Memento Mori

Memento_Mori_by_GodfridHere’s what happened on the day of June’s full moon—a day my yoga studio closes to allow practitioners to rest the body, and reflect.  At 5:30 I began my usual morning routine, which is hugely important to me, and also responsible for the sense of joy and purpose I get to experience every day.

Here’s the routine:

1) Upon rising, I meditate for 15 minutes.

2) I make a cup of Bulletproof coffee. (I live for this coffee. It’s life-changing.)

3) Then I do my TIA journal. TIA stands for “thank,” “intend,” “ask.” It’s an expanded form of gratitude journal, and it’s pretty simple.

– I make a list of experiences from the previous day for which I am grateful.

– I make a list of all the things I am intending to be, do, or offer throughout the day ahead of me.

– And finally, I ask my higher power (what do we say? the universe? God? Source? Unity Consciousness? –whatever!) to guide me in any issue or problem I’m  grappling with.

I have filled dozens and dozens of  spiral-bound sketchbooks with this morning routine over the years, and I credit this practice with giving me a sense of clarity and purpose and joy in my life. Research has shown that the practice of gratitude really is the portal to cultivating these three qualities, just as all great wisdom traditions have told us for centuries.

4) And then, after my journal writing comes 30-60 minutes of spiritual study and reading in the wisdom traditions.

5) From there, I walk Dash, which has become our private walking meditation and sun salutation.

And then the last part of the morning routine. . .

6) I head out to The Yoga Shala for 80 minutes of astanga yoga.

Ahhhhhh. What a way to start the morning. I call it six steps to bliss.

What’s Next?

This way of starting the day sets me up to experience life in its fullness, to perform at my best, and to enjoy everything that comes my way. It is all good after this kind morning practice.

My practice today, though, was altered because, as I said,  it’s a “moon day,”— no yoga when the moon is full or new. Instead of practicing, I did a little bit of email communicating with clients, but nothing really hard or serious. Just reminders for up-coming groups.

And then I thought, what’s next?

It appeared I had nothing to do.  My  calendar revealed I had NO APPOINTMENTS OR EVENTS for the day. Yes, for the first time in a long, long time, a whole day of white space. So there was no ready answer to the question, “what’s next?”  I could not depend on my calendar to guide me.  I could choose exactly what I wanted to do: I could rest. I could paint. I could read. I could work in the garden. I could go see a sick friend. I could walk the dog. I could kill myself.

None of it would make any difference, would it? Who would care? That’s kind of where my mind went, though it might sound dramatic. But really, I thought, what difference do your days make? This is the very question that started me on a life-long quest for meaning when I was twelve years old and got kicked out of Sunday school.

The point is, in spite of all the fullness, all the joy, all the goodness, all the pleasure that makes up my life, there are also these moments of stark despair. Nothing makes any difference. There is no “next.” I can look at art, or I can walk into the lake. Don’t worry; I’m not gonna do that. But here’s my point. Even when we think we’ve created meaning and purpose in our lives, there still comes this wave of uncertainty. This silence that reveals a chasm of nothingness. This moment when we fear everything can go away at any moment, and nothing will remain.

If this sounds morbid, please know I didn’t  feel morbid. Believe me, a few minutes later, I opened a bottle of sauvignon blanc and enjoyed the vibrant colors of my little garden.  Dash curled up next to me and smacked her lips in the precious way dogs do when they are completely relaxed and completely content and just about ready to fall into a deep and happy sleep. And for a few minutes, maybe an hour, I was relaxed and content too. (Dash, my great teacher.)

But it’s days like this one that make me realize that these moments are precious and fleeting, and in the end lost. Meaningless.

I am in the end portion of my life. It doesn’t really make any difference if I get up or not. On any day, I can eat bonbons, or practice yoga, or serve the poor, or paint, or work with clients. I have the ability to choose. And this last moon day just happened to be a wide open, spacious, unscheduled day which allowed me to come face to face with this very idea. This day could mean nothing, or it could mean everything. It’s my choice. And the calendar conspired to nudge me to reflect on this fact. My heart took the opportunity to feel what it feels like to be alone, alive, aware, and totally responsible for my choices.

Totally responsible. I can choose. And in the end, that is a most, most precious gift. I bow down to the universe in gratitude.

Namasté dear friends, and memento mori,

Lezlie

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

            – Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement speech