When I came to 24 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 living without booze and drugs as I had in living life with them.
When I became disabled 13 years ago as the result of an incomplete spinal cord injury, I also became determined to live life rather than merely survive it.
When the man I had shared much of my adult life with suddenly announced he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore one week after our 15th anniversary and I found myself joining the ranks of the newly single a short two months later, I remained loyal to my resolve to live life rather than survive it.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to accomplish those things. It just mattered that I get through them to stay alive and relatively sane.
I have come to understand that I don’t always need to know how. The how of it all just sort of appears as I refuse to stay down and continue putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it seems simple, sometimes it’s so difficult that I can only keep my head above water and survive for months or years at a time. Still, I never seem to lose the passion, determination, and desire for learning a new way of life and living rather than merely surviving it.
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 have 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.
Be positive. 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. I know it sounds queer but it does help. If you are not focused on the solution, you are living in the problem and that makes life miserable.
Don’t suffer. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. 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, find joy.
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.
Find spirituality. For some, this means finding the Goddess, God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha. For others, this means being in tune with the spirits of our ancestors, or with nature or just inner energy or knowledge. Whatever it 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. Give of yourself and 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 play, they really have fun. Learn from them, play with them, and work to be joyful like them.
Talk to old people. There are none 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 scars? 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 a time.