Living with intent

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life! To put to rout all that was not life…And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

When my sister-in-law was near the end in her battle with cancer, she asked me, “Are you afraid to die?” I told her that I would be more afraid of not having lived, and I assured her that in all her travels and being a good mother and wife and her work in schools for 30 years, she had done an admirable job of living.

In citing “the inalienable right to pursue happiness”, the framers of the the United States Constitution did not dictate how that pursuit would look. The conduct of your life, aside from acts of illegality and malice, is not something others can judge for you. In fact, trying to dictate the terms of another person’s life is a sure road to frustration for both parties.

I can look back and see so many misguided attempts of mine to find the secret to happiness. I placed bets on politics, sports, achievement, and many other things, and all came up empty.

What I finally realized was that if I were going to find happiness, it was going to be an inside job. None of the things I valued and loved to that point were bad, and in fact, many such hobbies and pursuits remand with me to today.

But I also knew that to base my happiness on an outcome over which I had zero influence was a sure road to insanity. Instead, I knew that I had to find my own pond, cast a line, and know that whether or not I received a bite wasn’t strictly under my control.

Thoreau seemed to find something he was looking for in the solitary woods. I found mine in the richness of relationships. No one can tell you where to find yours. Not your favorite celebrity nor the NBA MVP nor Oprah nor your parents. Instead, this is a road you’ll need to walk on your own.

I can say I find it doubtful that you will find life on a screen. Have you ever thought about the fact that the one thing you will not see in a movie or TV show is people watching movies or TV shows? There is value in down time, and that may include selective viewing of screens. But I’m reminded of the title of a Doobie Brothers album for the 1970s: “What were once vices are now habits.” Life can be hard, and there have never been a greater number of narcotics, literally and figuratively, to numb you from the discomfort and pain.

That said, I will be presumptive and offer some suggestions, examples really, of where you might find meaning and happiness. (The two are often indistinguishable.)

  1. Lying on a rooftop and looking up at the stars.
  2. Looking in the eyes of a dear friend.
  3. An apology which finds its mark.
  4. Mothers with their newborn babies.
  5. Running a long way with a friend.
  6. Learning to dance.
  7. The beauty of nature.
  8. A walk in the rain.
  9. Watching a sunrise or sunset silently with a friend.
  10. Listening to the sounds around you when you wake-up.
  11. Studying a great work of literature.
  12. Attending a church service in a style of worship which nourishes your soul.
  13. Attempting an audacious physical goal like a mountain climb or long swim.
  14. Learning to play a musical instrument or a new language.
  15. Holding the hand of someone you love.
  16. Doing what scares you.
  17. Listening to someone’s life story.
  18. Taking a short trip or a long trip.
  19. Celebrating a friend just for being a part of your life.
  20. Contemplating what a miracle it is to be alive.

Now it is your turn to add to or make your own list.

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