Today, as a biting wind whipped my body, I hunched up my shoulders, scrunched my face and let out a sound of discomfort and frustration (my body doesn’t like winters in New York), I recalled a powerful memory from years ago that shifted my perspective completely…
About 10 years ago, I became a volunteer for hospice care. Hospice care is a support program for people who are expected to die with 90 days. As a volunteer, my job was to be a friend, a confidant, and a source of emotional support for patients. In training, we were told to ask the patients how I could support them. We were told that typically the patient might want to watch TV together, or have us read the newspaper to them, or just to talk.
For my first assignment, I was sent to an older woman’s home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was a bitter cold, windy day. She came to the door to greet me with warm, welcoming, wise eyes. I was surprised that she was able to move around her large apartment seemingly with ease.
After chatting about her life and getting a tour of her phenomenal apartment (she appeared to have created a life well-lived) I asked her how I could support her. You can imagine my surprise when she asked me if we could go handbag shopping! She spoke about how she really needed a new bag and that she’s always loved shopping for handbags, especially at a boutique store that was all the way across town.
What to do?
I loved the idea of going shopping with this lovely soul and who was I to decide what was good for her health or not? Yet, we were expecting the first storm of the season. It was a frigid day outside and a trip across town seemed…well, dangerous for her condition. She insisted that she was fine and that it would make her happy to get out and about. She was dying after all, so it only seemed fair that she should she get to have and do whatever she wanted.
We took a bus the left a few blocks from the boutique. As we walked, small flakes of snow started to fall. The wind blew hard in our faces and the small flakes were getting my eyes. I was squinting and bracing my body, as I often do in the cold, trying to resist the blast of cold. However, my lovely hospice friend smiled hugely, held her arms out like she was hugging the wind, and let out a sound of joy.
I asked her what she felt and she said, “It’s beautiful out and the chill of the air lets me know that I am here. This is the feeling of being alive!”
My whole perspective flipped in that very moment.
There I was resisting sensation, internally complaining about how much I dislike the cold, and letting my body shut down, while this dying woman was wide open in receptivity and reveling in the present moment.
Tears welled up in my eyes. Her words pierced to my heart. My first thought was, “Which one of us is actually closer to death?” and the answer by a landslide, was sadly: me. Me, with my resistance and lack of appreciation for being alive on such a cold, sensation-filled, and beautiful winter day.
Live life like I mean it, like I cherish it, as much as I possibly can. It’s not easy. I’m not always good at it. I still shudder in the cold weather (and have been known to dread it). I still notice resistance to things that don’t feel good. I still experience stress about unknowns. However, my hospice friend – in that one outing – taught me a great many things that have helped me to grow in so many ways…
Putting these lessons into practice…
7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Life
1) Discomfort means you’re alive – feeling things, both “good” and “bad” is a sign of being truly alive. Next time you feel something you don’t want to feel, consider how you can get curious about the feeling versus resisting it. Notice how this shifts things.
2) Be here now – whatever is happening in this moment is your life. If you tend to live in the past or you find yourself living in dreams of the future, experiment with bringing yourself into what’s actually here right now for you. My favorite tool for this is checking in with my breath.
3) Be alive while you’re alive – when you experience pain or things you don’t like, it’s easy to harden yourself. Over time, this protective hardening can lead to a deadening inside. If you find yourself numbing or feeling “blah” more often than not, then you aren’t living a full life. This has remedies. You don’t have to stay a dead-(wo)man-walking forever. Seek out opportunities to try new things, spend time with people who light you up, get creative. If this doesn’t work, consider getting help from a professional.
4) Judgments and labels can be changed – I never appreciated a cold, sharp wind, until I felt it vicariously through a dying woman’s body. What you label as “bad” or “dislike” can be easily be changed, reframed and released. It’s as simple as a decision to look from a different angle.
5) There’s always a lesson – no matter how crappy things get, you can always learn something and grow. Absolutely every moment is an opportunity for transformation.
6) Appreciate what you have now – it may not be great all the time, but it’s real and there’s always something good in it. Always. Seek out the gems, no matter how deep you have to dig to find them (those are always the best ones anyway).
7) Your time is limited – As Steve Jobs reminded us, “Death is very likely the best invention of life.” Don’t wait to live. Your life is now. Seize the now to be in the present moment and to appreciate moments of joy, pain and all the beauty that life is.
What’s a powerful lesson that you’ve learned from someone else that has changed how you live your life? Hit reply and let me know! I love hearing from you.
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