Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
January 2008 - Volume 08, No. 1
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
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,
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
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