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[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
practicing presence.

 

Gratitude
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.

 

Curiosity
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!

 

Presence
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! champagne photo

 

 

 

[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 searchformeaning@seattleu.edu   Tickets go on sale in mid-January.]

REFLECTION photoOne of the human qualities I most appreciate, about myself and about others, is curiosity, and its cousin courage. A person who wonders is a person who is engaged with life regardless of their age or circumstances. From the trivial (how many people DO live in Chicago?) to the profound (why did God bother to create us after all?), and from the person across the table (what are you passionate about?) to the nation across the world (what IS daily life like in the jungles of New Guinea?), wondering is energizing. At its finest it might even give one the courage to seek out first-hand answers. At the least it gives permission to take time to google for answers or to risk asking an in-depth question of a neighbor, and listening deeply to the answer. Curiosity is a skill that can enrich life for everyone.

One of the human qualities I most dislike, about myself and about others, is regret, and its cousin second-guessing. A person who regrets what has gone before is likely to fear moving ahead. And then tomorrow they may regret the steps they didn’t take today. It’s a vicious cycle. One who regrets is one who cannot like themselves. Even if they don’t fully regret a decision, second-guessing (so maybe that wasn’t a wrong decision, but was it the best decision? Maybe I shoulda . . .) can rob life of its vigor. What a depleting waste of a lifetime!

This past week my friend Effie and I were talking about a practice we learned in our Circle of Caring, a long-term group focused on proactive aging. We called the practice “the five important words,” but the “words” are mostly short phrases: Please forgive me, I forgive you, I love you, Thank you, and Goodbye. Effie was recalling how she and her husband Mark took one of the last days of his life to hold these words, one at a time, and say them to each other, laughing and crying over all the details they could remember about their lives together as they repeated each phrase clearly – and for the last time.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about that relationship practice. I’m aware that we needn’t wait until one of us is dying to erase regrets from our lives by giving and asking for forgiveness. We can express gratitude and love today, and acknowledge that there may not ever be a better time than now to do so, because there may not be a tomorrow. Should tomorrow come, how good it will be not to drag another day’s-worth of regret into it!

And how about the relationship I have with the person I see in the mirror every day? She, too, craves assurance that the choices she made all along the way to this day were good ones. She needs to know that I like her, that person I see in the mirror, and that if she had not made the choices she made, she would not be the one I smile at now. Can I thank her for her choices and life experiences? Can I share forgiveness with her for the times she and I have doubted and judged each other? Can I look into her eyes and tell her of my love for her? Can I tell her goodbye, just in case we don’t see each other again? And when I click off the light over the mirror, can I smile at the nudge of curiosity about what this new day might hold for me?

Second-guessing is not a satisfying hobby; regrets are not a good reward for living. But playing with curiosity, and allowing courage to take me by the hand to explore what I wonder about – even, some day, as far as my own experience of dying – that’s how I want to live!