In the 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins is wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover.
After spending years in prison, Andy quietly and methodically works on crafting an escape tunnel through his cell wall. In the middle of the movie, Andy shares his escape plans with his friend and fellow inmate, Morgan Freeman’s character, Ellis “Red” Redding, delivering the famous line:
“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Andy’s words encapsulate the crux of the film’s message – even in dire circumstances, we have a choice. We can either “get busy living” by seeking out opportunities, maintaining hope, and striving for a brighter future, or “get busy dying” by succumbing to despair and hopelessness.
But this message goes far deeper than that.
For instance, if you are reading this right now you are alive. But are you really living? Or are you merely just existing? Are you merely rinsing and repeating?
It’s a fair question — because someday you will die.
In every moment, each of us is alive while moving closer to death at the same time. That’s inevitable. We have no control over that.
But we can choose to really start living.
This is truly the choice of each of our lifetimes — the one we will be confronted with repeatedly. How you choose makes all the difference—because simply being alive is not enough. Mere existence is not what you are here for. Having a pulse and a heartbeat doesn’t qualify as living when you been gifted human consciousness and have the most powerful technology sitting inside your skull.
Even an earthworm can merely exist.
If you’re not really living, then you already started dying. Unfortunately dying has become the default. It’s the choice much of humanity has made without even realizing they did—because real living takes supreme effort.
It demands unwavering determination.
Zen tradition might refer to this notion as “great determination” — a strong resolve that wells up from the bottom of your gut and spurs you on. It’s a kind of fierce motivation that anchors you along our path. Like any endeavor, half-heartedness won’t get you very far.
Why be half-hearted with your life?
Why have one foot in life’s doorway and the other in death’s?
Sometimes, we’ve been so busy going through the motions within our comfy confines for so long, that we’ve become “busy dying.” Only with strong determination and commitment to live this life with full gusto can we focus on putting one foot in front of the other and walk straight through our self-created prison.
“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” — Red Redding
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