Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
January 2008 - Volume 08, No. 1
Subscribe to this blog

Life or Living? (and New Year's Resolutions)

I recently read that 90% of all New Year’s Resolutions are broken by Valentine’s Day.  Bummer! And it’s become increasingly fashionable these days to just forego any effort from the beginning.  However, there still lurks within many of us, and especially at this time of the year, a desire to make changes in our life for the better.  So here’s my contribution to the matter.

Instead of seeking to get rid of something, such as extra weight, a bad habit, a debt, or a costly indulgence of some sort, this year I’m adding to my life one small brief daily discipline.  Let me explain it.

Each day that passes is simply a day in my life - and as I get older, I take more seriously that oft stated intention to live until I die.  Or, to put it a bit differently - each day is a day of life, but have I been living as fully as I wish within each day?   A close friend will often remark that “life gets in the way of living.”  And at times that tension intrudes almost painfully. 

For definition purposes, I consider that life is a given - and it is granted to us each day (or year).  But living is more a matter of choice - what we choose to do in life, in the time of our life.  When we are truly living, truly alive, we are engaging, energizing the life that has been given us.  And that can make all the difference.

For a few months now, I’ve been looking for a way to monitor this tension within myself - to discern just how well I’m doing at living each day.  Maybe it’s been the nature of this past year - not an easy year for many folks I know - just how much seems to be slipping away from us, personally and collectively.  (I’m sure you can make your own list here.)  But how can I measure it?  What words or questions do I use to best check my own engagement, or progress, or decline?

When I was a child, my parents taught me to say my prayers each evening.  And generally ever since, it has been within those final moments of each day that I’ve uttered words, both personal and ritual, into the Divine listening silence.  I gather up my day and offer it, let it go, so that I may then sleep and be refreshed.  So, for me, this is my best and chosen time now to ask this brief discerning question:

At what points in this past day have I been or felt truly alive?

In this new year 2008, I deliberately ask this question every evening.  And the perspective that follows, each evening, goes a long way toward helping me determine what’s most important now in my life, and perhaps what changes I might make in my daily living.  It can also show me places that are essentially dead or dying - and look at them more closely.  It can take as little as a couple minutes.  But I’m aware of its great danger - it could lead me to make important (perhaps even radical) changes in the way I live.   You too!

We frequently hear that when people are dying, and looking back over their life, any regrets experienced have little to do with their life of work, but more about their relationships in life.  I am fortunate that much of my work life is closely related to the work of relationship.  It’s the purpose of therapy to be itself a relationship that enhances an encounter with life that makes for richer, more honest living.  And so with clients I help them wrestle with that tension.  But for me personally, that alone isn’t enough. 

Yes, much of living does involve our personal relationships with others - an area where many are essentially starving.  But sometimes I’ll find that it’s also in my relationship to ideas, or to nature, to the spiritual world, to literature, music, and to the expression of my own creativity, where true living within each day can also be found and celebrated.

We hear of persons who have faced death, up front and personal - and in response no longer have any fear of it.  That release from desperately holding onto life, gives them a new freedom to more fully live it.  If I were a jealous man, I could be jealous of them.

Long ago I learned that the best way to arrive at a right (i.e. good) answer, was to ask a right (i.e. good) question.  And so, dear reader, as my own New Year’s gift to you, I offer this discerning question - that you also might live well and fully the days of your life:

At what points in each day am I most truly alive?

And pay attention to the answers - you may even have to change your life.

This post has no comments yet.

Add a Comment

will be kept private

Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

FREE Monthly Newsletter

Whether you are a client or not, you can always benefit from some free monthly words of wisdom:
Your e-mail address: