“… Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” David Whyte, excerpt from the poem Sweet Darkness.
“What brings you alive?” a friend inquired recently. What a wonderful question! We were reconnecting after many years and, over coffee, she shared the story of her ‘coming alive’.
Several years ago she realized that the walls of her life were pressing inward. Her world had somehow become smaller when she was not looking. Her daily thoughts were often repeats or left-overs from yesterday’s thoughts. Her routines and actions were familiar enough that she needed to give little or no thought to them and, as a result, spent much of each day on auto-pilot, her mental activity taking her far from her body. Her relationship was flat and she didn’t even care enough to muster the energy to break it off. She did her work and collected her pay. Each day looked just like yesterday and tomorrow would almost certainly look like today. Her inner world had become just as small as her shrinking outer world. She was bored and numb, no longer actively seeking the interesting or the engaging.
Listening to the radio one day as she drove home from work, the phrase from David Whyte’s poem Sweet Darkness jolted her out of her auto-pilot afternoon and caused her to sit up.
‘What brings me alive?’ she wondered aloud.
Her immediate response was, ‘Not a doggone thing. I feel dead.’
With eyes suddenly brimming and a knot in her throat, she turned into a parking lot to collect herself. ‘Oh, honestly, when did I become so small?’ she wailed.
This event took place two weeks before her fiftieth birthday and shifted the plate tectonics of her inner world. In addition, a colleague died suddenly a few days later bringing mortality to the forefront of her newly awakened thoughts, sprinkling more than a dash of urgency on her new-found awareness.
‘Enough!’ she proclaimed. ‘I need more! I want to LIVE!’
Ten years later, she sat before me gloriously, beautifully, vibrantly alive! With persistence and grace, she has transformed her world into one that beautifully supports the expansive possibilities of her life. As I listened I was fascinated. What did she do? How did she start?! What insights could she share? Do tell!
I learned that my friend made no grand gestures ten years ago, other than to commit to coming alive in some way each day. In both big and small ways, she chose to wake up! Each day she has chosen activities, people and thoughts that bring her alive.
For her, the pathway of awakening was that of a student. For the past ten years, my friend has taken one class at a time, year round, many of which were free or inexpensive. You name it, she’s likely studied it. She has taken classes through Community Ed and the local YMCA, a nearby community college, through the library, with the county’s artist guild, on a local farm, at her church and even a few in exotic places.
This single action of becoming a dedicated, life-long student opened her thinking to new and interesting ideas. She met other students with shared interests, she read books she would not have otherwise read. She thought thoughts, had experiences that were new and compelling and she tried new things. She wrote papers, created artwork, created a hay-bale garden, learned to speak Spanish, learned to swim, made pottery, studied history, joined Toast Masters, rode the light rail, wrote poetry, took piano lessons, took a statistics class (really!), volunteered at a women’s shelter, and became legally ordained to act as the marriage officiant for two dear friends.
What I find equally compelling is the fact that she lives in the same house, has the same job, the same boyfriend (now husband) and even the same dog as she did ten years ago. As she likes to say, she changed her mind but not her address and, as a result, changed her entire world.
The new skills she learned and interests she developed caused her to see her world differently. Her curiosity for people and ideas spurred her to conversations that were enriching and to unforeseen friendships. She didn’t do anything like get a PhD, sky dive or dance naked in public. No, nothing drastic. She simply engaged in her world around her and it brought her alive.
What brings you alive, my friend?
What quickens your pulse in anticipation or conversely brings blessed stillness to your inner workings? Is there something that is inviting you to see, think, do or be more? Or are there mundane things you can release to make room for something that really interests you? Does your life feel small? If so, fret not, but please do push a little at the boundaries of your world. That’s the only way to stop it from growing even smaller. Start today. Start right now. One step. Begin.
Your actions need not be earth shattering, just something that brings you out of yourself, that causes you to look up. Perhaps take a different route home from work. Buy one new food item at the grocery store. Have a conversation with someone you don’t know or perhaps looks a little different. Read a book by a new author. Volunteer. Become curious and ask questions of complete strangers. Consider another viewpoint. Hand-write a letter. Try something that scares you just a little bit. Talk to your neighbor. How about a random act of kindness? Be sure to reflect for a few moments at the end of each day. Has something opened up a bit? Is there a bit more light inside? Do you feel more alive?
Today is the day, my friend, a birthday of sorts. Wake up! Look up. Engage. Set aside ‘small’. Choose in. You can do this. Choose something – anything – that brings you alive.