One Year to Live

This is the title of a book by Stephen Levine and I think it should be required reading for anyone over 30. What would you do if you had one year left to live? 


One immediately thinks of someone who contracts some terminal illness. We might also reflect on what seems like an increasing number of incidents, such as the recent bombing in Manchester, the two attacks in London, the fire at an apartment building, the wildfires in Portugal and any number of world disasters.


Years ago, I had gone to see a chiropractor following a minor car accident. I was reading this book while awaiting her attention. She told me of all the things that she would do if she were given this diagnosis, none of which was to do with chiropractic or her profession. She would go on holiday, play lots of golf, eat and drink what she liked. That struck me that she was in a profession that paid the bills rather than something about which she was passionate.


Granted it’s difficult to predict how one might respond to such a question until it happens to you.  I would like to think that I’d continue as a massage and shiatsu therapist. I enjoy my work and would continue as long as I was able.


Another question that I sometimes ask people is what they are passionate about. That often stuns them because they have been so busy attending to the day to day activities of life that they have forgotten to live. They have been a prisoner of their life, absent from it, rather than leading a life. They are feeling unfulfilled.


It’s now time to sharpen the focus. Perhaps we need to take a journey in order to come home. 


People ask me why I’ve walked the Camino three times. It’s certainly addictive because it engages you to the core. I know many people who have walked multiple times, even some who walk it every year.


When I walk the Camino, my world is immediately smaller and more manageable. The main activity of the day is to walk 15, 20, 25 kilometers or more. During that time, there is no outside world, no business vying for my immediate attention, no calamities, natural or otherwise, not even a Toronto back home. It’s the perfect environment for a meditation.


Then at the end of the day, you meet other people who have walked, perhaps you have dinner together, commiserate on the difficulty of the path or the difficulty of life in general. The sharing becomes more poignant and possesses a greater intensity. Someone’s story touches you deeply, whereas back home that same story might leave you unmoved.


If you are walking on your own for a whole day, your thoughts inevitably turn inwards and you start to review your life - the good, the bad and the ugly. In his book, Levine suggests reviewing  “with very soft eyes and an accepting heart.” What has it all been about? Like someone who is faced with a terminal illness, you may not want to be remembered as someone who was just passing through. Levine goes on to say that “these exercises in deepening awareness, in broadening forgiveness and gratitude, increase the vigour and sensitivity of our most ordinary day.” 


In short, you become alive. That’s what I like about the Camino. It’s a journey that brings me alive. Almost the antithesis of the process of dying, one might have thought.