When I was a little girl, my mom sat on the edge of my bed and taught me this prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
My mama leaned down, kissed my cheek, tucked in the covers real good up to my neck, and whispered, “Good night, Kathy, sleep tight,” and off she went back into the adult world, gently shutting the door behind her.
This particular prayer comes from the 18th century, so they say, and hundreds of thousands of children over the centuries have folded their sweet chubby hands and fervently added this addendum: Oh dear Lord, Oh dear Lord, please do not let me die before I wake.
I became convinced at an early age that unless this prayer was ritualistically recited, I would die in my sleep. The prayer superstitiously became a talisman to ward away death. Heaven forbid that a child would forget to utter these words. She would simply Not Wake Up In the Morning. She’d be a goner.
Who knows when the scientific method, or logical thought, axed this superstitious belief? I may have reached the wise old age of nine or eleven or thirteen before an experiment ensued. Let’s see if it’s really true. Let’s see if I’ll die. I was ready and willing to take the plunge into death to quit saying the prayer. Let’s see. Let’s really see.
And I lived! The sun rose the next day, and the next and the next. The prayer was ditched into the past, no longer needed, so sorry, Lord.
Last week I happened upon a Sun magazine filled with quotes from Stephen Levine, a pioneer in the work of death, dying and grief. He and his wife, Ondrea, wrote a book with the big title: Who Dies? An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying. He’s a guy I read dozens of years ago and thought: yes, here’s an alive spirit who isn’t afraid of dying.
He also penned “A Year to Live”. In 1994 he and Ondrea, decided to live as if it would be their last year alive. In 1995 they would be dead.
How would that impact their living?
It affected their living so strongly and with such amazing clarity that you, too, can read the book and discover.
Several days this past week I decided to live as if that day would be my very last.
Good morning, Monday! Today, Kathy, is your last day. Does that mean anything to you? How will you eat breakfast, decide what to do, interact with others?
Let me tell you, blog readers, this kind of exercise can be very telling. What IF we lived every day as if it would be our last?
I’ll share with you that those days I seemed to live more fully, vibrantly, feeling much more alive and HERE.
I wasn’t counting the minutes, yawning, not sure what to do, bumbling through. I was tasting the oatmeal. Exquisitely smelling blooming wildflowers. Kinder to my husband. More thoughtful. Present. Yes, more fully present, not lost in a million thoughts about what to do, how to fix things. Because, of course, it was imminently clear that nothing remained to be fixed or done.
I was going to die. Today was the last day. Sayanora my beloved friends and earth!
Of course, one must first squarely face any fears that rise. Such as: If I truly look at today as my last day in the Little House in the Big Woods–am I creating my own reality? Will my thoughts, oh no, result in actual physical death?
Just like realizing that the Now I lay me down to sleep fear was not actually true…one can realize that living like one is going to die will not actually create cancer or heart attack. Cancer or hearth attack will come on its own, never you worry. Using death as an adviser, an old pal, actually has the reverse effect. It makes one appreciate life any more.
You can say: Wow! This is gonna be a short life. I need to live each and every moment like a gift, with gratitude. Each day is a treasure. I don’t want to waste a single precious moment of it, do you?
Have you ever consciously pretended today was your last day to live? How did that go? Were you scared to try this? Or have you tried, and found it something which helped you to live more vibrantly?
I haven’t tried this personally but I can imagine just how profound it would be! Knowing that this would be my last day (or month… or year…) on earth would indeed cause me to act differently! For starters, I would do That Thing that I’ve wanted to do for about 5 years now but haven’t mustered enough courage to do just yet. Perhaps I will have to play this game and see how my life unfolds! 😳😜
Dana, thanks for dropping by–I always love to see you! It can, indeed, be a powerful exercise to illuminate things that our important to us. Or to show us what really isn’t that important, yet we invest so much time and energy. If you do play the game, I would love to know how it goes!
I really enjoyed your post. I try to live everyday as if it might be the last. Because frankly we never know. If more people would enjoy today they might find more peace and joy in their everyday lives.
Pamela, thank you for stopping by Lake Superior Spirit. How cool that you are aware that each day may be our last–and that you’ve discovered more peace and joy from this knowing. Thanks for sharing this.
You are so welcome. I look forward to reading more of your blog.
This is a wonderful, thoughtful post, Kathy, and with reading suggestions to boot! Thank you!
Cindy, I am enjoying what is coming out of the blogging flow these days. Glad you liked the post and can, perhaps, check out Stephen and Ondrea Levine.
I’ll add that book to my list of ‘to reads.’ This is a thoughtful post. I have never specifically tried to live as if it were my last day…but I do know I’ve been more present since I retired, have enjoyed more simple things that I rushed through before, and that I am acutely aware that no time is guaranteed. Excellent post.
Dawn, that awareness of “no time guaranteed” can be a valuable one, I should think, if it created more presence. Perhaps in some people that might make them depressed. I did feel more energized and alive when engaging in this practice for a few days last week. Am not doing it everyday, but in some moments when the going gets tough, am going to try and remember how valuable this was.
Kathy, what a coincidence? I was thinking about that prayer just yesterday. My grandmother, who lived in the upper (Keweenaw) Upper Peninsula of Michigan taught me that prayer when I was about four years old, and it terrified me. I nearly drowned when I was about ten, and I think I stopped fearing death after that. Every day has felt like a life gift since then.
That is serendipity indeed, Joanne. How interesting that your grandma from these neck of the woods taught you this prayer. I wonder why our elders thought this a good prayer for children? Maybe, they unconsciously hoped it would protect us from death, too. And maybe it did in your case! It sounds like you this experience with death gave you a great gift. Our minds so often push away thoughts of death–they say it can be taboo to even talk about it–and yet death can be a sweet adviser, as it seems to have been in your case.
You make an excellent point. I learned that prayer as a child and, while it didn’t bother me then, as an adult, it does. It doesn’t seem like a comforting prayer.
Carol, I was just pondering up above in the comments why our elders taught us that prayer. You are lucky it didn’t bother you as a child. Hoping you are feeling better these days. May life give you some gifts for a while.
I’ve always been completely unable to do this sort of exercise, my mind just blanks it out. Possibly because having lost both parents, and having faced death myself as a reality a couple of times when I was a small child, my attitude to death is a little different. But I’m glad it has in some way helped you. We all have different ways of appreciating and getting through life.
Hello, Val. It certainly is true that not every exercise like this assists every person. We’re all so different and unique. Losing both parents and facing death yourself must have been very challenging. This is not an exercise I consciously do often, but it does so unexpectedly help me at times. My mind does tend to blank out at first–not wanting to do it–but soon settles down to more vividly appreciate the everyday. I shared this in case someone else is feeling ho-hum or blue and might feel drawn to this.
I understand. 🙂
Many years ago, when I was taking a class to become a Hospice volunteer, this was one of our exercises. To be truthful, I don’t know if I’d actually change anything now in the way I live. At my age, I am certainly closer to the end. But even wasting time may be OK.( As long as I’m aware of the time I’m wasting.) I like Grace’s tombstone.
Barb, oh I’m glad you’ve done this exercise before–AND that you appreciated Grace’s tombstone. I love that tombstone! One of the benefits of doing this exercise a few times last week is that I came to the same conclusion as you. There’s not much I’d change in the way I live, what I do, what I don’t do. But there did seem to be a benefit in that the awareness of impermanence actually heightened sensory experiences.
Kathy, yes, I have done this in my past. It was a very dark time, filled with depression, heartache, loss, and emptiness. I felt like my life was ending….I had a long talk with God and said to him “Please show me that my life matters during this next year. If it doesn’t matter, then I am going to take my own life and say good bye to this world full of pain. I am exhausted now and need very obvious messages from you. Please answer my prayer and give me reasons to live.” So, during the next year, I lived every day like it was my last and lo and behold, God kept sending me reasons that showed me how meaningful my life was, filled with purpose. It was such a gift and made me realize the value in one’s life and how important it is to show others they matter to us. I’ll never forget this journey with God. ❤ He continues to bless me and show me why my life matters, despite the pain and loss that life has thrown my way. It's a treasure that I will cherish forever ❤
Brenda, wow! It sounds like you could have written an amazing blog about this yourself showing that it really does work and provide benefits. How very valuable… To learn so personally that your life does matter, that you make a difference. That you are continuing to be blessed. This feels like a testimonial today. Thank you for sharing this.
Kathy, thank you for your warm thoughts ❤ It really is hard to believe that I have come so far since that year. God continues to expand my heart and open my eyes to the wonders in this world. And, how He continues to bless me with miracles and answered prayers! ❤
Well now here you are with another challenge. No, I’ve never gotten out of bed and told myself that I will live today as if it were the last day of my life. I simply have no way of knowing how to go about it. Each day is either a depressed day or one where I go from one errand or chore to another with dropping onto my bed to rest for a while and then back up again.
I’ve never been a really happy person but hapless I am.
And, yes I learned the “Lay Me Down” prayer as a child but never thought about dying. But now as an oldster I think I’m going to die every day and wonder how I lived through the night. 🙂
It’s not a challenge, Yvonne, it’s a suggestion–if you feel drawn to try. It’s interesting, it seems our minds don’t have any idea how to go about it. Yet when I was eating my cereal I thought–last bowl of cereal–and suddenly I was right there tasting every bite. Did a load of dishes–last dishes. And I was right there with hands in the soapy water and not thinking a hundred thoughts about this and that. It does have the power to cut through negative moods at times. P.S. If you are reading this today–I am glad you lived through the night. xoxoxo
Should have worded my comment differently. Of course I know that your post was not a challenge. But I was trying to be funny and it did not read as funny.
Yes, I’m alive. Tee-hee. 🙂
Ha, isn’t it weird how the written word doesn’t always convey what we want it to convey? Sometimes I am being funny–laughing inside–and hardly anyone seems to get that it’s a joke. Once I was writing a blog and laughing almost hysterically and a visiting friend just watched. She read the post and said, “I don’t see that this is funny–but I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” Oh well! That’s why you got to use a lot of those smiley faces. Sometimes I feel like I should put one (or a wink) after every sentence. 🙂
Yep Kathy, you are right about those smiley faces. It is odd how individualistic humor can be. My daughter and I often do not agree about what is funny.
Kathy – you have given us the wonderful gift of being present to life in each moment as if it were our last. Too often we are all living somewhere else (in the past or the future) and finding fault with everything that surrounds us and nitpicking at all that is wrong with our situations. We forget to be here now, be here in gratitude, be here in love, and be here for each other.
Isn’t that true, Barbara? Our minds are so often thinking about tomorrow or yesterday, trying to fix this or that, fussing or complaining, or whatever minds do! What lies at the essence of ourselves is such a gift–and we miss it so much. In gratitude, love and appreciation for you being here right now!
My parents taught me that prayer as a little girl and I said it every night. However I think I said it so ritualistically that I didn’t really understand the words! And I taught it to my children also. Funny thing is, that I recite it to myself almost every day still. I find it calming and peaceful. And perhaps that’s why I’ve felt so aware since I’ve been a child that every day is precious. And perhaps, that was the intent of the prayer ….? Beautiful thought-provoking post Kathy, as always.
How fascinating, that this prayer is such a source of calm and peace for you. OK, I now see that a prayer can be whatever we make of it. Isn’t it odd how one person can develop fear because of words and another can feel calmed? Wow. I am also delighted that you’ve known since childhood that each day is precious. What a gift. I have known this as a thought, but have spent most of my life trying to really know this in a way that I fully live life. That’s what this blog seems to be exploring lately. Thank you, thank you, for sharing part of your story here.
I think my favorite words in this prayer as a child, and now as an adult still, are “I pray the lord my soul to keep”. This seemed like a wish as well as a prayer and a belief in the safely of my soul, whether alive, or in the next place… xo
Yes, that’s the best line. That line does make me feel peaceful and protected and just safe. Such a good point. Don’t you learn so much when you write these posts and people come back and add their perspective and you realize your own views are just one teeny tiny perspective in the big wide Universe? (OK, you don’t need to answer this if you don’t want to…just pondering…)
I have learned LOADS from reading other blogs, and from the comments on my posts. Yes. Hard to explain to people who don’t blog or read blogs how much our world opens up with them. My world now also encompasses the spirit of Lake Superior, a place a knew nothing about before you. xoxo
I was taught that same prayer. Awful thing to impress upon a child !!
I am familiar with the Levines. I had a cassette set of guided meditations for healing “wounded” women. It is called “Opening the Heart of the Womb” and I utilized that to conceive my two sons at an advanced age. I believe it made my womb more receptive to their implantation and development, whether it actually did or not.
A couple of years ago, I utilized NaNoWriMo to write a 50,000 word novel titled “The Dying Season” in which I vividly imagined my own death by fatal illness and the reactions of my family members and my burial and my emergence into whatever comes next and being given a “mission” to be born in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan as a male child and then being given the gift of being a “prophet” (an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God) trying to wake up the people there.
Ultimately, going back to Syria to fight and yes, be killed.
I still intend to edit and attempt to have that published some day but the experience of really going into the experience of my own death was priceless. Walking alongside my in-laws as they approached that door to their own death where they left us behind removed all fear of death from me. I believe what most people really fear is suffering before they die, not death itself, though the idea of ceasing to exist as an egoitized person may certainly bother some people.
I am all too aware, partly thanks to the deaths in recent years of adults younger than I am, there is no guaranteed length of life and no certainty of a tomorrow. Best do as you suggest and savor every moment. I certainly try, though I fall asleep and muddle through a lot as well.
Deb, what a unique and interesting thing to write that book and to go through your own experience of death. Priceless indeed! It’s also a gift that you have no fear of death at all. Your time with your in-laws gave you much, indeed. The thoughts of suffering around death can be very frightening for many of us, for sure.
Savoring every moment is perhaps an ideal–I do no know if it’s possible–but there does seem to be ways we can be more present and awake to moments as they arise. As for muddling through–oh yes indeed. I was muddling for a while this morning already. 🙂
Kind of muddling myself as the weekend of celebrating my existence comes too quickly to an end. HUGS and Happy Monday to you. I’ve been remembering that my Uncle was a Marine (Vietnam era), my paternal Grandfather was Army Intelligence undercover in Germany and came close to Hitler no less I am told and my maternal Grandfather was in WWI. Acknowledging something I heard – Memorial Day is important to vets because it acknowledges their sacrifices, no matter that our heart still hates war (as mine does).
Last year after dealing with shingles and a bout of pneumonia I made the decision that the word “someday” was no longer part of my vocabulary. Great post, my friend!
Sharon, it sounds as if your experience with illness provided you with the incentive to more easily stay present. So glad to hear that! “Someday” may never happen…now’s the time to truly live. Thank you for reading and enjoying!
Your childhood, bedtime routine sounds identical to mine, Kathy. It’s a wonder that prayer didn’t scare the bejeezus out of me, but it was somehow comforting. I had never lived as though it was my last day. Then, two years ago I came down with pneumonia and discovered I had cancer also. That experience did change my outlook on life because I truly thought that I might die. Today, I’m healthy enough to whine and complain like we all do, but I never forget to be grateful for each new day. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post!
Gosh, Carol, I didn’t realize you had pneumonia and cancer–what a time that must have been. It sounds like you have come out of it with that sense of gratitude which can ease our way. As to the whining and complaining–don’t we all do that at times? lol. Was just talking with another commenter and she likes the line, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” She says it made her soul feel safe and protected. I am thinking that line did balance out the death line. Blessings and glad you enjoyed.
Yes, being that sick was terrible. I wrote a post about it last October, if you’d like to read it. I’m sorry, but not sure how to include a link here ~ guess I need to improve my blogging skills! Your post resonated with me, Kathy, because I’ve really felt that threat of death. That does make a difference in life.
I just found it. What an inspirational story! So glad it was not your time to go…
Me too, Kathy. There’s too much left to do in this life 🙂
Wow, such an interesting post, as always! I had the same childhood prayer every night before bed, I never thought much of it until my boys came along and I said their prayers with them at bedtime, I then took liberty with the prayer, and changed it to “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and guide me through this very night until I see the morning light.” they seemed ok with that one.
Anyway, it seems it is a constant struggle to live each day as if it’s your last, but in reality it very well could be. My faith has helped me to truly appreciate everything, everyone around me much more and to “live in the moment” more often than not. Our lives are such a beautiful story, and each one of us is part of that same big beautiful story, some of our chapters are far apart or maybe not even written yet, but when you can look at each day as a gift, as a chance to play your part in the big picture, “the story” well, then it’s so exciting and fun! I try not to take things/people for granted, but I’m human and I do sometimes. But when we can slow down and look up and remember, we are here for a purpose, a plan, that’s so much bigger than we can ever imagine, then that day turns into an exciting, treasure hunt full of promises!
Thank you for always inspiring and making me think. Thank you for being in my story……
Gay, what lovely thoughts to share. First, how cool to turn the words of the prayer into something calming and positive and trusting in guidance. Kudos for that–I really like the words you added.
As for living each day as if it’s our last–I haven’t been able to do that. It’s neat that Stephen and Ondrea were able to do so. I lasted about two or three days last week, but am now just remembering the essence of this exercise during confusing or confounding times.
Thank YOU for being in my story. I truly enjoyed reading your passionate addition. Are you writing a blog these days? Because your writing always inspires me!
I could definitely relate to your childhood thoughts and fears. They felt very familiar. I don’t imagine living my last day, probably because there was a time in my life, years ago now, when I very much wanted every day to be my last one. Now I just live, glad that I’m happy to do so.
Sherry, it sounds like this exercise is definitely not for everyone. It seems like the intent or motivation behind such a practice would be important–not the desire to really end one’s life, but the intent to be more alive. I like watching you live–your spirit, your energy and the way you love the world.
If I’m honest, and of course I will be, I have been afraid to try such an exercise (isn’t that silly?), but as you point out, there is no good reason to be afraid. Death, when it is time, will find me. Apparently it is not yet time as Death has had a recent opportunity to do just that and took a pass on the chance. I’m going to look into the book, and I think this is an exercise worth braving. I can already see how unimportant some things would become if I knew this was my last day (or week or month or year).
I’m glad that you decided to be honest, Robin. And it cheers me that you find this something worth braving. Like you, I was afraid the first time I read of this exercise (many years ago) and actually thought it might be courting death with the power of thoughts. Some Buddhist folks actually sleep in graveyards as part of their spiritual meditation on death and impermanence. That seems a trifle obsessive…but, hey, who knows, maybe it works to break through into the present moment. So glad to hear that Death passed you by recently. So very glad.
Kathy, what a juicy blog for today! I love the way you tied in the story of the Now I Lay Me Down prayer. I, for one, didn’t grow up praying. My parents didn’t encourage prayer, but didn’t naysay it either. I used to lie down to sleep and imagine my own funeral. That was before third grade! I’d imagine who would be there and what they would say about me. This led me to second-guess my every waking behavior. I think I became a people-pleaser; afraid to do anything that would cause someone to speak poorly of me at my own funeral!
Jessica, it always give me such a big smile when you drop by to say hello. As a sometimes fellow people-pleaser, I am resonating with what you shared. I used to tell Barry that no one would come to my funeral. He’s the guy in town that everyone knows, but not me. Can you imagine no one coming to our funeral? And what kind of person would worry about that? We gotta laugh at our silly minds! Thank you for stopping by and adding to all this. Hope you are well!
I haven’t tried that exercise . With only one day left nothing would seem important. Well, maybe nothing really is important. My Mom taught me the same prayer and said “Sleep tight” too.
Dor, it’s so fascinating. My mind thought the same as yours–that nothing would seem important. But when I actually tried the exercise, it seemed everything FELT important. Very strange. I haven’t kept up doing this, but it was very interesting. Have a good day, Dor. And sleep tight tonight. 🙂
I have given it much thought. Especially when I was scheduled to go in for surgery and be under anesthesia. Honestly, being “put to sleep” scared me more than the cancer at that point. (But then again, maybe I needed something concrete to fear when I didn’t know “how bad” the cancer was at that point.) Of course, I did “wake up” after surgery and the cancer was caught early. Still, the experience taught me not to sweat the little stuff, forgive a little faster, and love a little deeper. Five years later, I haven’t forgotten that lesson and I still try to follow my own advice!
Debbie, it sounds like such a gift that your cancer gave you. Perhaps some people become bitter–or even more afraid–but it sounds like you were opened to something larger. I like the idea of loving a little deeper. Thank you for being an inspiration.
Kathy, Thanks for the kinds words. We all eventually reach a turning point (for the better or the worse) in our lives. My cancer journey was the turning point for something better. Now, I am the leader for a ministry that supports cancer survivors. Sometimes, I just shake my head and think that cancer was the best thing to happen to me. (Well, I quickly get over that thought! But God did use the cancer for good that led to many good things in my life!)
I have never consciously pretended a day was my last day to live, but I do try to make all the precious moments count. I have been thinking about death a lot lately. My mother died on May 27, when she was 59. I am 59 this May and I often dwell on wondering how it felt for her, knowing her days were numbered at this tender age. And the other thing, Tim & I wound up signing our new wills in the lawyer’s conference room on the 27th. A little synchronicity perhaps? But it didn’t feel ominous, in fact, it felt strangely peaceful and uplifting, kind of like we had finished making preparations for a future journey and could concentrate on the present once again.
Barbara, that must indeed be challenging–to pass a milestone death like that. What a young age to go. Yet I am beginning to realize (slow learner) that we could go any day. So many people do. I am glad the will-making felt peaceful and uplifting. It felt like that just reading your sentence and imagining how it kind of wrapped up loose ends. P.S. Changing the subject completely–we have fed three chipmunks by hand this spring! Even though they’re wild and it’s debatable if this is a good thing, we both feel peaceful about it. Blessings…
Three chipmunks!!! What a wonderful treat it must be to feed the little creatures. Do they come together or take turns? I suppose if they get fed whole food rather than processed junk food, then hand-feeding them should be fine. We have a pair of catbirds visiting our suet feeders. I love all the different calls they have, and they just seem so cheerful. Blessings…
No, they don’t come together. In fact one will chase the other out if they come at the same time. Unfortunately, we’ve only seen them once since we took down the bird feeder the other day. Hope somebody pops over for a visit again as the summer progresses. As for catbirds, I am not sure if we have any. We must. But haven’t seen or heard their cheerful songs in recent memory.
No, I’ve never tried this experiment. I started typing out an entire diatribe as to why, but realized, it really doesn’t matter why. But, since I’ve been back home after so many years, I’ve been tending to notice details. Sounds, scents, sights … everything is richer with life. I even posted about it today.
Well, it would have been interesting to read your diabtribe! (Although, it’s equally interesting that you realized it didn’t matter.) Attention to details seems to be “where it’s at” to help us relax into the present moment. That richness is what has happened to many people with this exercise. It’s fascinating to see that people take many different paths to settle into more fully living this life. How many thousands of paths did the Buddha say led to enlightenment?
Kathy — “Using death as an adviser, an old pal, actually has the reverse effect. It makes one appreciate life any more.”
yes, Yes, YES indeed! 🙂
I am glad that you have discovered this too, Laurie! (Although I am hoping death stays as an adviser only for a few more years…smile…)
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Your mom at the edge of the bed, the prayer, it’s my story too.
It seems that many of us share that, Lunar. So nice to see you!
I haven’t ever pretended today would be the last but I feel that is the way we should live. The last day will come to each of us…sooner than we may want it to happen.
And may it happen later than sooner, Karen. I agree that sense of preciousness of each day is a way to feel really alive and present.
All has been said; all have been read. I, too, said this prayer and recently changed from one life to a new life more aware of each second given.
Linda, I imagine your perspective has been so changed or heightened or maybe even allowing after all you’ve been through…