The Privilege of Being Alive

The Privilege of Being Alive

Around 20 years ago, I was leading a seminar at Esalen retreat center. It’s an ideal place for reflection, situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with a breathtaking view of the setting sun. One of the seminar participants, a 24-year-old man,  sat beside me to watch the sun sink below the horizon. 

Out of the blue, he asked if he could speak with me. I nodded “Yes,” and this is what he said: “Last year, my Dad passed away after a long battle with cancer. I was with him during his last three weeks. He was lucid almost all the way through. One afternoon, while he lay in his bed, he took my hand and said the following words. ‘You know all the things we say we must do? The chores and to-do’s we have to accomplish? All those so-called responsibilities? I now see that they were all privileges. Even taking out the garbage each week was a privilege! Instead of saying I have to do this, I should have said I get to do this! To tell the truth, every moment of my life was a privilege!’ It hit me that my Dad was right! Now I try to see those to-do’s, and chores and responsibilities are part of my privilege of being alive.”

I’m writing this because his story hit me right in the heart. At that moment, I looked back on my life and saw all those times when I was driven to do as much as possible every day, cramming all those to-do items in so that I’d feel relief at having taken care of all my responsibilities. 

However, the experience of “relief” is different from “enjoyment.” For example, relief happens when your headache goes away. You would be surprised at the number of people I’ve interviewed who see the absence of pain or pressure as enjoyment. 

When we do our chores to experience that momentary relief, haven’t you noticed that it’s short-lived? That the pressure to care for those to-do’s soon starts up once more? Where’s the enjoyment?

Enjoyment occurs when you’re having a good time doing something. Instead of saying, “Thank God it’s over for today,” you’re saying, “I had a great time today!” 

Enjoyment is one of the six forms of energy that we’re here to use to be successful. The other energy forms are money, time, physical vitality, creativity, and relationship. Whatever you enjoy doing will prosper in your hands. However, if you wish to enjoy doing something, you must be willing to give up your usual and customary ways of operating.

In other words, no more extended list of things that must be done; a list that grows longer as you complete items at the top. Keeping such a list can make you anxious just by looking at it.

The bottom line is this: when you enjoy what you do, it’s easy to see the privilege that it is to be doing it! 

At this point, ask yourself these questions. How would it affect the quality of my life if I were willing:

  • To enjoy what I’m doing instead of being relieved that I did as much as possible at the end of the day?
  • To see at least one to-do item daily as a privilege rather than a responsibility?
  • To stop creating a Daily To-Do list that’s difficult, if not impossible, to finish in one day?
  • To create a Daily Enjoyment List, placing only as much on that list as I know I will do without being driven or exhausted by the end of the day?

You might wonder what I mean by “driven.” Our behavior is driven when we have no satisfaction with what we’re doing, we see the flaws rather than the beauty of what we’re doing, and we can never do whatever we’re doing well enough.

Learning to experience the privilege of what we’re doing is not always easy. Case in point:

Rick: I saw the difference between being driven and enjoying the other day. I was watering our garden. It’s my weekly chore. The sun was hot up here in Sacramento, California. There I was, sweating away and trying to finish up quickly. I had a wet towel around my neck and a hat you can soak before you wear it on your head to get a cooling effect. I wondered how much longer it would take. Just full of complaints that I wasn’t doing a perfect job. I really wasn’t that hot yet, but I anticipated I would be soon. I just wanted to finish that chore so I could go on to the next one as quickly as possible.

Just then, I look over at my wife, Alice.  She’s humming quietly while snipping some long ivy strands off one of our morning glory plants. She was smiling!  I asked what she was doing, thinking she wasn’t doing enough to make a dent in that garden chore. It looked too easy. She turned and looked up at me. “I’m gardening!” she said with a smile. It looked like she was having fun. I certainly wasn’t having a good time with my chore.

“I’m gardening” lives in a different universe than doing “chores.” You can tell the difference between the feelings they evoke and the energy they release. There’s no exhaustion in gardening. Just a sense of being fulfilled. There’s nothing but exhaustion, or at least anticipating exhaustion,  in doing chores.

By now, you’ve probably understood the difference between seeing something as a privilege instead of a responsibility. It’s time for you to shift the focus of your life away from responsibilities and obligations to the extraordinary privilege of being alive. If you’re willing to do it, look at the four bullet points above, and do what they suggest.

Then, since enjoyment and the privilege of living are intimately related to the practice of gratitude, I suggest you start your journey with a daily dose of Brother David Steindl-Rast on “A Good Day.” Just click on the link to watch and listen.

See you next week!

  • Riitta Laakio
    Posted at 15:15h, 04 August Reply

    So important and wise words. Thank you! I can share what you said and I am so thankful! Still this is a lesson we have to leatn over and over again. Today you engouraged and challenged me with you article. Thank You!

  • Sandra S Hopper
    Posted at 23:36h, 07 August Reply

    A great message, and one I intend to practice. I have the privilege of choosing my attitude and thoughts. I am grateful to have another opportunity to learn and expand. Thank you, Maria.
    Sandra Hopper

  • Elaine Burgher
    Posted at 20:38h, 08 August Reply

    Thank you Maria. Recognizing the privledge in doing what I am doing enables me to be present in the most sparkling of ways! Thank you for helping me see this again and more deeply.

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