It might be a serious health scare, the loss of someone close, or even the birth of a child. These big life events change our way of seeing the world. For a while, we look through new eyes – enlightened eyes – that have seen just how precious the gift of life is. We look up from whatever day-to-day activity we might be involved in and think WOW – I am lucky. Lucky to be alive, to be breathing, laughing, sharing…just being in the world. Lucky to be in the top 10% of the population who have shelter, food and clean water.
The Dalai Lama sums it up with eloquence in this morning prayer:
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
My own epiphany moment happened quite recently at the funeral of a woman who had died in an accident aged 55. Listening to her friends and family talk about her, I was struck by just how much love, light and laughter this woman had brought into the world. The chapel was heaving with people whose lives she’d touched – we were standing up in the aisles. This was a woman who lived life to the full. She loved with an open heart, something her family, friends and work colleagues all attested to. She read to her grandchildren every day; brought a sense of playfulness and joy to the office she worked in alongside deep compassion for the people they served; sat out in the garden with her husband and enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening sun; went on silly mini-breaks with her friends; cooked lavish meals; partied wildly; went to shows (seeing the same show 60 times!); listened to an eclectic range of music and danced her socks off. Everyone attested to the fact that here was a woman who loved her life. Her closest friend closed her eulogy by urging everyone to live like her friend and do something they loved every day.
It moved me deeply. Not just because I, like everyone in the room, felt the loss of such a vivacious and bright spirit. But also because here was someone who was an inspiration. She had no idea she was going to die so young but she lived every day as if it were her last – with the same amount of zest and fun most people struggle to fit in to a full lifetime.
When we leave this earth, we hope that people will have warm memories of us. But in order for that to happen, we have to consciously aim to manifest light in our own and others’ lives. We have to make choices every day about how we are going to react to a given situation. Will we laugh or scold? Will we speak our truth or keep it hidden? Will we reach out to others or turn away? Will we do something just for the hell of it or wait until another day? Will we share a funny story or a bit of nasty gossip? Will we hold our loved ones close or forget to say goodbye when they go out the door?
Everything we do and say now forms the backdrop of our children’s lives. That isn’t meant to make parents feel inadequate for not being a fun, loving good guy every minute of the day – we all have days when we say and do things we wish we hadn’t – but it can be a good thing to remind ourselves when we have enough of a handle on our temper to make decisions about the next course of action. Seeing the every day in terms of the bigger picture helps. Will you be mad about this in ten years time? Or even ten minutes time? There are probably plenty of situations you’ll look back on with your grown up kids and laugh about.
Living your life to the full means celebrating the moment: what you have right now. Forgetting your worries and leaping in with your heart wide open. As a little post-it note stuck to my mirror says: “Attitudes are contagious; make sure yours is worth catching”.
So, how can we embrace all that life has to offer right this moment? Here are some of the things I took away from my friend’s funeral about a life lived to the full:
Make time for the things you enjoy
Spend time with the people you love
Let go of that which doesn’t serve you
Do something fun every day
Reach out to others
Aim for a warm, loving family unit
Challenge and surprise yourself
Fill your life and home with inspirational stuff: be it music, books, instruments, or fairy lights…
Remember that life is a precious gift and enjoy it!