Spring is slowly arriving in Toronto. The trees are leafing, tulips and daffodils abound and the lilacs will be here in a week. The magnolia trees are stunning and the lawns are a vivid green from the months of snow and early spring rains. It’s still cool, but I’m only wearing one layer instead of four and this past week I wore flip flops and sneakers without socks. It’s a good time to be alive.
Periodically my neighbor Rob leaves town and when he goes I inherit his dog, Stanley. Stanley and I have been good friends for over ten years and I love when he visits, because when he is with me I walk him three times a day. My humble apartment building sits in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Toronto and across the street is one of Toronto’s loveliest parks.
Stanley’s Spiritual Practice
Three times a day Stanley and I head to the park—he chases the ball and I admire the beauty. This year, I am more stunned than ever with the beauty of the park and more in awe of Stanley and his way of being in the world. This morning as we were walking along I noticed that Stan wags his tail constantly when we are in the park. His tail never stops moving and even though he turned 11 years old this spring he runs and amuses himself with his tennis ball just as exuberantly as he did when he was 2. Every time in the park with Stan is a new time in the park—he never gets bored, he never mopes, he never complains about the heat, the crowds on the weekends or the muddy paths in the springs. He just runs, chases his ball and rolls in the grass in ecstasy.
Rob has been gone since Friday, he comes home tonight and usually I look forward to taking Stan home because I can sleep in a bit later in the morning and I don’t have to worry about getting home to walk Stan. But this time I am wishing Rob would stay later—this time I want more of Stan because I want more of what Stan represents.
Stan lives in the moment as all dogs do, but this time I am much closer to living as Stan does and as a result I am using him as my mentor for the time I have him here. These past few days walking with Stan I’ve discovered a cardinal that lives in the park and I’ve seen him three times in the past three days. This morning he flew right in front of me, so close I could have reached out and touched him. I’ve seen bunnies in the early evening and countless squirrels and chipmunks. This morning I could smell the pear blossoms long before I got into the park and I’ve discovered flowering shrubs and hidden gardens I’ve never seen before.
Take Yourself For a Walk
Nothing I am seeing is new to the park, just new to me—because this year I am closer to being present in my life than ever before. This year I am waking myself up. Earlier this spring I had my 58th birthday. For some reason turning 58 gob smacked me profoundly. For the first time I realized I am going to die—and not in the far distant future—in all likelihood I’ll be dead in 20-30 years. Twenty to thirty years—that’s all I have left! And who knows how limber I’ll be in 10 or 15 years? Who knows if I’ll be able to walk in the park in 15 years? And more importantly why do I only walk in the park with Stanley? Why don’t I take myself to the park, to the beauty three times a day? It’s only about a mile—the loop around the park—it takes less than 30 minutes—yet I never go into the park unless I am walking Stanley.
Since I went to my first Live Conscious retreat or Lab almost a year ago I have been aware of the concept of living in the moment. But, this spring I am doing it. I am living my life more fully than ever before because I make an effort every moment to be in the moment I am in. And it really does take effort. I used to believe in the delusion that if I “worked on myself and my issues” long and hard enough eventually I would come to a peaceful resting place where I was in harmony with you and the rest of the world. Then, from that peaceful place I would live my life as an enlightened being. That was my game plan—work my shit out and then live my life in harmony.
But, turning 58 changed all that. I don’t have another 20 years to spend working on my issues and waiting for enlightenment to descend upon me—I only have 20 -30 years left to live (maybe)—if I want to live in peace and harmony I have to find a way to live well now. I can’t waste another 20 years struggling with myself and my issues.
And with this awareness I am awakening myself. With the help of Jake and Hannah and Live Conscious, I am developing the practice of staying in the moment and living my life joyfully now. Like Stan, I am celebrating going to the park as though it were the first time, every time. Like Stan, every bowl of food is exciting and every caress is the best caress. In doing myself this way I am learning to celebrate myself in the moment. Like Stan, every moment is a party to be relished and enjoyed to the fullest.
My Practice Consists of Three Things
Each morning upon awakening I listen for my first thought—because I am new to living life joyfully I often wake with old thoughts or feelings—most often I wake with dread or guilt because in the past I behaved badly. But now that I am treating myself and others more kindly and with more respect, I am able to quickly shift my first thought to one of gratitude: I am blessed to be alive and to have the next twenty years to do myself with love, compassion, joy and gratitude. Yesterday I made an effort to stay present and I was kind, compassionate and loving to myself and to others—so I have no reason to hold onto any feelings of dread or guilt. If there is something nagging at me from my past behavior I am fortunate today to have the time and willingness to clean up my past mistakes and live differently. And then I meditate—sometimes all I do is Jake and Hannah’s 4-minute meditation sometimes I do more. But I do it everyday.
Awake or Asleep?
For the rest of the day I stay awake. It’s really not that hard, it just takes constant attention—moment to moment awareness of how am I doing, thinking, saying, eating, walking, conducting myself right now? And if I find I have fallen asleep or had a momentary lapse of consciousness I simply bring myself back into my body. I do this with several tools—first I use my breath and my attention—if that isn’t sufficient then I close my eyes and think of Stan and the park and I touch my face or my left knee and I ask myself how do I want to be today? Do I want to be awake or asleep? Do I want to be completely alive or mostly dead? And if all that fails I remind myself that my clock is ticking—the last 20 years flew by—75% of my life is over—do I want the rest of my life to be my best years or my worst? The choice is mine.
Lastly, at night I return to gratitude. I remind myself how fortunate I am to be alive and still have the opportunity to be the person I have always wanted to be. I remind myself of all the beauty in the world and I think about the people and other creatures that I love. I think about the day and what I did. Did I struggle or was I easy with myself? Was I kind? Was I honest? Did I have any fun? How did I conduct myself? And then, instead of beating myself up if I reverted to old behavior, I simply acknowledge my desire to do better tomorrow and clean up any mistakes.
None of what I am doing is new to me, I just simply never did it. I would try to live with awareness for a day or two and then something would happen and I would upset myself and slip back into identifying as a victim or I would simply fall asleep and forget to wake myself up. But today I feel different. Today I have a fire in me that wasn’t there before and today I am using the tools in my emotional toolbox. If your emotional toolbox is empty or seriously in need of reorganization or if you’ve simply forgotten how to use your tools—come to a Live Conscious Retreat. Come play and learn with us in the moment. Come and learn how to stay awake for the rest of your life. Come now, before you’re mostly dead or too tired to try.