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The Year-To-Live Experiment

--by Stephen Levine (Jun 04, 2007)


I was fifty-eight years old when I began the year long experiment. When the Dalai Lama was fifty-eight years old, a reporter asked him what he was going to do next with his life. He answered that he was going to prepare for death. The interviewer inquired about his health, and the Dalai Lama replied that he wasn't sick, but that his body was impermanent. When I heard about that conversation, I thought that preparing for death was the natural thing to do. [...]

The year-to-live offered extraordinary insights into the places where I had been numb, and into the still small voice within, which became more pronounced. But the most profound influence was an increase in courage. When you have one year left, fear makes you too small. You better live that life that you're going to be so unhappy to think you are leaving. [...]

Fears arise everyday that are like five or ten pound fears. We've become accustomed to these little ones and are able to submerge them with no problem. We think submerging is a sign of our strength, a sign of how far we've gone. It is not. Those fears are opportunities for liberation. They are five and ten-pound hindrances that we can learn to handle by thorough investigation. You can't investigate pain during bone cancer if you've never done pain meditation before. You can't even investigate pain during a stubbed toe usually. Most people stub their toe and send hatred into it. They are merciless and wish it would be gone. What pain in us most needs is to be embraced. We have learned to be absent. We feel abandoned by the part of us that could make us feel whole. We scared it off. When you prepare to work with the fear of death, start working with little fears. You step off the curb, a moment of fear. You meet a stranger, a moment of fear. Start with the five and ten-pound fears because they're workable. We're familiar with them and they don't close our heart. They might tighten our belly a little bit, but we're working with soft belly. Eventually we increase our capacity to work with larger fear. If we went to the gymnasium to pick up the five-hundred-pound weight, the fear of death, we couldn't do it. But we can work out with five and ten-pound weights. We open to the little angers, fears, and doubts, not circumventing them just because we are able to, which decreases aversion to pain and displeasure, and increases our ability to do the work that we were born to do.

--Stephen Levine, from "A Year To Live"


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On Jun 5, 2007 Timoteo wrote:
I thank you very much from the botton of my heart for your extensive, profound and good charityfocus.org

On Jun 4, 2007 Brinda wrote:
Conrad,
Your beloved friend's "12 step ways of behaving" are a true gift. I thank you for passing them on to us.
With gratitude,
Brinda

On Jun 4, 2007 Conrad wrote:

Excellent selection. I’m reminded of the Paul Coelo’s quote from a recent Viral and Nipun communication: "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams…” I am also reminded of the potential for our schools to educate (help fulfill one’s dreams) by encouraging students to focus on their present fearful experience. When a student is encouraged by a teacher to focus on their present fear, the teacher and student will not know exactly what will arise from the students’ openness to present experience. Openness to any thought or feeling that may arise is an indication of vast openness. Some (more than five or ten pound) scary feelings may temporarily arise, but noticing them can bring less fear in the long run. One can notice that they are not afraid of fear after a more lengthy present noticing of their fear. Focusing on the present is a way of beginning focusing for a year or fo  See full.

Excellent selection. I’m reminded of the Paul Coelo’s quote from a recent Viral and Nipun communication: "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams…” I am also reminded of the potential for our schools to educate (help fulfill one’s dreams) by encouraging students to focus on their present fearful experience. When a student is encouraged by a teacher to focus on their present fear, the teacher and student will not know exactly what will arise from the students’ openness to present experience. Openness to any thought or feeling that may arise is an indication of vast openness. Some (more than five or ten pound) scary feelings may temporarily arise, but noticing them can bring less fear in the long run. One can notice that they are not afraid of fear after a more lengthy present noticing of their fear. Focusing on the present is a way of beginning focusing for a year or for a lifetime. My deceased friend, Jim Guinan, was clearly not afraid of his fears. He created (or at least e-mailed me) what I now call the twelve stem ways of behaving (ways to assist in facing and reducing fears and ways to generate that which helps one search for one’s present dreams—I mentioned them several weeks earlier in a similar context). 1. have an increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen. 2. have frequent attacks of smiling. 3. have feelings of being connected with others and nature. 4. have frequent, almost overwhelming, episodes of appreciation. 5. have the tendency to think and act spontaneously, rather than from fears based on past experiences. 6. have unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment, and to make the best out of each experience. 7. lose the ability to worry. 8. lose interest in conflict. 9. lose interest in interpreting the actions of others. 10. lose interest in judging others. 11. lose interest in judging self. 12. be compassionate to self and others without expecting anything in return. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

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