75 a minute.
75 beats every minute of every day. That’s the average heart rate of a healthy adult. If I live till I’m 85 my heart will have beat 3,350,700,000 times.
At 33, I’ve got just over 2 billion beats to go.
In fact as I write this today I have a second heartbeat to count – the little one whose body has been steadily growing inside me for the past five months. It’s beating at a whopping 148 bpm, making our combined total 223 per minute. Yikes!
I can’t buy my way to having more heartbeats, just in the same way I can’t magically purchase a watch which will make time slow or even stop (Bernard’s watch if you were a kid in the UK in the late 90’s). Sure I can eat well, exercise, get a decent night’s sleep most nights, and all these things are likely to give me more years on the planet. But at the end of the day, each heartbeat is a beat I can’t take back. No rewinds, take backs or take two’s.
Rather than being morbid or scary (which at first I’ll admit it can be), it actually presents a useful and worthy dilemma…
What are my heartbeats really worth? That is to say, how do I want to spend those heartbeats; how do I want to spend that time that I only get once?
We all (well, most of us) have to work; do I want to spend my heartbeats sat crouching over my laptop, developing a stress headache at the never ending pile of papers, spreadsheets and deadlines I’m always working to?
All of us need to relax; do I want to spend my time heartbeats by scrolling mindlessly through tiktok for hours, dribbling at funny videos and gorgeous men and women all evening on the sofa? Or do I want to do something that nourishes, inspires or soothes me?
The answer is, well sometimes. My job pays me well and (when I’m not in despair at how difficult it all feels in the NHS right now) I know I am contributing to something worthwhile which helps people. I don’t spend hours scrolling through anything, but I do spend minutes, several times a day scrolling and absorbing other people’s content online. Some of it is about wellbeing, or science, or news. It teaches me, it stops and makes me think. Some of it though, is just stuff I don’t care about that an algorithm cheekily popped into my feed to see if I’d take the bait like a good little fishy.
So if I wanted to honour my heartbeats, if I wanted to make them worth their true weight, what would I do? When I think – really think, with no distractions – about what it is that makes me feel whole and alive and feel joy, it’s those things that are worth my very precious time. Wellbeing, nature, connection, discovery, learning, people, our cat.
And then there’s something about the quality with which I engage in those things, both the things that make me feel joy and the things which feel more ‘must do’ or mundane (less enjoyable tasks at work go into this category, but so does cleaning the bathroom and washing my car – all of which I probably don’t do as much as I ‘should’). I know from trial and error, and from my meditation practice, that when I engage in those activities with my full awareness and my full interest, they get less shit! They can actually become quite interesting, and maybe even relaxing and rewarding. So really it’s not just the things I do but the way in which I do them.
If I’ve got a finite amount of beats, no matter my current age, I think it’s got to be worth giving them the attention they deserve. Both in the way I spend them, and the attention I give to the moments they are keeping me alive for along the way.
It’s not just what we do that matters, it’s how much of ourselves we are doing it with.
And on that note, I say farewell to my screen for the day to go out into my lovely garden and irritate the cat for being too damn cute and fluffy.
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