I open a new book authored by Julia Cameron and I settle in to read, knowing there will be at least one gem on its pages.
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Yep … wait for it. It’s coming. I can feel it.
There are several, as it turns out, but one lands with a boom and pushes a knowing smile onto my face. Yes, this is the way to set the tone for 2013.
The book, Safe Journey, is literally about Cameron’s fear of flying and offers “prayers and comfort for frightened fliers and other anxious souls.” Metaphorically, of course, it is about way, way more. In it she recounts an experience she had on a flight where she winds up soothing her own anxiety by having a conversation with her also-anxious seat mate. Part of their exchange goes like this:
Julia: We’re not going to crash.
Seat Mate: You’re certain?
Julia: I’m certain.
Seat Mate: What if it’s God’s will that we crash?
Julia: Well, then I would try to be okay with that.
Seat Mate: How could you be?
Julia: I’d try to feel that I’d lived fully, that it was enough.
Seat Mate: Maybe that’s why I feel so afraid. I don’t feel that I’ve lived fully. I don’t feel that it is enough.
Cameron then observes, “This confession moves me. It occurs to me that a fear of dying is directly tied to the feeling of not having lived fully.”
Let us resolve to live fully this year, shall we?
Maybe if you feel compelled to write down something to start your year, it could be a definition of what that means to you. What is living fully in your life, your world?
On the other hand, if you’re one who’s resistant to all things ‘resolution’ like, then just read this and remember it. Living fully doesn’t have to mean that you jetted off to Paris or raked in a six-figure bonus or had a fancier car than your annoyingly competitive neighbor. It could be those things. This is your blueprint, so craft it how you like.
What I’m more trying to get at, though, is to be present. If you decide to spend a lazy afternoon watching bad television, then be with that. Don’t chide yourself for it. Call it decadence and submerge into the bubble. Same for a trip to the park with your kids or a stroll through an antiques store. Or creating a spreadsheet. Or learning Spanish. Or crawling into a hammock and staring at the clouds wafting by.
This is living well. Not those acts in particular, but how we enter into those acts and relax into them or hyper focus on them or whatever they require in the moment. Attention paid, what an underrated aspect of being in the world. Reveling in touch, lingering before the immense painting in the museum, enjoying the selection of asparagus in the produce department.
Treat it like a chore or something to get over with and it will feel like a chore or something not worth care or attention. Now imagine that apathy over the course of a day. Not enjoying the taste of the coffee but knocking it back solely to get a caffeine hit. Seeing the trash on the side of the road or dwelling on the guy who cuts you off in traffic while commuting to work but missing entirely the streaks of bright color in the sky. Ignoring the good morning smile from the shy co-worker and even being annoyed because it’s not a full-blown, spoken hello.
One action after another in the day goes like this. There is an occasional laugh or moment of satisfaction, but mostly it’s drudgery or routine we’ve decided has to be boring and will never be anything more than that. We crave compassion but extend ourselves very little. We so desire for people to express their gratitude for what we do, but we rarely show anyone how grateful we are.
It doesn’t add up, right?
I keep thinking of Julia Cameron’s seat mate and wonder if she has done something to shift her life, to make her less afraid of leaving this life having not done whatever it is that fills her with joy. And yet, isn’t it really a shift in disposition I’m proposing here, one that makes even the simplest things feel joyful?
When I see someone linger over a beautiful view, my mind already anticipates I’ve found a kindred spirit. I wouldn’t want to be the type of person who can’t appreciate the art in the everyday. I was that person for a while and it was an awakening to how different it could feel that has transformed my life.
We can set goals and make conventional resolutions. I don’t discourage that. But I am inspired this year to begin with a thought furthered by my Cameron reading: Continue to be mindful about making nearly everything you do special and meaningful. See the beauty and poignancy in most things.
This used to be work for me. Now it comes more naturally.
I could make a resolution to read more literature. And I could put it in my calendar, even. Set aside time. And I could stick to it and feel enriched by that simple change. I could resolve to do more yoga and make that a priority every week and derive wonderful spiritual and physical benefits.
But there’s really a bigger intent behind those, isn’t there? I have written about Cameron a number of times. I quote her work liberally in my writing and coaching, especially The Artist’s Way. She is a teacher and offers simple, profound ideas for creative living.
But it occurs to me only now that what she teaches us is bigger than learning how to bust a creative block or ride out the waves of emotional unrest in our artistic process. She has committed to a life that uses her gifts and she is taking us along for the heady, sometimes bumpy ride. She’s not telling us what to do; she’s telling us what she does. What we choose to take away, that’s up to us.
Cameron has a deck of gratitude cards called “Blessings” that is a tool for reminding us of all the ways we can be thankful. One is called “Conscious Choice” and it reads:
“Life is intentional, not accidental. I bless this central fact. Consciousness instigates shifts in outer reality. Recognizing that I have the power to change my world by changing my thinking, I set for myself a gentle vigilance toward negative thoughts.”
Surely that is a significant marker in the path to living fully. Another gem.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.