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Living Life in the Shadow of Death

By Sheri Rosenthal

In the Toltec tradition the angel of death plays a significant role in a warrior's life. If anyone can be depended upon to set our priorities straight and keep our minds clear, it's death. Why? Simply because we have a habit of proceeding in our lives as if we have forever to live, acting as if things can wait until tomorrow to be resolved. But this is not truth. We have no idea when our last moment will be.

Recently one of my apprentices didn't show up for a group class that I teach monthly in Atlanta. I was unable to reach her by phone or by email. Luckily, I had her work number and was able to communicate with a lovely woman in her office. With all the kindness in her heart she informed me that my apprentice had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I felt so blessed to be able to know this angel, even if it was for a short period of time.

Her death touched me deeply. I again pondered what it means to live as a warrior rather than a person sleep-walking through life. Since I started the Toltec path I've changed so many of my nonchalant behaviors and attitudes. I created a will so that my family has instructions as to my wishes. My business is in neat files so that anything that is needed can be easily found. Bills that have not been paid are in a "to be paid file," and those that are paid are neatly filed with the credit card that paid for them. At the end of every day I clean my desk so that everything is in order. These are some of the work things I do so that all transactions are completed by days end.

In addition, I no longer leave life's issues unresolved. Back in the old days if I had an argument with someone I would wait until I calmed down to address the situation and often stewed about it for long periods of time before I felt able to forgive and communicate again. Now all scores are tallied and debts are paid at the end of each day. A warrior never leaves business undone for others to follow up on as he takes total responsibility for his or her life.

Ask yourself this question: Why argue with the people you love if there is a possibility that you cannot make amends before you die? Certainly any of us would be saddened if we had a fight with a friend and one of us died before we could say "I'm sorry." If we lived our lives as if they could end at any moment we would be very careful about what we said and did. We wouldn't be working under the assumption that we had forever to atone for our words and deeds.

As an experiment, spend one day pretending that you are going to die tomorrow. For one day communicate with people as if it were your last day. Do your best to live your life fully and completely for the day, savoring the sweet taste of life and those you love. What you may find is that you aren't fully present in your life and that you're waiting for a better day to come. Well guess what, today is that better day and you might not get to experience tomorrow. Living life from this point of view will empower you to find your happiness and peace in every moment because who the heck wants to waste their last day on earth in conflict with others? Not me!

Sheri Rosenthal DPM is a master Toltec teacher and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Toltec Wisdom. Having trained with don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, she currently takes students on spiritual journeys, works with personal apprentices and enjoys being extremely happy. You can reach her at or