The experience of shuttling back and forth from Manila to Ormoc and various parts of Bohol over the last six weeks has given me an even deeper appreciation of the importance of each day, the value of speaking from the heart and leaving nothing unsaid, and the grace of a grateful heart.
If you’ve experienced how it is to receive a life-changing diagnosis, either as a parent or as a patient yourself, you’ll know how your world can shift in the blink of an eye. If you’ve ever lost someone so suddenly, as most of the Yolanda survivors did, you’ll realize how important it is to make every day count, and to never let a moment pass you by.
At the end of the year, I’m reading New York Times best-selling author Dr. Bernie Siegel’s gem of a book, “101 Exercises for the Soul,” in preparation for the next major decade of my life. A hop and a skip away from 50, I’d like to get the beginning of my fifth decade of life off to a light and happy start.
Dr. Siegel is a well-known proponent of alternative approaches that heal not just the body, but the mind and soul as well. He travels around the world addressing patient and caregiver groups, and is the author of several best-selling books, including the landmark “Love, Medicine & Miracles.”
Siegel says that a well-lived life always begins with maintaining a positive attitude, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. “If your attitude is negative and your mind is filled with worry and fear, it takes its toll on your body, mind, and spirit… by spending all your time creating a vision of an unhappy future, you help create that future.”
He narrates how this point was brought home many decades ago when one of his four children had an X-ray which revealed a bone tumor.
“I was very depressed by what I thought was going to happen, and my attitude showed it,” he writes. He even tried to get his wife and his other children to develop a depressing attitude, “How can you laugh and play when someone you love is going to die?”
One day, the same son who had an irregular X-ray came up to him and said, “Dad, you’re handling this poorly.”
Suddenly, Siegel says, he was reminded of what every child and animal knows instinctively. “Today is the only day that exists. The future is unknown, and we should never let our fears, worries, and negative attitudes prevent us from enjoying the day and finding fulfillment, no matter what tomorrow seems to hold.”
Rejection, by anything or anyone, I’ve always believed, is simply God’s redirection of us towards something better. It can also be a wake-up call of sorts for you to listen more closely. Whatever it is, it unfolds in His time; you just need to stay focused, and, as Siegel says, stay positive. “Cultivating a hopeful approach to life is an important part of your ‘should’ workout,” he emphasizes.
Siegel suggests several ways we can improve our attitudes and make them more positive in the new year. Here are my three favorites.
First, he encourages people to write a gratitude list. Gratitude is one of the best ways to improve your attitude and feel better. You can’t be troubled and grateful at the same time.
Begin with the basic necessities and continue with the more meaningful and personal areas of your life. Display the list where you can see it, or post one thing you are grateful for on your social media sites for the first 30 days of the year. Just take pause, now, before the year ends, and see how much there is to be grateful for.
Second, seek the greatest teacher. At a conference, Siegel asked select members of the audience what or who their greatest teacher was. When it was his turn to reply, he said, “Death… I refuse to let other people and circumstances impose on my joy, because I know, as we all should, that I have a limited time to live.”
The last day of their lives
Toward the end of each semester, I give my students an exercise—I ask them to pretend it’s the last day of their lives. I ask them how they would spend it, and who they would spend it with. Their answers always move me. No one wanted to spend the last day of their lives sulking, and the day was always greeted with much joy and anticipation.
If every day you practice meeting life and the people in it with a positive attitude, then the same will be given back to you.
Third, admire your baby picture to reconnect with your divine inner child. I know, that sounds kind of new age, but I tell you, it works. There is something in childhood that we lose in the ensuing years, as we make our way into the world burdened by expectations and responsibilities. However, Siegel says that within each of us remains the divine potential we all had as children.
I first did this exercise as a graduate student of psychology, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. There she was, 40-year-old me, staring at my 4-year-old version, wondering where the bright-eyed, smiling little girl in red boots had gone. I carried her picture around for a while until I began to find parts of her again. It wasn’t easy; there was a lot of debris I had to dig through, but it was all worth it.
So, dig through your albums, and find a photo of your unadulterated, precocious self, ideally before the age of seven. “Don’t let a fearful attitude or the opinion of others stop you. Approach life like a child, take the first step, and learn to walk. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed. If you stumble or fall, like the child, rise and try again,” Siegel advises.
Reconnecting with the girl I left behind years ago, I now carry her in my heart wherever life brings me. I look forward to marking my golden year in 2014 fearless and filled with as much wonder for the next decade of my life, as I did when I was a child.
By God’s grace, we leave behind 2013, filled with great hope that 2014 can only be better. Happy New Year!