One of the questions I hear a lot from people is “How can I live with intention?” They get distracted and thrown off track from the things that are important to them. They feel blocks in the way. It feels hard to be present in the moment, and they feel a sense of regret at missing out on the important things in life.
As people talk about New Year’s resolutions and it’s January as we are talking, the questions come up: “What are you going to do? What do you want to change?” One of the things I’m holding for you is a potential for awakening. It’s a sense of really getting in tune with what you want, what direction you want to go, and how you want to live your life.
In order to answer these questions you want to have a sense, at a deep level, of who you are.
It always strikes me how difficult it is for women to answer these questions, because really it’s something that changes. We are constantly evolving. As women, we’re really aware of other people, we’re aware of what’s happening. And there’s a sense of multi-tasking, doing different things at the same time, but there’s a wanting to improve, there’s a wanting to learn, there’s a wanting to grow, there’s a wanting to give.
In answer to the question of what do you want, what I hear from people most of the time is “I don’t know.” We might have some general ideas or some kind of New Year’s resolution ideas: “I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to change my job. I want to do something different.” But there isn’t necessarily a clear sense of something on a deep level.
I wanted to talk about this tonight to help you get in touch with what that might mean for you, and what that might look like. As I said, it was surprising to me to see how difficult these questions were. Even when I ask myself those questions, initially there are things like, “Well I don’t want this, or I don’t want that.” And those would be things that we would call a negative wanting, “I don’t want that.”
When you go beyond that, “What do you really want? What do you want at a deep level? What’s important in your life?” Those questions are sometimes hard to get to because they go beneath the surface level of day to day things and getting tasks done.
As I shared in the write-up for this talk, I had an experience just over a year ago, just after Christmas, December 29, 2016. My youngest sister died suddenly.
It was shock, it was a total shock. It was really unexpected. I had just seen her at Christmas, talked to her, spent time with her and her family, connected. And then just a few days later, to get a call that she died. I was thinking “What? How can this happen? Someone who’s healthy. Someone who’s our age. Someone who’s younger than me. Someone who is such an important person in my life, I would do anything for to have her back.”
When you’re faced with that kind of an experience, it makes you stop in your tracks. It’s really one of those times where you prioritize. You realize that some things are not important. And that love, that connection with her, was one of the most important things to me.
In terms of that experience, it taught me a lot. It was incredibly painful, it was difficult. The hard thing with death is that it’s not linear. It’s not like you can say, “Oh that happened 5 or 10 years ago and it’s done.” Sometimes it feels like it just happened, it’s right there with the pain again. And so there’s this sense of going back and forth with it, and a sort of processing with it, a dealing with the grief of it.
I have been studying meditation for the past 10 years. So, what I did after hearing the news was I sat down and I meditated. I thought, “Well, this has helped me through so many things. It’s helped me really steady the ship. It’s helped me get a sense of myself and a grounding. It felt like I was in the middle of a storm, like you’re thrown in, in the boat and everything’s crashing.” I was feeling so sick, I had a migraine and vomiting. It was really intense. It is intense. Anyone who’s experienced a death knows this. So when I did the meditation, the thing that really struck me, and that was very profound was, I closed my eyes and it was like, there she was.
Even as I talk about it now, it gives me goosebumps. It’s a sense of feeling her, feeling her presence. It’s like knowing her. There’s still the grief, there’s still the missing her, but it was just a sense that some part of her was still with me, she was there. And I could feel her, and when I felt her, I felt so much love. I just felt this sense of love. And the thing that I didn’t really understand at all, was I also felt this sense of joy in her. I was thinking, “This doesn’t make any sense. How could this be in the face of grieving?” But it’s what I felt, it’s what I felt in her.
And I felt this sense of, “It’s ok, everything is ok.” And it’s something that’s stayed with me. It’s something that I feel all the time, even as I’m talking about it now. It’s like there’s this part of her that’s still available. That if I’m still, if I listen, if I open to it, if I don’t tell myself, “That’s being silly, or that’s being ridiculous,” I can feel her. And I feel encouragement and I feel a sense of the importance of my message, and the importance of engaging life. And the importance of her life. And the importance of her. And I feel her.
When I talk about it, I laugh because that was the type of person she was, she was always laughing and making a joke. We would tease each other in a playful way. I remember her embarrassing me, telling someone I just farted. I was so surprised I couldn’t even say anything and everyone just laughed.
It’s like that kind of sense with her. It’s very playful, it’s very light. And there’s a sense of “being light. Take things lightly.”
We don’t know what happens after death. We know we’ll die. We don’t really think about it, it’s uncomfortable, it’s not talked about. Up until that point, I hadn’t really thought about death so much.
I used to have these nightmares where I would dream that one of my sisters died, that it felt awful. It was black, it was suffocating. And I would wake up and ask myself, “Oh, are they ok? Are they ok?” And I was relieved. So I expected to feel that sense when she died, but the blackness didn’t come. Instead I felt this sense of this light. I felt her presence. I felt her somehow here, as if she was sending a message that she was ok.
So much so that I got up and I spoke at her funeral, something I never would have done in the past, or felt comfortable doing, but I felt like I had to speak to her and about her in the way that I was feeling her. I wanted to speak to her life, and to speak to the richness of her as a person, and also the potential from what I felt, from the sense I was getting from her, and of her. Essentially in that period, and after any death, it’s like you stop. You stop doing. You think, “I don’t care about all the million things on the to-do list. It doesn’t matter.”
It’s one of the few times in life where people allow you to: “Go ahead. Just take your time, take your space.” You can have a baby and things like that, which are huge changes, but you don’t stop. In fact, you have to do even more. But with the death, it’s different. Society recognizes it’s importance even if it’s uncomfortable with it.
Death puts everything in perspective. “What’s my intention? What’s my direction? What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Do I know?” At that point I realized that not only could I die, but I have 11 brothers and sisters, she was the youngest of 12. So there was a fear that, “One of them could die at any minute. Death is at your doorstep.” Seeing that someone could die young and healthy was scary and confronting.
It changed the perspective, and it’s something that, while it doesn’t make any sense on the surface, is a gift to the people who are alive. I’m not saying her death by any means is a gift, not at all. I would do anything to have her back, and to have her here, and to hug her and tell her I love her. But it’s a chance for us to really be present, to really question, “What is it that we’re here for? What do we want? What is our intention? What are our gifts that we can bring? How can we be fully present? How can we get clear on these type of things?”
In that spirit, I’d like you to invite you to take a few minutes to think about the question:
“If you knew that you had only two weeks to live, what would you want to do?”
Think about whatever has meaning for you. There’s no judgment.
I’m inviting you to think about your life so far, what you want in your life and a sense of, “If you had that brief time period, if you knew your life was ending…
“What would you want? What would be important?” Letting that clarify things.
So please take a couple of minutes, taking some notes, writing down whatever you think. I’ve done this exercise as well leading up to this, because I felt it was really important to have that sense. What came up for me surprised me, so I’m hoping that you can let yourself be surprised and be touched by it, because it is important.
[Please take some time to do this exercise yourself, even a few moments can make a difference and show you some things about yourself.]
The people in the audience shared with me the things that were important to them. Some of them were light, like making and eating warm, homemade cookies. Some talked about spending time in nature, loving and laughing as much as they could, traveling to Hawaii or a beach vacation with their family, attending music concerts, learning to ice fish, quiet time, turning off their phone and putting it away, getting things organized in their life so it would be easier for their loved ones, thanking their friends for being loving, hugging their husband more. Some teared up talking about wanting to be there for their kids and spending time with them.
What stood out for you? What would be important for you if you knew you only had 2 weeks to live?
I shared: Yes, I can relate. When I did this exercise, the first thing I thought about was my kids and my family. I also thought about how much I miss my sister’s voice and her. I thought I would want to make videos with my kids and reassure them, “You’ll be ok and I love you.” I wanted them to have something to keep with them, and to remind them of my love, and my belief that I will be ok.
I’d want to spend time with my family. I’d want to have a big party, and to invite my family and close friends and tell them what they mean to me. To really say that because often we don’t say that. We think it, but we don’t tell people. It is a gift for people to hear positive and touching things about themselves, and also for us to receive their love for us. It means a lot.
The part that surprised me in this exercise was the desire to speak and express myself, which is what I’m doing in giving this talk.
I grew up in a Catholic family and as a little girl I was pretty quiet. In this exercise, and at times during my life I’ve felt, “I want to say what I think.”
As a result of this exercise and in honoring what I want in my life, I’m allowing myself more expression and sharing my beliefs. I want to empower other women to do that as well, and to find their voice, and find what’s important and really live with that.
I’m hoping that from this exercise and this talk, that this gives you a direction as well in terms of your intention, your intention for life.
What is important? What do you want to give more time and attention to in your life?
In the next part of the talk I spoke about new research in neuroscience showing how your brain reacts to trauma and difficult life situations, including childhood experiences of difficulty and lack. I believe that experiences of NOT getting what you need on an emotional and physical level can cause a level of trauma that can make it difficult for you to be fully present, to experience joy and pleasure. I spoke about the mechanisms behind this and the research in neuroscience to support the healing of it. I am in the process of writing an article about this approach, the underlying mechanisms and how to heal it that I will send to my newsletter over the next month or so.
Essentially, slowing down, connecting with your body and re-visiting the difficult experiences from a safe space in the present moment, are ways to heal them and bring more vitality forward so you can engage in life and feel things more deeply. Seeing these things can have a profound impact on your quality of life, as well as your productivity and engagement in life. This allows you to bring your best self forward, enjoying what you do while being more and more successful in your endeavors, whether it is in work or in your relationships.
During the talk I also led a guided, group meditation to give the participants a chance to see what meditation can do for them, and how they can feel calm and grounded, as well as more present in the moment.