[Please see a brief self-promotional save-the-date announcement at the end of this post]
n last month’s post I addressed a question that arose in a cancer support circle: How is it possible to sustain the feeling of every moment being precious when one is not “actively” dying?
Pondering the last part of the question last month, the part about about “actively” dying, sparked many great reply comments; and the conversation is continuing among thoughtful circles of folks, which pleases me immensely! Those comments and conversations will be added to this month’s comments, all to become fodder for the third of three posts derived from that original, juicy question.
For now, back to the first part of that question: How DO we “sustain the feeling of every moment being precious”? How do we make every moment precious? Regardless of our state of health. Regardless of our life expectancy.
These are three of my ways:
nurturing the earworm of gratitude,
following curiosity, and
An “earworm,” is one of those annoying songs that shows up in your head and just won’t leave until you deliberately replace it with another song that you like better (for now). I think of gratitude as a single sacred earworm — or “word worm,” perhaps — that reiterates a hundred times a day: “Thank you.” Sometimes it says a delighted “Oh, thank you” or a prayerful “Dear Holy One, thank You” or a joyful “How can I possibly say ‘thank you’ enough for all of this?’” Maybe a “thank you” comes when you realize that that place in your shoulder hasn’t ached for the last two hours. Or that the toilet, yet again, reliably flushes. Thank you!
So many moments for gratitude: the small birds excitedly flocking in to a freshly-filled feeder; the fragrance of oregano in a simmering pasta sauce, or of lilac in a hidden-away garden; the close call at an intersection that didn’t become an accident; the colors and abundance at a farmers’ market. All precious moments. Let your earworm sing its gratitude! Every day. All day long.
Remember, back in the dark ages, when we had to look up stuff in the Encyclopedia Britannica, hoping that the current annual, filled with last year’s developments, would give us the almost-up-to-date info we needed? Then in 1994 the EB went digital and online, and in 2012 it ceased hardcopy publication altogether. Now we have Wikipedia, updated minute-by-minute; and Google, so ubiquitous that the brand name has become a lower-case verb.
These days, any time I find myself thinking, “I wonder [what, who, where] . . .,” I revel in the fact that it takes only a few keystrokes until the answer is right there on my computer screen. And from time to time I dive into one of those digital rabbit holes that a simple search often presents. I try not to spend too long there, but once in a while curiosity says that I’ve gotta follow that white rabbit who is perpetually “late.” I am not yet late (in the deceased sense), so I go ahead and follow my curiosity and often end up with a dozen more reasons to say “Wow, thank you!”
Even better than googling is the feeding of curiosity with first-hand experience, taking time to magnify the five senses and enjoy them. Follow the trail of a snail, or the flight of a heron to its nest. Watch your skin heal from a blister – notice the dying of cells, and their replacement. Be fascinated by the way that morning sun makes ground fog seem to be a living thing. Listen for the harmony of sounds as water flows over stones in a creek bed – hear that deep bass note? It’s always been there, but you had not noticed before; now you can smile “thank you” for the secret that the creek has revealed to you.
Be curious about people, too. Ask them unexpected questions about themselves: “What are you passionate about?” “Tell me about your favorite place in the world.” Then take the time to really listen to their answers as if this were the most important thing in your whole day. It possibly is!
My third way of sustaining the preciousness of every moment is really a part of the previous two, but it’s sort of gratitude and curiosity on steroids. Presence is being as fully open as possible to every detail of every moment, bringing your curiosity, your attention, and your gratitude to each moment with as little judgment or fear as possible.
I believe that’s the whole point of incarnation, after all — to surround the invisible spark of divinity, the soul, with the amazing complexity of mortal flesh for the length of a lifetime. The soul wants to experience every detail of a life, to be fully present within it, however long that life may be.
It helps to take advantage of some wonderful guides who understand and embody presence. Read Mary Oliver’s poetry, or the new anthology titled Poetry of Presence, or the brief meditative essays in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, or the glorious Love Poems from God, sacred poetry of twelve mystics, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.
Do I hear someone saying that all this practicing of gratitude and curiosity and presence takes time? Yes, indeed it does. And isn’t that the essence of life: time? Precious time, that begins ticking at conception, and, at some unpredictable point, stops. Yet, as a very wise friend of mine once told me, we have all the time we need in the time we have. We have been given the gift of time, in a body equipped with miraculous senses, directed by a mind that is curious, and enriched by a soul that is grateful for the chance to be embodied and fully present.
So, however much more of it we may have, it is enough.
Here’s to life: L’chaim!
[A brief self-promotional save-the-date announcement: I have been invited to be a presenter at the 2018 Search For Meaning Book Festival at Seattle University on February 24. There will be many presenters, hundreds of books, and an expected 1000 registrants from around the country. It’s a fabulous day of community comprising a melange of spiritual perspectives, all on a lovely welcoming campus; I’d be going even if I weren’t among the presenters! Check out the information at firstname.lastname@example.org Tickets go on sale in mid-January.]