I have always appreciated the aboriginal saying, “It’s a good day to die,” attributed to the Oglala Lakota chief, Low Dog (c. 1846 – 1894). This expression invites us to live each day in a way that allows for no regrets or significant tasks left undone. Another way to say this is to live fearlessly.
I’m just back from 10 days in California and a six-day poetry retreat, where the theme was the exploration of death – cheery little topic! We participated in a death ritual and then went in to an extended period of silence. It’s really hard to get one’s head around the reality of our physical death. It’s thought to be our most pressing fear, even though most of the time, consciously we’re oblivious to the reality that death can come at any moment.
To make the theme of death more accessible we can peel the layers off of what my teacher Kim Rosen (www.kimrosen.net) calls the “living deaths.” This term refers to the many leaps of faith and unfamiliar, often at first scary roads, we’re called to travel, to die into, and to truly be alive. It also includes the many, many opportunities we have to let our ego die, so a truer self, and life can emerge.
“Living deaths” and pleasure
Of course I’m always thinking about, “What’s this got to do with pleasure?” Well, a state of vibrant aliveness is pleasurable. When we let ourselves enter, “the living deaths,” i.e. takes risks, speak a necessary truth, stretch beyond our familiar capacities or territory, we feel awake and alive. There’s pleasure in being stretched out of what can be a stupefying comfort zone. In doing so we always confront some fear, that may feel like an actual life or death challenge, and in doing so we come more into life.
The importance of fear
Fear is a tricky thing. We’re hard wired to be cautious around what might involve the unfamiliar. But that wiring evolved out of a survival strategy that was great when we were actually frequently at physical risk. Today that instinctual impulse to caution is outdated, but often gets applied to emotional or social risks, such as standing out from the crowd, daring to follow an unfamiliar path, speaking a truth, or following at dream.
If we cater to our risk aversion instinct, our lives can become too staid, dull or feel empty of meaning. We’re “unhappy” or feel unsatisfied, and we don’t even know why.
Self-confidence and feeling alive
An added element to this dilemma is that our self-confidence grows with stretching ourselves, and developing new capacities. We don’t know what we’re capable of until we step into challenges, and learn and grow through the process. The choice towards growth is pleasurable for us. It’s pleasure to feel a growing confidence in one’s self, and especially to know we can face our fears, accept challenges and become stronger, more flexible, and wiser for the choice.
Accepting many “living deaths”
In our current settings, risk taking rarely means an actual physical danger. But the many “living deaths” each day offers can feel pretty threatening. I invite you to wake up to those small moments when you could do something differently – whither that is a response to another person or a situation that’s chronically challenging. Take the risk. Engage your curiosity, courage and creativity – try on a new way.
There’s no guarantee it will be totally successful – it’s a learning curve. But that’s not really the point. The point is to step out of your comfort zone – face a fear and find out that it was an illusion- it won’t kill you; not even close. It will probably be a bit uncomfortable at first, but feel the aliveness it brings.
Let me know what happens next!
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