[Please see a brief self-promotional save-the-date announcement at the end of this post]
[dropcapMedium]I[/dropcapMedium]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 email@example.com Tickets go on sale in mid-January.]
L’chaim is our family toast, though we’re mostly not Jews. The other toast is A la famiglia, and we’re mostly not Italians. A little cultural appropriation may be a good thing. Here’s to All of It. Especially the laughter.
As always, your writing is remarkable – not to mention your beautiful mind and sensibilities. I didn’t have time to write last month, but your question has been percolating since I read it. I was really struck by the question and even more the realization that it had been resonating for a long time – and more consciously when I turned 79 a year ago this past July, even though I haven’t been diagnosed with a named disease. Mortality! Actively dying! Of course! Although I thought I was aware and conscious this question had actually been waiting under wraps for me to become more present, more grateful, and certainly more curious. Thank you for the reminders, including what I used to share about having all the time we need in the time we have! I will pass on your question and wisdom with my Conscious and Creative Aging Class. Congratulations on being chosen as a presenter at the Search for Meaning Book Festival. Much love, Linda
Linda, how often I use your wisdom about “all the time I need”!! Thank you for being in my life.
And thank you for being in my life as well!
Congratulations on being a presenter for 2018 Search For Meaning Book Festival at Seattle University. That is a perfect match.
Thank you for the good thoughts about recognizing NOW as precious. Gratitude is certainly a marvelous foundation for all joy and appreciation.
I might add wonder at the miracle of now, of life, of diversity, of the sound of wind and color of sky. The miracle of meeting in this spot in cyberspace. The dazzling awareness of the diversity of life surrounding me with barks, snuggles, quacks, cackles and more. I am, moment-to-moment, awestruck.
I wonder if Noah, on his ark, appreciated all these things quite as much as you, on your farm-cum-zoo, do?? I know of nobody who loves animals more than you – especially birds, and most especially crows, even the ones that steal your computer keyboard keys!
Thanks for being aware of the “meeting spot in cyberspace” – I LOVE that! Let’s toast to that with a cyber cuppa.
I like your idea of turning the hum of gratitude into a earworm. Curiously, the attitude of gratitude almost automatically ushers in curiosity, in my experience. I wonder why that is? And yes, it takes presence to notice that all this is going on, in one’s mind, heart and the rest of the world.
And I love the reassurance that whatever time we have left will be enough. That’s a wonderful frame! It may not be all the time we want or think we need, but to think of it as “enough” creates a sense of peace.
Every time I have tried to do something stupid with time, like exceeding the freeway speed limit to get to a meeting on time, or like trying to bolt down a meal so I can get on to the next thing in my day, or like hurrying a conversation in impatience – and I remember my friend’s admonition that I have all the time I need in the time I have, and I slow down – inevitably the meeting starts late, or the “next thing” turns out to be unnecessary, or the really important part of the conversation comes after I take a deep breath. It’s happened so often that now I just bow to “taking time” and enjoying it. I’m trying to remember that about my life as a whole . . . however long the “whole” of it may be, it will be enough! ☺ You’re right – it does create a sense of peace.
My dear Cynthia,
Thank you for this inspired parsing. As I think about it, I am pretty good with curiosity, fair on presence, and not very good at all on gratitude. Yet it only takes one power outage for me to be reminded of the big and small things that are huge blessings not just wallpaper. Mixing metaphors here, so try this: out of darkness comes light.
Perfect wisdom for this time of year. And I am grateful for YOU!
Thank you for the three elements of living abundantly as we age or struggle with illness. Curiosity, gratitude, presence in a perpetual cycle and also embracing humor. We met three years ago at the Rowe Center in Massachusetts with Pat Schneider. Best wishes from Nashville, Tennessee.
Ah yes, HUMOR! That’s such an essential ingredient that sometimes I fail to mention it! Thanks, Shelly, for filling in what was missing!
I hope your poetry writing is nurturing you and bringing you joy (along with the usual frustrations with The Muse ☺).