I returned late last night from our first “Self Care by the Sea” retreat in two years. We had a wonderful group of men and women who joined me in looking at the mystery and magic of midlife. While I regroup and rest, I thought I’d share the first journal entry from my most recent book, Waking Up in Winter. As you read this entry, please take some time to consider the questions I ask myself. They not only help us to identify the things that matter most, they challenge (and hopefully inspire) us to make the necessary changes to live more authentically now.
Here we go…
I woke this morning to a cool breeze drifting through the bedroom window. It’s starting, I thought. Winter will be here before you know it. Seems like only yesterday I was mixing compost and soil in pots on the deck, poring over flowers at the local greenhouse, and balancing on the ladder in the basement to turn the water back on for the outdoor faucet. Life hurtles by, days turning into weeks turning into months, and now the seasons I love most— the blossoming of spring, lazy summer days, and the fiery beauty of autumn— are coming to an end. Looking out the window at my withering garden, I long for time to slow down, but I know better. It’s not about time; it’s about me. I need to plant my feet in the present moment. Time rushes by when I’m not where I am.
Fortunately, I took a vacation this summer and reveled in the spaciousness and freedom of a clear calendar. As the days passed, I started keeping a list of what made me happy so I’d remember when life got busy again:
Lying in bed listening to birdsong
Cooking a new, healthy recipe
Slipping into a cozy bed warmed by a heating pad
Watching Poupon wrestle with catnip
Long walks with Michael, lost in conversation
Waking up at sunrise
Getting a foot massage
Leisurely shopping for clothes
Creating new music playlists
Sitting on the deck watching hummingbirds dance in the air
These are the little things I dream about doing during long car rides to the airport, or when staring out the window of an airplane, traveling to yet another city to speak. I’m growing tired of hearing myself say I’m looking forward to (fill in the blank), followed by a bittersweet sadness rising in my chest. I need to stop looking ahead and start asking, What am I doing now that keeps me looking forward to something else? And why am I doing it?
I’m preoccupied with how I spend my time these days, and I can trace the source of this feeling to my fiftieth birthday nearly four years ago. That morning I went downstairs, got on the treadmill, and began to watch a movie on TV. At the first commercial break, I realized I had no idea what the story was about as the significance of this birthday hit me full on. Fifty years old. Midlife. More years behind me than lay ahead. I’d heard all the clichés before, but they always applied to someone else— parents, aunts and uncles, older friends.
Now they belonged to me.
Rather than avoid the subject of dying, I made a decision to dive into it. I shut the TV off and started thinking: What will life be like when I’m in my eighties or nineties, if I live that long? Will I enjoy good health or spend my days slumped over in a nursing- home chair? Who will handle my things when I die— my journals and the cards and letters I’ve stashed away in the old cedar trunk in the garage? Will I outlive Michael, my family members, and my friends? How old will I be when I finally leave the planet?
I thought about what I’d regret not having done before I died, and a few answers immediately sprang to mind:
Live peacefully in my body
Make beauty and nature more of a priority in my everyday life
Be less defended and more open to others
Let go of my self-consciousness and be bolder with my choices
These regrets may not be typical bucket-list items, but they reflect what’s always been deeply important to me: the inner adventure. I’m passionate about self-development and challenging myself to grow as a person, seeking out experiences that contribute to the evolution of my soul. Before I pushed the reality of mortality back into the shadowy corners of my consciousness, I had to admit that frightening as it was to think about my expiration date, it was strangely comforting as well. Death isn’t wishy-washy. It doesn’t fool around. When I’m done, I’m done (with this life, anyway), so I’d better make damn sure I’m doing what I really want to do right now.