Setting Yourself Free

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”  

— Mary Oliver

I love those lines of poetry from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” I hear her words in my ear as a whisper, urging me forward into this moment, to fully embody the mystery of being alive. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

As human beings, we are always yearning to know the future. We want to know with certainty that whatever choice we make is the “right choice.” We long for security in its myriad of forms: job security, financial security, relationship security, political security. We want to know what is unknowable. We want to control what is out of our control. This way of thinking and living can generate a great deal of doubt and fear. The kind of doubt and fear that hinders you from your own creativity and your ability to be fully present to the reality and beauty of life.
Life is mysterious. The future is uncertain. One day we will die. Despite our human strivings to prove otherwise, these things remain true! The only question we can really answer is how to live? How to bring ourselves most fully alive in this moment?

I’m on my annual trip to South Africa and have been ruminating on these questions a lot lately during our afternoon game drives through the bushveld. I’ve encountered a lot of death recently. My sweet yellow lab Cole’s death. My grandmother’s death. My uncle’s close call with death. A man that I saw crash his motorcycle just feet in front of my car and nearly died. And I’ve witnessed many friends encounter death up close and personal in their own lives.

As I watch the zebra strolling across the sun-drenched bush, I find myself wondering: do they know where they are going? Can they be certain that the direction that they are headed in will have water and lush grass waiting for them? Are they overcome with worry that a lion could be crouching behind every tree ready to pounce?

Of course, the answer is no. Animals embody a profound state of presence and trust. The zebras move without question, following their own internal compass and the collective compass of their herd. They use their own intuition to step forward into life each moment, to fully live what they have been given. If there is a predator or danger nearby, they will fittingly jolt into high alert giving themselves to that experience too, but most of the time, they are blissfully content to munch on grass and soak in the sunshine and loll through the vast tundra of Earth.

In our own human lives there is so much to be learned from this way of being! We can choose to indulge our illusions of security and certainty or we can embrace the gorgeous mystery of existence and plunge headfirst into the experience of it. Into the adventure. The heartbreak. The love. The curiosity. The uncertainty. The full gamut of feeling. Can you let yourself fully embrace the beauty and impermanence of wherever it is you are? Can you accept this moment as it has been given to you?

What is your worst fear about your unknown future?

There’s an exercise I find really helpful when my mind just won’t let me sink into that place of trust. I call it “Worst Case Scenario.” What is your worst fear about your unknown future? The scenario you have created in your head and pull out again and again as a way to keep you from fully living. I invite you to name it and bring it in close. Take a look at the thing you are most trying to avoid or prevent. Can you sit with it and breathe it in and still feel in your body that you are okay? Can you embrace even that most uncomfortable or devastating outcome?

When I do this exercise I often find that my worst case scenario is not nearly as painful as the anxiety and fear I have generated around whatever my worry is. If you can sit with your thoughts and find a way to make peace with them, they start to loosen their grip on you and let you slide out of that hypothetical future and into what is real right now. Your animal body, your internal compass guiding you into the fullest expression of yourself. Right here, right now.

Existence is ever evolving. Everything in this life is for you. You were made to live it. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?