A Year to Live
Stephen Levine wrote a visionary work called A Year to Live in which he reflected among other things on the preciousness of human life and the importance of rededicating ourselves – each of us – to our own journey. What he’s really talking about is taking the time to see clearly the priorities for one’s life. What is deeply important? What does it all mean? Despite the inherent uncertainty that the human journey holds, we do have choices for how to be in the world, how to speak, treat our fellow citizens, how to hold ourselves in times of great challenge, how to be agents for the good.
I want to imagine the finite amount of time I have left, and explore just how I wish to navigate this uncertain terrain. What thoughts and visions will I put my mind to, what choices will I make, how will I care for myself and others, how will I manifest my truth? Here are the aspirations that rise to the surface:
PEACE – If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that I want to live in peace, in harmony with my universe. I’m sure studies have been done proving that it’s much healthier in the long run to be surrounded by those who live peacefully, but for me it’s about knowing this in a very direct and intimate way in my body. When I sit quietly and listen to my breath, feel my body’s ease, I know there is little else to be done, that I am complete, just me and my loving heart… Cultivating inner peace helps us spread it out into the world, as the Dalai Lama has said many times. First you must discover and nurture it for yourself. You must bless yourself with peace.
HONESTY – I was born on George Washington’s birthday and those of us who remember old legend learned that our first president was reputedly incapable of telling a lie. I carried that aspiration a lot of my life, though there were challenging times when I forgot how to be brave enough to tell the truth. I now feel passionate about truth. About seeing and telling the things as they are. There’s a lightness, a clarity, a spaciousness when you are speaking honestly … no skeletons in closets, no ghosts lurking around the corner. Here’s what I really think about truth: it makes us more who we really are. I have been writing much in my life to locate and own this very truth.
SERVICE – To offer ourselves — help, support, gifts, words, actions — to others is the path toward healing in our now injured society. When we offer a hand, we move from our self-referenced consciousness to forging community with others, to understanding fully the rich, complicated world we live in, and playing an active part in that world. I have sat with the dying, coached young high school students in writing, served lunch to the homeless … and in each of these instances I became more vitally a part of my world, and saw at the same time an expanding of the heart, ever so quiet and subtle, as this happened. The Buddha saw service as one of the significant paths to an enlightened life, and I get it.
BEAUTY – I can’t help it – All my life I was trained to love beauty in many different forms: art in Italy, music at the piano, great food at the dining room table, inspiring literature in all the books on all those bookshelves. I had a life of privilege and that included the tasting and falling in love with that which is beautiful. These were the rich vibrant colored threads that were woven into my life’s tapestry… To look at a great painting or listen to a Bach Fugue isn’t just a “beautiful” experience, but rather a reminder of man’s infinite capacity to create and galvanize those of us who witness into action and creativity. Art in all its forms is like a marvelous glue that binds the varying characters in society, as it tells its own story and becomes our history. Art creates community and can become a message for change.
ANIMAL LIFE – I have grown up around four legged creatures, and have for as long as I can remember felt an affinity with them: dogs, cats, birds, and elephants in particular. They all are teachers. They show us intelligence, the power of instinct, they show us how a family is raised, and how affection can be communicated. They manifest magic, as in the soaring birds that lift us off this earth as they rise into the sky. They remind us of mystery – very important. We need to make room for mystery… They also remind us that we ourselves are animals, and that gift is priceless. Taking on a little humility in this way helps us be part of the whole as opposed to remaining an observer. I have imagined myself in all these forms, and it brings love and laughter into my heart to do so. And who doesn’t need love and laughter?
FAMILY – What can I can about this except that the children and grandchildren that I have watched grow for these many years have perhaps been my greatest teachers. And how we need teachers to guide us along the path! … Teachers keep us honest, they inspire, they remind us of our own unique gifts. The older I get, the more humbled I feel as I realize I am still learning from these dear ones. They bring joy and and love.
I will rest here for now, and contemplate these particular marvels in my life. These beautiful gifts have colored the landscape of my life in wondrous ways, each of them inexorably tied to my heart through the power of love. Yes, it really does all boil down to love in the end, doesn’t it?