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What would it be like to stop holding back and to live our lives in ways that are vibrant and fiercely engaged? What would it be like to stop making excuses, putting off what best serves us?
Join me this week, as we consider what it means to be fully alive in each moment.
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It was around the age of twelve that I began searching for mentors to help guide me. I don’t recall making a conscious decision to do it; it was something that quietly made sense to me and happened organically as I pointed myself in the direction of so many things that fascinated me. It didn’t take long to notice that each time I found someone who’d been further along a particular path than I had, I learned faster and the way became easier.
Finding a mentor when I was in graduate school was no different. The young woman who agreed to help me as I gave shape and substance to my master’s thesis was a prodigious force of nature whose ideas about living and learning had a lasting effect on
mine. Nearly half my age, yet lightyears beyond where I was academically, it was her guidance, insight, and encouragement that helped me bring my visionary dream to its finished and published form.
At the end of two years of research and writing and merciless self-editing, my thesis, “Toward a further conception of wholeness in Social Work practice: The Holodigm, a theoretical model,” was accepted by my committee and by the university with no changes. It was a significant accomplishment and I was told that nothing like it had been presented before.
During the process, my mentor asked thought-provoking questions, always leaving me to find my own answers. Along the way, she showed me the effectiveness of setting measurable and manageable short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. She demonstrated that reaching our short and intermediate goals bring the long-term ones into reality. More than once, she challenged me with the question, “Can thinking be learned?” (By the way, the answer is a resounding, “Yes! It can.”)
More than anything else, as I watched her take steps to complete her doctorate, she was one of the first to show me what it looks like to be fully alive. She and others like her are examples of what happens when we make the conscious decision to take our lives into our own hands, no matter what.
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One of the most profound things that happens when we make that decision is that we become fully present. The act of stepping into true presence automatically opens something dynamic in us, not only as we reach our goals, but as we vitally engage with each moment.
One day, as she helped me prepare for a meeting with my committee, she told me that she wanted her tombstone to simply read, “She Lived!” The power of that statement stayed with me.
Not only has it helped me survive overwhelming adversity, it continues to inspire me thrive in the middle of life’s challenges, including the ones we’re living now.
Nearly two decades ago, when I was going through the long treatment for cancer in my neck—surgery and radiation and two years during which I was unable to eat solid food and could barely swallow water without choking—I thought again and again about what it means to really live and the vital power we open within ourselves each time we choose to be dynamically engaged in the present.
Acting as my own mentor, my mantra became, “I’m Alive Right Now!”
My choice then—sometimes for no more than sixty seconds at a time—was to be as fully alive as I was capable in any given moment. From my perspective, my only other choice was to give in to the struggle and give up, which I refused to do.
I refused to give up then and in the face of all that is happening locally and across the world, I refuse to give up now.
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Just like you, I’m incapable of single-handedly ending war or racism or abuse or global climate change. On my own, I can’t put a stop to rising social and political unrest or homelessness or hunger. I can do nothing to speed the discovery of a safe and effective vaccine for Covid, or a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s or any other disease. I have neither the power nor the right to change your thinking or behavior or my neighbor’s or anyone
else’s. I cannot balance the national debt, end the arms race, or bring about peace in the Middle East or anywhere else.
What I can do is become more consciously engaged, living a bit more effectively every day. That’s in my hands and no one else’s.
What I can do is become gradually more aware of myself. I can see to it—one day, one moment at a time—that I’m living to the limits of my capacity, often exceeding those limits as I continue to learn and grow. I can love with everything in me, expanding that capacity as well. I can bring kindness, compassion, and understanding to myself and those with whom I choose to engage. And as my graduate school mentor did, I can ask increasingly insightful questions and leave others to reach their own conclusions.
I can have the wisdom and grace and patience to accept people exactly as they are, even when I disagree with them. I can listen more attentively to those I interact with personally and professionally. I can be gentler with myself and with others. I can suspend inward and outward judgment. I can be intentional about looking for beauty.
I can take naps that refresh me and restore my energy. I can eat foods that truly nourish and delight me. And I can slow myself down and savor what I’m eating. I can literally “Stop and smell the roses.” I can scowl less and laugh more. I can take long, easy breaths. Over and over, I can let go of “doing” and give my mind and heart and body the stillness they need and hunger for. I can pause long enough to gaze at the changing colors of the evening sky. And when the day is over, I can allow myself to sleep.
In short, I can choose to be fully alive, and then take the steps that make that a reality.
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As I said a moment ago, the choice, the ability, and the authority to do that are to be found in no one’s hands but mine.
If you’re open to making such a choice, and you know yourself to be ready to do something about it, I offer you this week’s three Beautiful Questions.
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Question One: In what ways can you bring kindness, ferocity, and sensibility to your decision to be vitally present—your decision to be fully alive right now?
Question Two: What changes will naturally and organically emerge once your decision to be fully alive is made?
And Question Three: What will make your decision to be fully alive easier to put into action and easier to sustain?
Write and tell me about your process. I’d love to hear what comes from your considerations.
As I say each week,
My Light with Your Light
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