Awakening removed the fear of dying, taking with it the neurotic lifelong obsession with doing what “matters” (or “needs” doing), in the ever-diminishing time left. The number of days on that precious quantity had been (as it ever will be!) agonizingly unknowable: hence the constant pressure of anxiety, from the awful ongoing sense of brevity, and the haunting pervasive un-know-ability. All that could be known with certainty was that the hourglass steadily held fewer grains than it had the day prior.
One of the expressions of the fear of death was that I’d run out of time to do better at one thing and another, to “fail” less. I felt an urgency, always, to achieve longstanding goals — like, to become a better mother. The prospect of death was the major enemy in my life: not so much because I feared demise and the actual end of things, but more because of the way dying represented the dwindling of opportunity to achieve all I hoped to get to.
Driven by what “needed” doing, I forever postponed delight, which must be “deserved.” (As if being alive weren’t “deserving” enough. Just ask someone nearing death.)
The greater part of what was on the list — most poignantly (and so typically, for us human beings) — had nothing to do with enjoying my time here. Because I was so driven by what “needed” doing, what seemed to want solving, I was forever postponing delight. Delight, it appeared, needed to be “earned.” Deserved. (As if being alive, in and of itself, weren’t “deserving” enough. Just ask a person fast approaching death: talk about poignant!)
But earning kept not happening. For decades. There was the constant postponement of radical delight, because of all that needed doing first. The sense of priority in the matter of the spending of time was radically out of whack.
* * *
So when the machinery of fear came to a blessed halt, all the ferocious attachment to those imprisoning goals, along with the value I’d assigned those things, simply melted into the sweet now. It felt so delicious to be able to simply rest, enjoy, be here, that my days were one vast sigh of welcome relief. My life’s meaning had to do with simply being alive; or perhaps more truly, I no longer held the sense that it needed to mean anything. Life was not about doing (or failing to do). It was about being, and reveling in plain being.
For many years post-awakening, I was entirely content to allow loved ones’ desires, as well as the wishes of those seeking my guidance, to (gently) “dictate” how I lived. I was primarily responsive, my own potential preferences seldom occupying space in my awareness.
* * *
When I woke up, the sense of what matters transformed entirely. In addition, any expression of emotional need disappeared altogether. Life simplified to the point where the only needs were the physical ones, the animal requirements for water, food, and protection from the elements.
And so when it came to pass, after many years, that my brevity began gently to remind me of itself, I sat up and took notice. This was new! That revelation occurred when I was in my late fifties; I am presently 69. I began to reflect on the diminishment that could come with old age, to ask myself this: Given that I will one day die, might there be some things I’d like to do while I’m still able? Not merely alive, but fit enough to be active, to have the energy for (say) a travel adventure with my son.
I did not have forever.
The awareness of a limited amount of time to be here did not usher in the long-familiar angst and pressure to hurry-up-and-do-things. What the noteworthy change did open up was a cherishing for the blossoming sense of opportunity on the landscape of what might be ahead. And — most surprising, and life-altering — was this: I began to have real preferences as to how I lived. Such a welcome (and sweet!) revelation: that just because I no longer resisted anything didn’t mean I might not have actual preferences.
To experience the newfound freedom to realize I had option, and to have the palpable delight of implementing desired changes in my practical life, was a real surprise, carrying much joy. This development was one of the many gifts enabled by the enduring absence of fear.
There was the question of how I might most like to spend whatever time remained. I also began to notice growing a vivid preference for solitude. For simplicity in all things, which resulted in a growing focus on efficiency and on economizing, of both effort and material resources. And this preference too: the wish to minimize, as much as possible, the need for mental engagement. Much revision of a long-familiar way of living was set in motion.
* * *
What fun opened up to me then! Such a revelation: that there could be actual non-pain-inflicting benefits to looking ahead. To seeing past the end of my nose, as it were, so accustomed was I to simply being in the now. The contemplation of mortality, inevitably including brevity, was turning out to have a blessed — and angst-free! — benefit.
How quickly then was the celebratory trip with my (newly-sober) son set in motion. Not long after, the week away together came into being. Such joy and richness, for us both! Then it was one fun thing after another in my life, having to do with the everyday and also relating to more adventures of the sort my son and I had enjoyed. And — here was the real surprise — this dramatic inner change significantly affected the matter of how my ordinary days were “spent,” altering the long familiar mode of living.
What had come alive in me, after so many years of radical equanimity with whatever-it-was, was the sweet energy of preference. Such a revelation: that I could could prefer to do this rather than that. To live this way, not so much that. There was one revelation after another of the ways preference seemed to want to express itself in how I lived.
* * *
Notably, each expression of preference was blessedly rinsed of the long-familiar attachment to getting the wanted thing. If a desired something didn’t materialize, or if it did come about but then didn’t last (nothing does!), I was entirely fine. No clinging anywhere. A breathtaking discovery, such delicious freedom in it. It simply had never dawned on me that I could want without being desperate to have. In our ordinary human way of being, the two come hand-in-hand: yet it is not inevitable that it be so!
How my life did revolutionize itself, in short order. The things I did, the ways I lived, how my days were spent. There were many surprising developments along the way, things I had not seen coming. One long-familiar pattern after another simply undid itself, leading me in a brand new direction. Along the way, much more unstructured space was brought about in my days.
Dear reader, what is your idea of fun? Do you ever ask yourself that? You don’t have forever! No time like the present.
[From a forthcoming book by Jan Frazier]