Posts

The Benevolent Guide

A few days ago, my partner Karen’s beloved father passed away after a long illness. It was a very gradual departure; for weeks, everyone thought that each hour might be Charlie’s last. The days immediately following his passing were unthinkably grueling for Karen and her family, but I’ll say this for imminent death: it clearly differentiates the things that matter from the things that don’t. Being together matters; how we look doesn’t. Love matters; status doesn’t. Having a roof over our heads matters; having a mansion doesn’t. Peace matters so much that by comparison, literally nothing else does.

A few months ago an interviewer asked me, “What are you most grateful for?” and I found myself cheerfully blurting, “Death!” There was a long silence, and then I stammered, “Er, well, it’s nice to think we don’t have to just, you know, keep doing stuff.” The interviewer did not seem to be going there with me. Oh, well, I thought; when I’m dying it won’t matter what she thinks of me. And then I remembered: We’re all dying!

Getting past the fear this creates has been a life’s work for me—a work very much still in progress. But after schlepping away at it for years, I now feel more awe and wonder than dread of death, and the knowledge of its inevitability gives me permission to do more and more of what matters, less and less of what doesn’t. In Africa, where I spent June, I had few possessions, no telephone or email, a very simple schedule. Since returning I’ve given away most of my clothes and set out to minimize things like unnecessary meetings, housework, correspondence, and especially thoughts that distract me from the amazement of being alive for a little while.

Think about whatever you have planned for the next few hours. Would you do this thing if you were currently helping a loved one cross the threshold of death? Will this thing matter to you at all when you’re the one crossing that threshold? If not, stop. Do something that matters in the face of mortality. Living this way makes death a benevolent guide that shows you how to create the best possible life you can have. And doing that brings peace, the peace that matters so much that nothing else can ever compare.

A Thank You From Martha

So many of you sent Martha wonderful birthday wishes, cards, and presents or made incredibly generous donations to The LEAP Foundation. Here is her response to all of you, filmed the day after her birthday. Thank you again and enjoy!

[Can’t see the video above? Watch it online!]

Happy New Year, Everybody!

Okay, folks, you know me too well to think I’d let New Year’s Eve pass without making a fuss over resolutions. I LOVE New Year’s resolutions! However, I do not love social-self rigidity, white-knuckle compliance, or devotion to things that fail to contribute to your absolute happiest existence. I’m here to challenge you to make resolutions that really will change your life in a very good way.

Here’s the recipe for a truly terrific New Year’s resolution:

1. Feel for your future happiness. Get still, clear out the din of other people’s voices in your mind, and let yourself know what your heart is doing. Find the things it yearns for. They might seem impossible, or silly, or ignoble, or presumptuous, or selfish, or wicked. I DON’T CARE. YOUR HEART’S YEARNING IS YOUR DESTINY!

2. Once you’ve identified what you yearn for, resolve to receive it. THIS IS THE ONLY RESOLUTION YOU NEED FOR 2008.

3. Every day, for at least 5 minutes, sit quietly and pretend that you already have whatever it is your heart is yearning for. Actually, I’d prefer it if you did this little visualization many many times every day. But 5 minutes is better than nothing.

4. After picturing your desire fulfilled, completely let go of the image and return to the absolute present—this moment, not next week or next day or next instant, but THIS MOMENT.

5. Whatever is happening in this moment, accept it completely. If you are grieving, grieve wholeheartedly, and accept the grieving. If you are enraged, be fully enraged, and okay with it. If you’re bored, accept the boredom. Say “Yes” to the mess, whatever the mess is in your life.

6. Feel as much gratitude as you can for this moment (even if it seems awful), and for the fulfillment of your heart’s desires (even if it seems impossible).

Those of you who’ve read Finding Your Own North Star may recognize this as similar to Wildly Improbable Goals. It is—but I’ve refined the technique as I’ve experimented and learned. This kind of resolution-making is like magic. Try it for a year, and see!

May joy, excitement, fulfillment, contentment, and adventure fill this year for each of you!

Martha