Keeping The Lessons Fresh Each Day; What Death Taught Me About Life, Part 3 Of 3

So I told you the whole story right? My life broke open, I saw the light of mortality, and we all lived happily ever after? Aww you probably know better than that.

Nope, I’m not living happily ever after. (Ok truth be told, there are teeny little moments where I look out at those Rocky Mountains and think ‘….ok this is pretty close’ – but that’s not the point.) Death taught me that life is a moving stream of moments, and each one can be created new. On one hand, that’s intensely comforting to me. It means we have a million chances to start again.

[And I see this in therapy all the time, especially with kids. It is amazing how small steps off the well-worn path can create huge change.] On the other hand, I can drift into careless habits pretty quickly. I can disconnect from what I believe in, snap at my husband, bail on a friend, or float into mindlessness and miss my daughter pointing at the moon.

So what do I do (and what can you do)? How to keep the clarity of those life lessons fresh in a world that would love to convince us we’re all immortal?

1.      I practice paying attention. It began with two minutes a day. Just listening to my breath. And after 6 years of training and teachings and a now daily meditation practice, the core truth and the greatest benefit comes from learning to pause in a moment, take one deep breath, and watch/observe/notice what is happening, without judgement, with kindness…that’s all it can take to begin again. [Remind me to tell you how well this works when you’re rushing to get out the door in the morning….I’m serious, it really works.]

2.      I listen to myself, even when I don’t know what it means. With paying attention comes a bunch of thoughts or feelings that you don’t really ‘get’ or understand. And what I have learned is that there is inevitably something valuable to learn behind my knotted stomach when I talk to X or the pull to tell a white lie to get out of Y. And instead of ignoring those things…or obsessing over them, eventually something fruitful comes if I am able to watch and listen (it’s a little like getting a secret message from space, you’re not sure what it means yet, but assume it will become clear in time).

3.      When in doubt, I go back to the 4 value words. To the very best of my ability, in a thousand microdecisions each day, I try to choose the action that is in line with those four touchstones, the four values that I want to mold my life around: growth, love, compassion, connection.

Simple example, the caucus. I didn’t want to go…it sounded long and boring and silly and just a pain to miss bath time with my baby and the final lullaby with my husband. And for what? To go out in the cold and stand in line, why? Oh the knot in the stomach. Oh the conflicted feelings. Because bottom line, I believe in speaking your voice. I believe in our responsibility to create the government we want. So moaning and groaning, I went. And loved it. Loved the excitement, loved being surrounded by my neighbors.

That turned out to be a simple one; there are lots of hard choices and sometimes the choice that leads me to growth leads me away from connection. But always, there is utility in pausing, and asking myself ‘what points me towards my values, what points me to home?

Written by Kerry Makin-Byrd, PhD