Falling In Love with Life

What does it take to fall in love with being alive?  Being willing to see the end of what you love.  – Stephen Jenkinson

 

I have spent most of my time on this earth taking life for granted.  I expect things to continue on; at least the things that I love and that are important to me.  Even though there are constant reminders, I forget about the fragility of life and that all of this is temporary.

I don’t think it is necessary to continually dwell on impermanence; that would probably keep me in a heightened state of anxiety or depression.  However,it seems that being out of touch with this reality has a tendency to put me to sleep.

I had a recent ‘brush with death’.  It was an infection that could have been fatal but for the intervention of modern medicine.  Throughout the healing process I developed a deep sense of gratitude.  At first I was grateful to those who helped me heal but the gratitude slowly expanded.  First to my wife and the rich deep life that we share; on to friends and family; and outward still to the very fact of being alive, to having this life.   I did indeed “fall in love with being alive”.

And still a few months later, i forget to remember how grateful I am.  I pause as I write this to look out the window at how the sun is illuminating the leaves of the forest; the play of light and shadow, the warm late summer air, the birds signalling. When I pause to remember, my heart fills with love all over again.

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Finding Your Gift

“The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Some people are lucky and tap into their gifts early in life.  For me, it has been a journey over much of my adult life.  My journey began consciously in my forties when I first recognized my passion for being of service to others.   Over the years as my work evolved, as my personal growth work continued, as my spiritual practices took shape, I became increasingly in touch with what I would call my gift.

 

My particular gift relates to the heart. It is a deep sense of compassion and a desire to make things better – to help ease the suffering in the world, my own and that of others. I can now see how this has been a theme running through most of my life.

 

I have also learned that I sometimes get in my own way in terms of being able bring my gift to the world.  My innate talents are accessible when I am open, when I am not taking a defended stance in life. Coaching is one of the ways for me to give my gift away.

 

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Practicing Happiness

“Happiness is to be practiced like the violin.”        – John Lubbock

 

At first glance, this quote may seem a bit contrived.  Many tend to think of happiness as being something which spontaneously arises when we are engaged in something that we like doing, e.g. “I am happy when I am gardening”.  Therefore, the more ‘I garden’, the happier I am. While there certainly is truth to this way of thinking, it can also be limiting – it relies on happiness being caused by conditions that are external to ourselves.  What happens when we ‘can’t garden’?

Happiness is a quality or state of being. A state of being can be generated from within. One simple method for generating happiness is to cultivate gratitude.   Here is a simple exercise to test this for yourself:

Close your eyes, take a few soft breaths and bring to mind someone or something that you are grateful for having in your life.   Stay with your image of the object of your gratitude and think about some of the reasons for feeling grateful.  Stay with this for ten seconds or more.

When you have finished, do you notice any changes to how you feel inside?  Do you feel happy?

Even if you only noticed a slight internal shift, you will understand that happiness can be practiced like the violin.  Imagine if you did this everyday…

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Relating to What Happens

“It is not what happens to us that determines our experience, but how we relate to what happens”         – Lama Surya Das

 

 
We know that life does not always unfold the way that we would like.  We all have experienced loss and will continue to do so throughout our lives.  We all have made plans that ended up not working out.  This too will continue to happen.  We all have people and situations that we want in our lives and those that we do not. Somehow life continues to bring us both.  In the end, we do not have direct control over what happens to us in life; life is bigger than we are.

 

By choosing how we react to life’s situations we can begin to experience freedom and a deeper sense of who we really are.  We might not be able to avoid unpleasantness, but we can avoid harming ourselves further by how we react to it.  There is an old saying:  “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping that the other person dies.” We can learn how to stop taking poison and how to connect with ourselves in healthier ways.

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No success without errors

“There is… no success without many errors.”   – Dogen Zenji

 

I spent a great deal of my life trapped with a silent inner voice telling me that I had to be good at things before I could attempt to accomplish them.  The ludicrousness of this idea is obvious, but it is a clear example of how we can play old messages in our unconsciousness that do not serve us well.  Because these types of messages are operating at an unconscious level, we often fail to recognize that they are playing with our minds and our hearts.  Like an undetected computer virus they shape our conscious thinking and our behaviour.

It is important to uncover these old messages if we are to free ourselves from their grip.  Working with and befriending the attending emotion is a direct path to accessing these old patterned responses and to gently free ourselves from them.  It was when I began to consciously experience and work with my underlying fear and shame that the world became a bigger and more inviting place to play.

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Life is a brief excursion

“Life is a brief excursion; death is always the destiny.”    – Graham Woodhouse

 

I remember many years ago standing at a classroom window overlooking a day care centre watching children at play in the yard.  A person was standing next to me and for some reason the conversation drifted to a discussion about death.  I shared with her that that I had been a volunteer at a local hospice.  Her response was, “Oh, that must be really depressing.”   Still looking out the window, I replied, “No, for me working in a day care would be depressing.”  Each of us is drawn to different aspects of life. Death has been a great teacher for me.

I didn’t used to think about death and dying much. This changed when as a young man I visiting a dear uncle who was dying of cancer in a hospital some distance from where I lived. I felt awkward and didn’t know what to say to him. He passed away not long after my visit and I was never able to tell him that I loved him or that I was grateful that he had been in my life. My first experience of someone close to me dying had closed me down. Afterwards, feeling ashamed, I made up my mind not to repeat the experience.

The passing of my uncle was what led me to involvement in hospice work. Since then I have learned that keeping death as part of my life is a very valuable tool.  Keeping in mind that life is indeed short and that each day is a blessing, reminds me to focus on what is important.  Who is most precious to me and how have I treated them today?  What do I really want to accomplish with my time here on earth?  Taking death into consideration helps me feel more alive and more involved in living.

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