Living is More Brilliant When You Practice Dying

“Practice dying.” That is family therapist Carl Whitaker’s advice on living fully (he was quoting Plato). Throughout the 25 years that quote has been posted on my bulletin board, I’ve revised my interpretation of it from time to time. After being so ill once that I literally did have one foot in the grave, I’ve revised it once again. Bottom line: It all comes down to surrender.

Awaking from a coma, disoriented and in a foreign hospital, I was rather bluntly reminded I had a physical body. Beeping monitors and flashing screens posted the data of my existence. Through large windows I saw only sterile hospital personnel, not the earthy greenery or even the polluting traffic I had seen only a short time before.

Oh yes, I had a body, though something had gone wrong. Something had been wrong for some time, but I hadn’t seen it. Denial is powerful. Could I have foreseen the problem before drastic measures were required? I don’t know, but I didn’t. That’s for sure.

In retrospect, I was given some clues that something was amiss. Hindsight is so acute. Didn’t I know I was miserable, or, at the very least, uncomfortable? My friends knew it. One gently chided me, “You think you know yourself so well, but I’m not so sure you do.”

Running my business and household, I stayed busy pushing on from one day to the next. If some part of me knew something was wrong, the rest of me was effectively rationalizing my misery and I plodded along, enduring. Not until there was data strewn around me in lights and bytes, tubes and catheters did I snap to.

Arousing to consciousness, my first waking thought was, “Who knows I’m here?” While I could see other humans through the portal, I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. Do we exist if no one knows us? Some relief came to me when my sister entered the ICU gowned in paper. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
She looked at me like I had completely lost my mind, which for a while I guess I had. How else could I have missed the messages that took me to the brink of death? It must have taken a lot of energy to ignore the cues.

Was this kind of dramatic whack by a virtual 2x4 required to wake me up to what is precious? Maybe so. Was I so heavily armored against the stimuli of media, modernity and daily distractions that I’d actually taught my own senses to filter out the personal, physical and psychological indicators of trouble?

Mine certainly were. Only when I was faced with the most basic choice—“Do it, or die”—was I able to break through that armor of distracted negligence and face, head on, that which I dreaded the most; and that which I needed most to face.

The painful consequences of critical events is a common impetus for change—for me, the people in my life and the people in my work. What is your incentive? What little voice is whispering in your ear that you keep batting away like a nagging fly?

I was the last to know how close I came to having both feet in the grave. Fortunately, with the help of those who “know me into existence” I pulled the one foot I’d planted in the grave out—for a while, at least. That dress rehearsal for dying gave me valuable practice. Dying to the familiar, dying to misery, dying to knowing or thinking I do. Practice, practice, practice dying. In return, living is more brilliant, and each day an extra one.

Your practice doesn’t need be so dramatic to be effective. Practicing dying can be quite mundane, in fact, that's the point; let it be common place in your life. Let die the desire to look 20 years younger or live in a bigger home or have your boss be more understanding. Relinquish the illusion that your relationship is something that it’s not and quit fighting what is, surrender. Or, letting go of the notion that someone will fit into your picture of how they “ought” to be. Even giving up your spot in the line of traffic to allow someone admittance can be a form to practice dying.

Thank you for the reminder, Carl Whitaker.

Is there something in your life trying to get your attention? Is there something irritating you that you’re pushing away because you don’t want to deal with it? Take a peek today. See what opportunity you may be missing.

Click here for your tips: How to Practice

Posted in acceptance, anxiety, education, family relationships, inspiration, self-help on 04/13/2017 08:40 am

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