Stoics -- Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius -- called this practice premeditatio malorum, the premeditation of evils, and they believed that consciously meditating on the things we dread the most (a) better prepared us for that possible outcome, should it come to pass, (b) rendered any calamity which fell short of that outcome a blessing by comparison, and (c) drained the idea of unconscious dread by pulling it forward, into our consciousness, to better prepare for its possible impact.

I often use this negative visualization exercise in my HWW coaching practice to help people conjure their wake-up call, to instill a sense of urgency in people who might not be currently dealing with a health crisis but for whom it's just a matter of time. Because, for all of us, it's just a matter of time.

The Meditation

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. If you think you might fall asleep then sit up tall. Try not to lean against the back of your chair.

Close your eyes and find your breath.

Inhale. Exhale. Follow your breath as it enters your nostrils and flows down through your throat and into your lungs. Then follow it back out.

Now slow your breath down. Lengthen your inhale, filling your lungs first, then your abdomen, and finally your pelvic bowl.

Exhale slowly, through your nose. Lift your pelvic floor and pull your navel toward your spine, wringing every last bit of air from your lungs.

Hold for a beat, lungs empty. Feel the anticipation of knowing that the next breath is coming, that life-giving oxygen will soon be flooding your lungs and then the blood coursing through your body. To your organs and your muscles; to every cell in your body. A miracle in every second.

Repeat, returning to your breath as often as necessary if (when!) the mind begins to wander.

Create a fortress in your mind by focusing on your breath.

Then: picture yourself in ten years.

How will you feel? How will you look?

What will it be like to be in your body after ten more years of your current lifestyle?

Will you still be able to do all the things you enjoy doing today? Are there things that you would like to be able to do in ten years that you can't do today?

Is there someone, a role model a decade or so older, that you would like to emulate?

Is there someone (an anti-role model) whose example you want to make sure to avoid?

What are the consequences of ten additional years of doing the same thing, of kicking the can down the road?

Are you willing to accept these limitations on yourself ten years hence?

What about the impact on your loved ones? Will they be taking care of you? Will they be able to support themselves if you're unable to work or if you've spent your savings on expensive medical treatments or medicines?

Now look further down the road, twenty years from now.

You're in your 60s or 70s, maybe even your 80s if you're lucky. By no definition are you still young. The things you could maybe get away with in your 20s and 30s -- eating poorly, not getting enough sleep or exercise -- have taken their toll. The chickens have come home to roost.

Look in your medicine cabinet. It's full of prescription medications, pharmaceuticals that are keeping you alive but at what cost? They are really only managing the symptoms of the conditions that have attacked your body while your immune system was distracted fighting the inflammation caused by decades of unhealthy living. Other medications manage the side effects of your primary medications. It's a vicious cycle, with seemingly no escape.

Your friends and family don't say anything (most of them, anyway) but you know they're worried. You can see it in their eyes. You've gained too much weight and it's taking its toll on your back and your hips and your knees. You can't even walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. Your posture makes it look as if you're collapsing into yourself.

Your big plans for your retirement will not come to fruition. You were finally going to travel, to see the world. Your reward for decades of working hard. But how are you going to sit on a plane for more than a couple hours or walk around sightseeing when you can't even stand for 10 minutes?

Now look another ten years down the road. Thirty years or so from now.

You're on your deathbed. The end is imminent.

You're recounting your life, the film unspooling in your mind's eye.

Many of the accomplishments of which you were once so proud now seem hollow and small. The regrets are almost too painful to consider. You have gratitude for the beautiful moments but there weren't enough. You want more time: for joy, for love, for fulfilling your singular purpose, what you were put on this earth for. But there is no more time. This is the end.

Now, remember who you were twenty or thirty years earlier. Is there anything you would tell your younger self? Any advice you would want to give the person you were? The person you are now?

Would you tell yourself to take better care of your body, mind and spirit?

To eat healthier and be more active?

To watch less TV and spend more time outside, with friends?

To purge yourself of corrosive anger and resentment and choose love, always?

To learn how to create a fortress in your mind with only your breath?

Then do those things, now. It's not too late.

Don't wait for someone else to save you. Become the hero of your own life. Get busy with your own rescue.