Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Life is Over.

I am now dead.

At least according to my Year to Live practice.  I started this reflective and meditative practice a year ago with my spirituality group.  I am the youngest of the group, and there was a moment in which I wondered: Am I doing this prematurely? But, that was just fear rearing its ugly head. I quickly began to feel deep down in my core what I always knew in my head: There is no guarantee on time.  And, all we have is today. Right here, right now.  To underscore the end of my Year to Live practice, I just learned of a 23 year old friend who passed away last week.  This seems to offer me my final lesson, this is my final wake up call to pay attention to my life with unwavering conviction.

The Year to Live practice is based on Steven Levine's book with the same title.  We started with a contemplation of our life's value, moved into a study of death and the death experience, and finally ended with the practice of letting go and transitioning.  As choreographer Doris Humphrey put it: Movement is the "arc between two deaths." And, this year of practice has now come to its end, to its own death although we are still alive. Our group will be hosting a FUN-eral in a few weeks to celebrate our lives.  But, the lessons we learned along the way we will carry with us. 

How has it changed me? First, I wear my clothes.  See my former blog on my strange need to "save" things for when they were deserved.  It seems like a silly thing to note, but this practice of wearing and enjoying what I already have in my possession was a huge learning curve for me. It was a metaphor for giving myself permission to enjoy all aspects of my life TODAY!

Secondly, I learned what it really meant to put myself first.  This came in the form of healing my back, or more accurately starting down the path to long term physical health and mental well being from which I am pleased to have already noticed meaningful results. The road out of physical pain was rocky and frustrating, but for the first time I am actually feeling optimistic about my back and my future in movement. 

I could go on to list other things, but that will just sound and feel like bragging which is not the point at all!  In fact, the real lesson wasn't in achievement. I was in the opposite of an achievement. It came in the acceptance of things as they are and in accepting myself as I am.  There is still a boatload of work to be done in this area, but I see the value in the work.  I see now how cultivating a stable sense of self worth changes how I experience everything in life.  

Self love always seems like a farce to me. I didn't think it really existed. Or rather that I shouldn't buy into it because i either didn't deserve it or that it would lead to failure.  I thought it was best to go through life by self deprecating oneself and motivating oneself with shame, hatred and fear.  I mean it worked for a while! Ha! And, sometimes I still catch myself leading this life. But, after a Year to Live and all of the work I have done to more closely understand my significance, my inherent value and my legacy, I have become clearer in all of my daily interactions (both with others and myself). 

What am I really here to do? How do I really want to be? 

We finished the year by writing a personal mission statement.  I extended that to include a personal set of values by which I want to live my life. 

Mission Statement: I vow to support the personal and spiritual growth of all beings by being honest and authentic in all that I do as a leader, teacher, partner, dancer and artist.  I promise to practice and teach a life of awareness and wisdom, through movement, expression, and human connection.

  • Respect
  • Relationships
  • Support and Service
  • Artistic Process
  • Play and Curiosity
  • Non-Judgement
  • Holistic Balance

There is a sweetness in life and when you are ripping off the pages of YtoL calendar and getting closer to zero each and everyday, you can find the true sweetness real fast. There is no time for self delusion.  Honesty is like a bullet train headed straight into the meaning of life.  

For me, I realized with even greater certainty that dance is not the end goal. It is a mere a vehicle for me.  It is a tool to use for greater self awareness and growth.  There is a richness in movement that connects me into the present moment, the lasting questions and the ever present divine.  My real goal in life is to share the process of discovery, self acceptance, personal growth and authenticity with others. Dance just helps me do that.

I would recommend that anyone willing to enter into a YtoL practice do so.  But, I recommend you do it in a group with people who are going to hold you to it, because the cycle of frustration, uncertainty, hope, fear, anger and acceptance is a wild one and having a great sangha (community) by your side is essential.

There is work yet to be done.  Maybe I will do this again in 10 years or 20 or 40.  But, for now, I will take to heart the lessons I learned and do my best to stay true to my experience of life and love.

Want to read more of my Year to Live related blogs?
Follow through this sequence below.



  1. (Scot Writing)
    Let me be the first to welcome you to the afterlife (at least within your blog comments). How about an Irish Wake?

    Funny that I was just thinking of you and your YtoL on the drive home from rehearsal tonight. Even I (as a casual acquaintance) learned from your practice, not the least of which was you "Blue Sweater" post - in fact that had a great impact as I tend to hoard the nice clothes and wear the same things over and over.
    But really, I've been thinking of the idea of YtoL. I haven't read the book or done the practice, but the Imaginary Cliff Notes version tells me to do all the things that matter, to tell all the people who matter that they do, and to make myself matter, at least to myself as I look back.
    Is that close? If so, I love that you did it now. It's not too early. You were/are at a place to learn from it, and isn't it better at an age when you (statistically) have more years ahead of than behind you? Isn't it better to learn how to live while you still have life to live, rather than as a bitter old creature like Scrooge? Think of the pain you saved Tiny Tim....

    Bravo. You continue to inspire, often where you least suspect it. Live on Beth.

    with love and respect (and the offer of a drink whenever you choose to claim it),

  2. You are right on target!

    "to do all the things that matter, to tell all the people who matter that they do, and to make myself matter, at least to myself as I look back. "

    It think the most challenging aspect for me was admitting to myself what exactly did "matter" to me. It wasn't necessarily what I expected it would be.

    I will take you up on an Irish Wake Beth and Scot style!