Notes on Being Alive

Notes on Being Alive

Wake up. Notice how things grow. Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel.   Attend sunrises. ~Douglas Wood

What was your initial response to Mr. Woods’ suggestion? When I first read the little book that contains the above advice, Breathe the Wind, Drink the Rain: Notes on Being Alive, I thought, “Of course. Stay aware. Notice life as it happens. Be authentic. Pay attention to a new day coming into being. No problem.”

Well. As with most simple advice, it has proven more challenging than I anticipated. What follows are some suggestions and strategies that I find to be effective in my quest to experience life fully. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes I fall of the wagon. But if I do these things consistently, I am reminded of the beauty that is possible when I can live in a way that supports noticing what matters.

First things first: Wake up. To me waking up is more than just the physical act of coming out of a sleep state. It means seeing past the illusions that are presented via media, advertising and an economic culture that is based on always getting the next best thing. So how do we avoid getting sucked into the propaganda?

  1. Tune into how you feel the next time an advertisement crosses your consciousness. Does it invite you feel joyful? Or does it invite you feel like you are somehow incomplete without whatever it is?
  2. If you feel a sense of “I am not enough” look at that feeling. Acknowledge its existence. Let it be there. Then let it go. You are complete, even without a new pair of heels or lash lengthening mascara or the latest smart phone or trim waistline.
  3. Start to notice the energy of the messages that are coming from the media. Notice the sense of lack that pervades so much of advertising and decide to stop paying your own energy into a system that is set up to make you feel like you are missing something. Limit screen time, avoid television and pay more attention to the trees under the billboards than the messages plastered along the roadways.

Next: Notice how things grow. We live in a time of instant gratification. We can get what we want whenever we want it as long as we are willing to pay the asking price. Sometimes I forget to embrace the process of growth and evolution.   In our fast paced lives, how do we slow down enough to notice life happening around us?

  1. Plant a seed. Maybe it’s in a community garden, maybe it’s in a pot in your windowsill, maybe it’s in your front yard. Give it some sun, water it and witness its growth. It will invite you to be patient and to trust the process of accepting whatever is happening in the present moment.
  2. Pay attention to your breath. Take a minute or two to push back from your screen right now to close your eyes, inhale deeply into your lower abdomen to the count of three and hold for a few seconds. Then exhale to the count of three and repeat. Focusing on our breath is an effective way to return to the state of mindful presence that allows us to notice what is happening when we skim the hectic surface off of our days.
  3. Commit to eating at least one meal or snack per day with no distractions. No internet, no phone, no newspaper, no planning the next section of your day in your head. Tune into the food on your plate and notice the way it tastes, how you feel as you to eat it, and how it satisfies your hunger. Notice how eating with full awareness invites you to make the choices that serve you and what your physical body needs best.

Moving on: Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel. So many times, I find myself interpreting what I see, hear, think or feel through someone else’s lens. When I can truly look at what’s going on through my own experience and my own lens, I am more able to act in a way that is consistent with what I value, regardless of what another might see, hear, think or feel.

  1. Identify something that you would describe as beautiful. Let yourself think about why that something is beautiful to you and about what has colored your perception. Is your idea of beauty consistent with what really matters to you?   Let your unique interpretation of beauty shine through.
  2. When you are feeling negative, sad, irritated or fearful, don’t try to mask those feelings. Let them bubble to the surface and then look at them without judgment. Sometimes we need to experience certain feelings fully in order to let them go.
  3. Speak up for what matters to you. Go against the grain if your entire being is screaming at you to do so. Be the one who doesn’t cross the road with the crowd. Let your life speak through the things you do and the things you don’t do. Be authentic to what matters.

And finally: Attend sunrises. For me, witnessing the start of a new day holds a power that is hard to describe. There is such potential in the breaking of a new dawn. As the rhythm of the earth moves my part of the world into a new day, when I take the time in the morning to witness that new start, I am more apt to acknowledge the good that can be found, even in the midst of challenge.

  1. Sleep well. Figure out an evening ritual you can do to help you unwind, set up your sleeping space to support you, and tell those you share space with about your plan.  Allow yourself time to rest.
  2. Splash some warm water on your face after you rise, stretch your body and walk go outside if conditions allow.
  3. Greet the sun as it does its own stretch into a new day, or bid it goodnight if early rising isn’t your thing. Express gratitude for the opportunity to breathe into a fresh start or for another day lived.

Mr. Wood goes onto include several more simple tips on how to be alive, but I’ll let you read the book and come up with your own interpretations for the rest.

Do you have some strategies that have proven useful as you work on staying present and living in a way that is consistent with what matters to you?  Be sure to share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your wisdom and experience!

A version of this post first appeared at Having Time.

Illumination

Illumination

Why is it that when one little thing during the day goes wrong, it is so easy to focus on that one little thing?  For me, it’s easy to fixate on that one individual that I talked to during the work day who was in a bad mood, was snippy with me on the phone or was upset about something that I couldn’t help them with.  It’s easy to keep going back to that ten minute chunk of the day and re-live it, ruminate in it and let it turn from a ten minute incident into a two hour event in my mind.  And I don’t think I’m alone in this tendancy.  There have been countless self- help books written about “not sweating the small stuff.”  And yet.  The cycle is hard to break.  The six o’clock news, a Facebook news feed, an old fashioned newspaper, or NPR, media of all kinds and even our casual conversations are peppered with negatives.  What is it about negative energy that is so enticing that we get swept away in it on a regular basis?

You might say “well, we are only human, and humans aren’t perfect.”  Which is true, in one sense-we are far from what we usually deem “perfect”.  But as humans we are also made as an image of God – whether that God is viewed through a Christian lens, a Buddhist lens, a mystic lens or a “I have no idea what I really believe” lens.  I’m inclined to think that even those who view God through a lens of disbelief are still created in the same image.  And God is not ruminating with negative energy.  God is filled to bursting with light and love – which means that we as humans are, too.  But it can be all too easy to let that light and love get shoved to the background by the negative energy that has gotten adept at finding little cracks to seep through into many aspects of life on earth.

Negative energy seeping through cracks and into life isn’t a nice image – the good news is that it doesn’t have to be our image. Perhaps if we take the negative energy that does find us and recognize it for what it is – energy, though manifesting in a less than ideal form – we can stop the seeping.  A water leak can only be stopped if it’s recognized.  If we don’t recognize and really look at the negative energy that seeps in, it will just keep seeping. But if we can see it, know it and put the light and love that is at our core into it, the negative energy will fade.  Maybe it will even turn into something else, something brighter and more alive than we can imagine right now.  Maybe what’s so enticing about negative energy is that it can be changed.