This is the fifth piece from The Motherhood Letters, a monthly column of letters written by Leaning into Light founder Jessica Rios for Mothering Arts.
I’m writing to remind you that we’re mortal. (Go ahead, start laughing about your nutty aunt now, I know I toss you some funny curveballs in life.) 😉
We're mortal. Not your soul, not the Spirit you’re made of, not the love in your heart. That’s all eternal. Our bodies, dear nephew, will die. Yours, mine, everyone’s.
Ridiculous, right? Why would I take time to write you a letter about this, I mean, come on, you’re 19 years old. You are well aware that every body dies. But are you, really?
Let me tell you why I ask. Let me tell you why I’m writing you this letter.
Plain and clear, we live in the west where most people pretend they’re not going to die. Living this way is a lie, and I love to you too much to miss this chance to help you live awake to the fact that your body will die.
Look around. Most people eat like it doesn’t matter what we put into our bodies, as if their bodies will tolerate crap forever. Most people withhold the truth from themselves and others, and they sit around wishing and dreaming without stepping up to the plate to follow their dreams.
Following your own joy will show you this tragedy, because you will have awakened eyes to see how unusual it is for many people to follow their joy, and when you see this it will break your heart.
Let’s admit it. Often times, people seem half dead. Eventually they will lay dying in a hospital or sit dying in a wheelchair, and they’ll wish — they will wish — that they could turn back the clock to when they were your age, and make different choices. They’ll wish they had loved more, worried less, and spent more time with people who love more and worry less.
The bad news is that living in a culture where people pretend we don’t die means you’ll absorb some of this mentality.
The good news is that no one else’s beliefs have power over you. You choose what you believe and how you live your life.
In my life of adventure — with all its challenges and joys — I have found that life is most vivid, vibrant and satisfying when I remember I could die tomorrow. It doesn’t make me depressed; it gives me confidence! It gives me courage to take risks that lead to great learning. To say things that are in my heart without walking on egg shells. To follow my dreams even when I’m afraid. It attracts people to me who are truly interesting and alive.
My handsome, kind and funny nephew, you’re there now, in your young healthy body, facing the bulk of your life. What an exciting time! So much is unknown.
I’m not your mom; I am your aunt. Still, I love you like crazy. I care for you so, so very much. I want you to love this one life you’re living. And I’m here to support you 100% to make it so.
At your age, very few people know what they want to do for the rest of your life. Literally very few. Some people have an idea about what they might enjoy doing, that could earn them money — such as becoming a police officer, nurse or school teacher — but even people who “know” at age 19 might find later on that they were just settling. They didn’t really know.
To really get a sense of what you would deeply enjoy doing for work, it takes time, travel, experience and exposure to the great big world. Please don’t rush it.
Looking outwardly at what careers are available will give you some insights. It is by looking within your own gorgeous heart -- at what brings you most alive -- that you will find what lights you up.
Ever heard this quote?
Don’t ask what the world needs. As what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. — Howard Thurman
Alright. Now that we’ve gotten that out…
Will you play a game with me?
Every day for one week, starting as soon as you finish reading this letter, I want you to ask yourself this question, and answer it honestly. Write the question and answer in your journal. Journaling is powerful stuff! No need to share your answers with anyone, this is for you.
Here's the question.
If I knew I had one year left to live, what would I do today? (Then do it.)
I’ll step up to the plate to give you an example. If I knew I had one year left to live, today I would decide what three songs are my favorite to sing, and I would sing them out loud, today.
Alright, another example. If I knew I had one year left to live, today I would update my Living Will so that all my friends and family hear what I most want to say to them — and where I want my stuff to go, so they don’t have to think about all that when I die.
I know you’ve felt moments of being truly alive in your life. Aren’t they awesome in contrast to those moments when you feel bored or uninspired?
This life is yours, bud. Don’t follow anyone else’s truth. This is your one precious life. Follow your joy, follow your heart, that is where your wisdom lives. And as you tell yourself the truth, the path forward will reveal itself — one small step at a time — one day at a time. You are young, and time will reveal what you want to do in life. Travel. Read. Follow honest media sources. Watch people, watch life, listen for clues to the song your soul wants to sing. That is beauty. And you’re up for it. I’ll always be your ally.
Love and hugs,
This will be one of my shorter posts. I’m feeling not so wordy today, though certainly touched deeply by life’s beauty, by many elements of life’s beauty, as the holidays wind down toward the new year.
One thing especially has gifted itself to me this holiday season, and that is the grace of humility as delivered, it seems, through aging. And although this is about a happy place I’ve reached with this particular challenge, what is taking place is the culmination of many years of trying and confusion, disappointment and longing.
Short and sweet. I am glad I’m aging. What is coming along with it for me includes a level of humility that wasn’t here in younger years.
Grateful for this, I will state some simple commitments that I will carry further in my own life, and that I trust will be encouraging for readers of my blog.
I commit to…
May we all thrive in our relations, especially those nearest to us that carry the most potential for expansion of the human heart.
On Michael Jackson's Thriller album, producer Quincy Jones talks about how the music gives you chills. He calls it "the chill factor" and says this is nothing less than divinity.
And it's precisely how I feel about exquisitely fine milk foam on a cappuccino or latte. The texture, the sensual wholeness, the smooth taste. There is nothing quite like spectacular milk foam.
This is why, as I stood watching one of my favorite baristas make my favorite drink recently, I literally stood there and cried. Slow, graceful, pausing tears. The kind that drip devotedly, in love with what the heart's eyes are seeing.
Why the hell was I crying about an espresso drink?
It is quite simple: Tears are a sign of an open heart. An open heart is willing to give and receive love. And Love is beautiful. To elaborate...
- Happiness and love are close relatives. There is great happiness found in simple joys. One living breathing moment to the next, all we've got is a taste of our latte, a fold of the laundry, a flush of the toilet. If we can't find happiness in the small things, where will we find it?
- Telling the truth is far more powerful than we acknowledge. The drink I like, with the kind of foam I like, is very, very uncommon. "Can I have a deep-wet-foam latte...? Every time I approach a cafe counter, I contemplate whether to ask for it or not -- and if so, how. Do I just order a coffee, or do I try to convey what I really want, and see what shows up? How annoyable does the barista appear? (And boy, this varies.) This process has allowed me an opportunity to clarify what I want, refine my language in asking for it, and surrender to what shows up, knowing it usually won't be exactly as I hope. Telling the truth takes courage. Owning our desire takes courage.
- It also takes courage to be true to your dreams -- and shizz, I really love this drink -- especially when it's not popular. The more we live authentically, the stronger those muscles get. Still, sometimes it seems a lot easier to just. Order. Coffee. Just go with the cultural flow. Stop dreaming, stop your fantasy world imagination, go with what is. There's power in that too sometimes, yet authenticity sure can fire up the heart.
Listen to our free recording for August, a 30-minute talk with Jessica Rios on her 13 month adventure living abroad, Humane and Heartbreaking, here.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternally a fan of Fred Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.