Living Differently

One of the many philosophical questions up for reflection in our “One Year to Live” class is this:  Knowing you will die in one year, how do you want to live differently?  What habits would you like to break?

I want to no longer take my life for granted.  Instead I’d like to make conscious each day that I wake to the sun, the rain, the wind — no matter what storms are brewing in my brain or heart.   I’m thinking of keeping a little notebook in which I write down each day just one thing that’s particular and vivid, whether it’s the sight of a hummingbird, seeing a great art exhibition, or eating a perfect fried egg.  Pause, reflect, and know that you’ve had an interesting day.

I want to stop wasting time.  There’s a long list of “to do’s” I have been carrying around that look like good antidotes to time wasting:  read Shakespeare again, play Bach on my grandmother’s piano, tell someone I care about that I love them, buy myself some flowers, return to Italy, or make a really good soup…  Within reason, you can be the creator of your life here on earth.

I want to stop looking away from that which is sad, annoying or ugly.  “There but for the grace of God go I” comes to mind: the perceiving that I am one with the homeless man sleeping in a doorway on a damp morning, or the rude taxi driver that disrespects my rights as a pedestrian, or the arrogant young weekend drinkers at the local sports bar who disturb my carefully held serenity and quiet.  We are all struggling to navigate this complicated human landscape, each of us carrying our hopes and aspirations, our fears and our fragile sense of self.

I want to stop accumulating things I’ve convinced myself I should have… more clothes (always!), more books, and jewelry for starters.  I look around me now and feel hemmed in by the “stuff,” and all I can think of is how it will feel to my family to face my life’s accumulation after I die, remembering those tedious and sad days I poured through my mother’s drawers, her purses, and boxes to see what I could do with this confusing residue from her life in the form of bobby pins, frayed photographs, powder puffs and chipped porcelain.

I want to stop waiting for the right time.  “Do not wait” is a precept we reflected on regularly when I worked as a volunteer at Zen Hospice Project.  We were trained not to rush forward reactively or urgently, but to respond mindfully and promptly when there is clear need, because the impermanence of phenomena requires continual attention and waiting will often get us to a place where our care is no longer relevant, where the connection we so wish for vanishes.  We live in a world colored by uncertainty, and we need to learn resolve.

And lest you think I need to remain on this lofty plain, here are some habits of a daily and mundane nature that I might consider re-thinking:  late night chocolate mint chip ice cream, ignoring my seat belt, ranting about Donald Trump, drinking more than one margarita in a sitting, watching another of those detective story re-runs out of boredom, eating too many salty chips, playing with my I phone when I could be attending to my world, putting off another dentist appointment, watching too much news (even on public television!), starting yet another knitting project, staying up too late at night…

This life is a gift, yes … and in order to fully receive this gift, we must pay attention, we must take loving care of ourselves and others, and see ourselves as yet another little piece of the giant puzzle.  Oh, I just remembered something else:  we must let go more often, and we must laugh!


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