Stephen Levine wrote a visionary work called A Year to Live in which he reflects, among other things, on the preciousness of human life and the importance of rededicating ourselves to this life journey.
Everything is uncertain—just ask the Buddha—so we must stay in the present—which is all we have anyway—and cherish being alive.
In the book, Levine is talking about taking the time to see clearly the deepest priorities for one’s life. What is most important? What does it all mean?
Despite the unavoidable impermanence factor, we humans do have choices for how to be in the world, how to speak, treat our fellow citizens, how to hold ourselves in times of great challenge, and how to be agents for the good.
I sit now and I imagine the finite amount of time I have left, and then I consider just how I wish to navigate this uncertain terrain. What thoughts and visions will I put my mind to, what choices will I make, how will I care for myself and others, and how will I manifest my truth?
Here are the aspirations that rise to the surface:
Peace: If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that I want to live in peace and harmony with my universe. I’m sure studies have been done proving that it’s much healthier in the long run to be surrounded by those who live peacefully, but for me, it’s about knowing this in a direct and intimate way in my body.
When I sit quietly and listen to my breath, feel my body’s ease, I know there is really nothing to be done. I know that I am complete, just me and my loving heart. Cultivating our inner peace helps us spread it out into the world, as the Dalai Lama has said many times. First you must discover and nurture it for yourself. You must bless yourself with peace.
Honesty: I was born on George Washington’s birthday and those of us who remember the old legend learned that our first president was reputedly incapable of telling a lie. I have carried that aspiration a lot of my life, though there were challenging times when I forgot how to be brave enough to tell the truth.
I now feel passionate about honesty. About seeing and telling things as they are. There’s a lightness, a clarity, a spaciousness when you are speaking truly—no skeletons in closets, no ghosts lurking around the corner. Here’s what I really think about truth: It makes us more who we really are. I have been writing much of my life to locate and own this very truth.
Service: To offer ourselves—help, support, gifts, words, actions—to others is the path toward healing in our now injured society. When we offer a hand, we move from our self-referenced consciousness to forging community with others, to understanding the rich, complicated world we live in, and playing an active part in that world.
I have sat with the dying, coached young high school students in writing, and served lunch to the homeless, and in each of these jobs I became more a part of my world, and saw at the same time a subtle expanding of the heart as this happened. The Buddha saw service as one of the significant paths to an enlightened life, and I get it.
Beauty: I can’t help it: All my life I was trained to love beauty in many different forms—art in Italy, music at the piano, great food at the dining room table, inspiring literature in all the books on all those bookshelves. I was blessed with a life of privilege that included the tasting and falling in love with that which is beautiful. Rich, wildly colored threads of beauty were woven into my life’s tapestry.
To look at a great painting or listen to a Bach fugue isn’t just a lovely experience, but rather it’s a reminder of man’s infinite capacity to create and galvanize those of us into action and creativity. Art is like a marvelous glue that binds the diverse characters in society, as it tells its particular story and becomes our history. Art is transcendent spiritual experience. Art creates community and can become a message for change.
Animal Life: I have grown up around four legged creatures, and have for as long as I can remember felt an affinity with them: dogs, cats, wild birds, and elephants in particular. They all are teachers. They show us intelligence, the power of instinct, they show us how a family is raised and how affection can be communicated.
They manifest magic: Think of wild birds lifting us off this Earth as they soar. They remind us of mystery: Think of the ancient sea turtles arriving regularly century after century to lay their eggs on certain beaches. We need to make room for mystery.
They also remind us that we humans are animals, and that gift is priceless. Taking on a little humility in this way helps us be part of the whole as opposed to remaining an observer. I have imagined myself in many different animal forms, and it brings love and laughter into my heart to do so. And who doesn’t need love and laughter?
Family: What can I say about this except that the children and grandchildren that I have watched grow for these many years have perhaps been the greatest teachers in my long life. We all need teachers to guide us along the path!
Teachers keep us honest, they inspire, and they remind us of our own unique gifts. The older I get, the more humbled I feel as I realize I am still learning from these dear ones. They bring joy and love.
All these jewel-like qualities share something important, and that is love. From peace comes the capacity for communion, from honesty comes the ease and strength of relationship, from service we see our energies fueling the hearts and minds of others, with beauty the hearts of all human beings can learn to soar, with animals we find the grandeur of all of life and the bonds of belonging to the same family. And from family…well, isn’t the kiss on the cheek of a grandchild simply the essence of love?
May all who read this feel inspired to consider the deepest values in their own lives.
Author: Mag Dimond
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May