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Planning Your One Wild and Precious Life

January 30, 2013

“Tell me,” says poet, Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This is one of my favorite lines of all time. It holds such promise. It is our awesome opportunity to continually choose our path in life. And there is far more freedom to do that than we may realize.

According to many sacred texts, this is the realm of choice, possibly the only world of God in which we get to fall flat on our faces, make mistakes, keep learning and find redemption through transforming ourselves. I’m a great believer in little by little and day by day changes. The wise little book, The Kaizen Way, describes the wondrous changes that can occur in our lives and our character by taking tiny steps, biting off chewable bits on a regular basis.

A strange phenomenon occurs after a loss or a death. When we give ourselves respectful space and time for grieving, it empties us – in many ways, purifies us.  One of the gifts of navigating the journey of loss and grief is that we gain a new perspective on what matters. We are more ready to slough off the irrelevant, the excessive.

As we return to the routines and responsibilities of life without a loved one, it is good take our sweet time to ask, “What do I  need at this new season of my life?” Hold the question lightly, in a trusting, contemplative way. The virtue of discernment will bring clarity.

As our grief heals, it is as if we have shed an old skin, and a tender new body is emerging. Habits or work we have been accustomed to for years may no longer fit, or for some, familiar routines may be a salvation in adjusting to a new normal.

One of the things we need to give up at some time in life is the guilt-oriented drive to meet the expectations or approval of others – including our parents and our children! It serves no one to be under the tyranny of anyone’s sense of entitlement.

We also need to pause from season to season in our lives and ask ourselves what are our true yeses. We also need to know our “No’s”.  Not every opportunity can be taken. Because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. This is a chance to seek what a young skate-boarder once described as “pristine momentum”.

Using guilt only as a signal for change, not as a lifestyle or a signature perfume, gives us huge freedom to repaint our pallet (or adjust our palate!).  For many of us it means keeping our sense of excellence while giving up perfectionism. I made a promise to myself in the second year after John’s passing, when I kept hearing him whisper to me, “Be happy, Lin. Life is so short.” The promise was that I will never again be driven by guilt. I choose to be led by my soul. Guilt comes from the ego and is closely related to fear – of not being loved, accepted, thought well of. When I feel the tug of that old feeling, I don my T-shirt that says, “I just realized…I don’t care,” and have a good laugh.

What matters most is that we take the time to ask ourselves the question, what do I really want now? What do I need? To give ourselves permission, within the boundaries of our resources of course, to move to a desert island or a stimulating city, to seek out a new life’s work, or to stop working altogether. Tell the ones you love that you love them and take time to be with them. Give your passion permission. How can you do what you love and love what you do?

So, are you a gardener? A weaver? A sailor? A putterer? A writer? A reader? A volunteer? Say a hearty yes to what ignites your deepest enthusiasm.

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who are alive.

 - Gil Bailie


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Linda Kavelin-Popov

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