Inspiration can come from the most interesting places. This week I was inspired to live better by an article about dying. This was an article in the New York Times Magazine about a man who runs a small hospice in San Francisco and wants to change the way we go about dying. This is when I love the internet. I live in the Midwest, and I’m reading an article from a New York City newspaper about a man in San Francisco. This would not happen for me without the internet. I wouldn’t have looked for something like this, but here’s the kicker, it was posted by a Facebook friend of mine who lives in Australia. How amazingly cool is that? So what’s the big deal about an article called One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die? The big deal is that every article you read about the dying seems to say one thing. The biggest regrets of the dying are the moments they missed to truly live. The dying get very clear very quickly about what is important, and if they have time, they learn to live every moment as fully as they can. This article is no exception. It tells the story of BJ Miller, a doctor and triple amputee, who founded Zen Hospice that helps people live their last days the best they can. It also tells the story of a young man who travels through Zen Hospice and how the staff helps him live every on of his last days. It was all interesting, but at the end of the article I read a sentence that gave me chills and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It basically said that when people know they are dying, they often get very good at keeping what is meaningful to them and letting go of the rest. I don’t know about you but that hits me right between the eyes.
How many times do we fret over things that do not matter in the grand scheme of life? I have worried about bad hair days, badly prepared dinners, whether someone likes me or that stupid thing I said. I’ve worried about paying a bill, how clean my house is, how other people feel about my children, my marriage and my life, and you know what? None of it matters. None of it is meaningful, and I’m learning to let it go. At another time in my life, this might not have been so profound, but this year, I will turn 54, the age my dad was when he died. Now, I’m not planning to die anytime soon, but reaching the age that one of your parents died gives you pause. It hints at your mortality, and if you’re lucky, it gives you courage especially if you have watched someone leave this world that lived much less than they could. There is so much I could say about my dad’s passing, and I’ve shared before that his cancer was a gift to both of us. It gave us time to talk and to heal from years of anger and hurt, and when he passed, we were at peace, but there was so much of his life he forgot to live, and it has helped me to follow my dreams of writing, blogging, traveling and spending as much time with my children as possible. It has helped me live without regret on many levels and keep reaching for more.
So what would your life look like if you focused on what was meaningful and let the rest go? If you have a family, can you see having a meal together, doing laundry or cleaning as sacred work? If not, can you find a way to get that done so you can do something more meaningful to you? In my case, it means the TV is off more which gives me time to write, connect with others and just be. I am still working on getting enough rest, but I’ve recently brought yoga back into my life, and it has helped me so much. My meaningful life looks pretty much like this: I spend time journaling and getting myself centered and spiritually prepared each morning after sending my family off to school and work. I spend an hour or so taking care of our home, practicing yoga and planning my day. On days that I’m home that usually means some extra effort on writing and taking care of our space. On days I have commitments outside the house, that usually means adding some errands to my day. Afternoons are for connecting with my youngest and getting him squared away academically and otherwise and for making dinner. Evenings are the area that have changed the most for me lately because they’ve gone from being wasted hours in front of the TV to an opportunity to make progress on something that improves our lives in some way. We have small and large projects that never seem to get accomplished and this year we have a plan to make that happen, not by spending hours, but by spending a few minutes daily and weekly making a difference. We have no lofty ideas of spending our evening hours doing major projects every night because we understand burnout, but we can commit to 15 minutes to make a difference by installing a showerhead, putting up a blind or two or decluttering the office. I love the saying that people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year. We are setting our sights on a year and seeing where that leads.
Consistency is a beautiful thing, but for most of us, a missed day or two can derail everything. I know this from my own experience. It’s so easy to give up and so hard to get back to it sometimes. I know people who have worked out for over 365 days in a row and that impresses me, but what impresses me more is the video I saw of a man named Arthur who was a paratrooper in Desert Storm and as a result of his injuries and weight gain couldn’t walk without assistance. He accepted his fate until he found a yoga instructor who helped him get healthy with yoga. I don’t know if Arthur did yoga every day. That wasn’t the point. What was impressive was that Arthur couldn’t even stand unaided at the beginning, but he decided to see how far he could go at his own pace and he amazed himself and everyone around him. That’s how I want my life to be. No matter where I start, I want to keep moving forward and keep making a positive difference as much as I can. Right now that positive difference if focused more on my family and myself, but that time focused on my family will be over soon. My boys will grow up and have families of their own, and my husband assures me that he will be happy to become my assistant when I make more money than he does so he can retire from his current job and we can travel the world together.
There is one more thing that I think is imperative to create a meaningful life and letting the rest go, and that is having a dream or maybe even more than one to keep you going. I have accomplished some of my dreams and some are still out there waiting. I’ve written books, but there are more books to write. I’ve traveled but there is more to see. I’ve worked at a job I love but there is more work and more fun to be had. This year, a group of creative folks I admire are planning to meet in Ireland in October. I want to go very much. If I make it there, I desperately want to make a trip over to England to meet with some folks I’ve been online friends with for a very long time. To get there I need to save a substantial amount of money, but it’s amazing what I can say no to when I ask if it’s worth giving up Ireland to have this item. It isn’t about earning it. It’s about what is meaningful to my life and travel has always been meaningful for me. Learning about others’ lifestyles and seeing new cultures is a joy for me. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable because I learn how others perceive our nation or even my part of the nation in a negative way, but it also gives me the opportunity to share a different side of what people think they know and learn from them at the same time. In this time of turmoil, I find that type of bridge building to be our greatest hope. I love that all of these thoughts about living come from an article about dying. I love that a man who nearly lost his life uses his gifts to help those who are dying. I mostly love that because of him and the article, I will find more meaning in my life, and I will be able to let the meaningless things go. That, to me, is an amazing way to live. I hope you are inspired to find meaning in your life. I hope you can let go of those things that have no meaning to you. I hope you live well every day of your life and as always, I thank you for being you and wish you a great day.