When I came to 22 years ago and was thrown headfirst into a world that didn't include booze and drugs, I decided I was going to put out as much energy into learning a new way of life as I had in living life loaded.
When I became disabled 11 years ago as the result of an incomplete spinal cord injury, I also became determined to live life rather than merely survive it.
It didn't matter that I didn't know how to accomplish those two things. It just mattered that I do them to stay alive and mostly sane.
In the years following those two decisions, I have come to understand
that I didn't need to know how. The how of it all just sort of appeared
as I kept to the path I had chosen for myself. Sometimes it seemed
simple, sometimes it was so difficult that I could only keep my head
above water and survive for months or years at a time but I never lost
the passion and desire for learning a new way of life and living rather
than merely surviving.
As much as I'd like to say that if you practice these 11 things you can
learn how to live rather than survive too, I can't. What works for one
may not work for another. These are just the things that worked and
continue to work for me. But if one doesn't work, maybe another will or
you'll be inspired to find out what does work to help you live life
rather than survive it.
Learn to recognize the negative stuff you think about: the self-doubts,
the criticisms of others, the complaints, the why-mes, the excuses why
you can't do something. Once you recognize negative stuff, change it
right then. Stop yourself when you have these thoughts, and replace
them with positive thoughts. Possible solutions, affirmations, happy
thoughts, prayers, whatever- it doesn't really matter as long as it is
positive. If you are not focused on the solution, you are living in the
problem and that makes life miserable.
Don't suffer. I don't suffer much. I don't suffer fools or life. Life isn't all about fun and games. We
lose our jobs. A close relationship breaks apart. A loved one dies. We get physically injured
or sick. A loved one becomes sick. Learn to feel the pain
intensely, and really grieve. This is a part of life- really feel the pain, walk through it.
And when you're done, move on, and find joy. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Focus on now. Instead of thinking about things you need to do, or things that have happened to
you, or worrying or planning or regretting, think about what you are doing,
right now. What is around you? What smells and sounds and sights and feelings
are you experiencing? Learning this through meditation is great,
but by bringing your focus back to the present as much as you can in
everything helps you to live life on life's terms.
Learn new stuff. Constantly
learn something new instead of stagnating. Not because you're a
dolt but because learning encourages growth and fosters
empowerment. Accepting yourself as you are, and learning to love who
you are is a part of evolution but without learning and growth we
stagnate and become stodgy and inflexible.
For some, this means
finding God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha. For others, this means being
in tune with the spirits of our ancestors, or with nature. For
still others, this just means an inner energy or knowledge. Whatever
means for you, rediscover it, and its power.
Be of service. Don't just donate money or stuff you don't want anymore. Donate your time. Get out of your house and find those who live in worse conditions. Mentor someone. Be a child's advocate. Sponsor a recovering addict or alcoholic. Help at homeless soup
kitchens. Foster a homeless pet. Volunteer at a hospital or hospice. Meet people, talk to them, work at understanding them. Live among them. Be one of them. Learn compassion and give of yourself. Touch humanity.
Find your passion. Take a chance and discover your calling. Make your living by doing the
thing you love to do. First, think about what you really love to do.
There may be many things. Find out how you can make a living doing it.
It may not be easy, but you only live this life once.
Lose control. Come
to understand that control is actually an illusion. We can control how
we think and our behaviors to some extent but we control very little of
what happens in life. It's generally a bad idea to try to control
others; it rarely leads to anything other than stress and unhappiness for everyone concerned. Let others live, and live for yourself.
Spend time with children.
Kids really know how to live. They experience everything right now,
with everything they have. When they get hurt, they really cry. When
they really have fun. Learn from them, play with them, and work to be
joyful like them.
Talk to old people. There are no one wiser, more experienced, more learned, than those who have
lived through life. They can tell you amazing stories. Give you advice
on making a marriage last or staying out of debt. Tell you about their
regrets and failures, so you can learn from them and hopefully avoid the same mistakes. They
are the wisdom of our society. Take advantage of their lives while they're still around.
Love. Maybe the most
important. Is your heart a tough
bundle of scar tissue? Learn to open it, have it ready to receive love,
to give love unconditionally. If you have a problem with this, talk to
someone about it. And practice makes perfect. Fall
in love, if you aren't already. If you are in love, fall in
love with your partner all over again. Abandon caution and open your
heart to life. Or love family members, friends, anyone. It doesn't
have to be romantic love. Work at love and being loved, one person at