As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve taken on an experiment based on A Year to Live by Stephen Levine. As I moved into the second month, I still found myself struggling to feel a deeper connection to imaging the reality: What if I only had one year to live? Then, this morning I realized what had more juice for me was the question: What if I only had one year to live as I do now?
I realize that my reframe of the initial question may not seem like much. I think the difference lies in whether my life style is about to radically change based on physical loss – as in actual death. If that is the reality, then there are many aspects that are shaped by what needs to be done, what I am physically able to do based on my body, and questions surrounding the termination of this particular human incarnation.
I’ve spent most of the last decade trying to the best of my ability to clean up my side of the street. At this point, I don’t sense any unfinished business with regards to relationships and there really is very little that I can do to ease the impact my departure has on others. So, in a mundane – or perhaps not so mundane – sense, there’s not a lot to do. Currently, there is very little that I would change in my life that relates to any one or thing outside of me. And, there’s the rub and confusion.
The awareness that my life style is about to end as opposed to my actual life creates a very different response for me. Now, I’m back to the existential root which relates more to surviving than termination. Even if I experience physical death, which I will, I am firmly confident that that is not the “end.” So, even in terms of the death of this body and this lifetime, some aspect “survives.” Just as my confidence gets shaky in my ability to effectively cope in the midst of extreme loss, perhaps the loss of my body and this lifetime are more threatening than I care to admit – or more importantly – feel.
When I realize that not only could my life change in a year, but is highly likely to change dramatically within the next few years, I’m able to be more present with the question. I am able to bring relevant and current context to an abstract question. If I have a year to live…. as I am now, then what arises is more personal.
What started this recent mental trek was a beautiful sunny day. I thought: Why not be spontaneous and head to the beach! It is perfect timing; mid-week, mid-winter, and great weather. Remember that simple life? Well, that means I can do that kind of thing. However, the idea didn’t take root, and at the end of the day I found myself filled with remorse because I gave up and surrendered to doubt.
Initially, I was hopeless. I thought: That’s it, when crisis hits close to home, I will do the same thing: Give up and surrender to sloth, torpor, and drown in becoming the suffering that I am experiencing. I do have a knack for that. I delude myself into thinking that it’s less stressful to avoid and not put up a fight. Oy vey, what a drama queen the mind can be!
Then, I meditated and reflected. That’s when I asked myself what I might have done differently if I had realized that I only had one year left to live the way I am now. In other words, if I knew that soon I would no longer have the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted to. Would I have rallied myself to take advantage of the beautiful day even though it meant doing something other than going to the beach with my husband? Would I go by myself? If I really embraced the reality that I may lose the abundance of personal space and freedom that my life contains, would I still surrender to dukkha?
To be honest, I really don’t know. But, it is now something that I am challenging myself to hold more closely. It’s not just the reality that everything is impermanent or anicca in Pali. It’s allowing ourselves to believe it, take it to heart, and embody it. Part of impermanence is accepting that everything – including our lives, our mental states, and our actions – is uncertain. Personally, it can be too easy to ride things out in the name of anicca. My hope is to heal and allow the wisdom of anicca to step into life more fully.
What kind of survivor do I want to be? One who is free from suffering.
© 2015 Sallie Odenthal