years I have seen the power of taking an unconditional
relationship to life. I am surprised to have found a sort
of willingness to show up for whatever life may offer and meet
with it rather than wishing to edit and change the
inevitable. Many of my patients also seem to have found
their way to this viewpoint on life.
people begin to take such an attitude they seem to become
intensely alive, intensely present. Their losses and
suffering have not caused them to reject life, have not cast
them into a place of resentment, victimization, or
bitterness. As a friend with HIV/AIDS puts it, "I
have let go of my preferences and am living with an intense
awareness of the miracle of the moment." Or in the
words of another patient, "When you are walking on thin
ice, you might as well dance."
people I have learned a new definition of the word
"joy." I had thought joy to be rather synonymous
with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than
happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional wish
to live, not holding back because life may not meet our
preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function
of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet
with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility
that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us.
Rather than the warrior who fights towards a specific outcome
and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and
disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to
love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom
playing has become more important than winning or losing.
willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial
relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness.
From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to
life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our
idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related
to aliveness than to happiness.
strength that I notice developing in many of my patients and in
myself after all these years could almost be called a form of
curiosity. What one of my colleagues calls
fearlessness. At one level, of course, I fear outcome as
much as anyone. But more and more I am able to move in and
out of that and to experience a place beyond preference for
outcome, a life beyond life and death. It is a place of
freedom, even anticipation. Decisions made from this
perspective are life-affirming and not fear-driven. It is
degree that we can relinquish personal preference, we free
ourselves from win/lose thinking and the fear that feeds on
it. It is that freedom which helps a team to go to the
Super Bowl. An adversarial position may not be the
strongest position in life. Freedom may be a stronger
position than control. It is certainly a stronger and far
wiser position than fear.
a fundamental paradox here. The less we are attached to
life, the more alive we can become. The less we have
preferences about life, the more deeply we can experience and
participate in life. This is not to say that I don't
prefer raisin toast to blueberry muffins. It is to say
that I don't prefer raisin toast so much that I am unwilling to
get out of bed unless I can have raisin toast, or that the
absence of raisin toast ruins the whole day. Embracing
life may be more about tasting than it is about either raisin
toast or blueberry muffins. More about trusting one's
ability to take joy in the newness of the day and what it may
bring. More about adventure than having your own way.
wonderful book of short vignettes by Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen
Table Wisdom is an exploration of the meanings of life and
living. Through her experiences as a medical doctor, Remen
has learned much about living and dying, and the meaning of
both. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a dose of
humanity and a positive perspective on life and the people of
this world we live in.