Out running in the woods the other day, I felt as if there was something on my mind which I couldn’t quite grasp: some concept or certain thoughts were just out of reach of my consciousness, but I knew they were there. I was worrying about money (more specifically my income) and in the end the only thing that came to me was ‘what would I be doing if this was the last day of my life?’
I wouldn’t be worrying about money. That’s not to say that I don’t need to try to ensure that I have enough money coming in to cover my costs and for some treats (I would very much like to take the children on holiday abroad, as much for my own sake as theirs). But I wouldn’t be running around Ridge Woods with ‘money’ prying on my mind and preventing me enjoying my run.
I didn’t completely come up with an answer to what I would be thinking about or doing if this was the last day of my life other than in one way or another I’d be trying to live life to the full, and to be happy. I also concluded that I would rather live each day as if it were my last just in case it is. A friend is fond of the saying ‘we’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time’. Whilst there is something which could be taken as quite selfish about the last part, it’s a saying that’s always made me think: we’re only here temporarily – and, as far as we know only once – so make the most of it and be happy. On the same day or the next my Italian calendar also had a saying of the Dalai Lama’s about being here to be happy (there are loads more fantastic quotations from the Dalai Lama at GoodReads.com and it’s also worth looking at his website). It’s something I’ve been struggling with recently – I did feel happy and felt I had regained a certain equilibrium, until my ex-husband threw a comment out the other day and then my daughter did something which hurt me. And I think we’re somehow brought up to think that there’s something wrong with being happy: that we don’t deserve it or should feel guilty for feeling happy when others don’t.
This morning I was getting ready to go out for a bike ride when I picked up a book which I bought as a complete spur of the moment purchase when I was buying some music online. It’s called The Untethered Soul (by Michael Singer) and the chapter I opened it at was talking about happiness. Now – if you think anything a bit spiritual is mumbo jumbo and claptrap, you may as well stop reading this blogpost now. I happen to think there’s an inner part of us, call it spirit or soul or awareness or whatever you will, and I believe we’re capable of somehow tapping into that deep well of greatness inside us and not only being happy but also of being altruistic. Self-esteem comes from there (the saints are no pushovers) but so does the ability to transcend potentially negative experiences and turn them into positive ones, by learning from them and using them to develop ourselves. This chapter was talking about the way to achieve that, by opening up our hearts (or our heart chakras, if you want to use a yogic idiom). I remembered one time recently when I had done just that, I had had a very positive reaction – but I had failed to carry it through.
Interestingly, the book starts with the exact same Shakespeare quotation I have used on the Eight + 1 concert programme: one which has always felt as if it held a profound truth for me. “This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Being true to oneself means having the self-esteem and self-awareness to do so and not being afraid of the ups and downs of life or of what other people may do ‘to’ you. I also think that by following this ‘open’ type of path you truly become a ‘free spirit’. That is, not someone who is careless of other people or selfish but who ultimately can transcend the things that hurt him or her and make life better, not just for him/herself but for those with whom (s)he comes into contact.
The difficulty is, of course, doing that all the time, particularly if your past (your ‘baggage’) has taught you to close up and become defensive or detached when you’re hurt by something or someone. The chapter I was reading was talking about opening up, facing up to the pain, and using it. In the same way as you would be aware of the pain in your body telling you something is wrong, pain in your heart or mind is telling you something is wrong in your psyche. I think this is why I came off my anti-depressants sooner than the Doctor would normally have recommended: I felt I wanted to experience my feelings, even those of pain, in a more genuine way and not just to camouflage them.
I’m sure there will be plenty of future times when I want to run away and hide from pain; when my reaction is anger, removal or detachment. But if I can at least remember to be more often conscious of what I am doing and to stop myself, I hope I may learn to be a more loving, relaxed and happier human being, beginning with with my beautiful, feisty, gorgeous, bright daughter whom I love to bits whether or not she thinks she loves me.
So, if this was the last day of my life I would be trying to be loving and to be happy: to enjoy whatever I was doing. Part of that is also to be brave; to be fearless and open – to face up honestly to things that I’d rather not face up to and to be open to all experiences that life can throw at me. I would be trying to live with an open heart: and I would start by apologising to all those I have hurt, intentionally or unintentionally.
I was lucky that today I had a great bike ride – which I’m hoping to turn into a feature soon – in the Good Friday sun, and a conversation at the end of it which seemed, synchronistically – even serendipitously – to confirm my thoughts.
And I hope that there will be many more days for me to live my life yet.