When I Looked Death in the Face, This is What I Saw
A lot has changed since I wrote you two weeks ago – flowers have come and gone, temperatures have climbed and worlds have shifted internally – but I haven’t forgotten my promise to follow up and tell you more about what I learned when I took time to face death.
If you read my last email, you know that just over two months ago I was (mis)diagnosed with a heart condition that could cause me to suddenly die at any moment, and precisely two weeks ago I was told, based on extensive testing by a carefully chosen doctor, that I was just benignly irregular after all.
I could and probably should be pissed at the first two doctors who were so quick to send me to the operating table, but the truth is that I’m increasingly grateful for that crazy diagnosis precisely because it brought me so close to death and forced me to ask some difficult questions.
Here’s one that proved to be especially fruitful:
If I die today, what would I regret?
I’ll tell you right away what the answer was not: even though I would have loved to see such and such a project take off, or to taste this or that kind of success, and to make one or the other dream come to life, none of these things would have stopped me from going to my grave feeling that I’d lived the best life I could live.
And that’s not because I haven’t had my fair share of challenges, pain and disappointment, it’s because I’ve never let failure or hardship stop me from following my dreams.
But there’s one thing I hadn’t given myself, something that no one but me could possibly give me, and when I thought of dying without experiencing it, I tasted regret:
I had yet to live a single day in which I accepted myself fully, as I am.
In the quiet of my new home, in the abyss between the life I’d been living and the life I was seeding – and hoping intensely to be able to grow – I was alone with myself. That open, quiet space allowed me to see so clearly that the source of most of my stress and worry wasn’t “life in the city”, or “financial strain” or “professional challenges”, it was ME.
My self-identity was completely tied up with my need to pressure, berate, and cajole myself to do the “right” things in the “right” way at the “right” time. And my willfulness to succeed in this task was stealing my chance at life away from me.
This became my prayer, and my one and only goal:
To just be. And for that to be enough.
Whether I’m being productive or useful in any way, or not,
Whether I’m doing something “well” or “messing it up”,
Whether I’m making the right choices or heading in the wrong direction,
Whether I’m saying the right things or pissing someone off,
Whether I’m in a great mood or feeling like shit,
Whether I’m full of energy or not feeling much like getting out of bed,
Whether I’m feeling limber and juicy or hunched over in pain,
And at least for one whole day, or even a few sweet hours, to taste life from a place of inner peace, knowing that I’m part of a much, much bigger whole that needs nothing more from me than to just be.
That was and still is my burning desire. The longing it’s woken up in me has given me a taste of strength beyond anything I’ve known… and I’ve known strength!
I want to say more about this strength, because it is something you can train for, and you can cultivate it most efficiently in and through your physical presence. So I’ll come back to it in the next newsletter, but for now I’ll leave you with a resounding message that came through for me from my meditations on death:
Your judgment means so very little in the big picture. Whereas your presence to things as they are, and most of all to your experience of life as it is, is your best chance at living fully.
Presence is far more passive than you imagine. In order to be truly present and available to life in its unfolding, you have to have two things:
The courage to do less.
And the longing to be more.
Neither one is necessarily comfortable, but together they are the key to your magic powers.
So I’m grateful for your courage to long and be uncomfortable on the way to greater things. And I’m sending you love and joy on your way there,