Two of my oldest friends died last month and my 76th birthday is coming up next month. Time to take stock. I still work hard to stay in remission, but whether or not cancer gets me in the end, I have to face the fact that I am approaching the home stretch of my life. I want to live as long as I can, but I also feel the need to be prepared for death. Death usually comes unannounced, and I don’t want it to be an “oh shit” moment. It’s important for me to know that I had a really good life.
I think there are three things that make life worthwhile. Nobody achieves perfection in any of them, but I think our lives can be measured by the progress we make in each of these three areas.
First is how much we enjoyed our lives. I think it’s important to get deep pleasure and frequent joy from being alive. The habit of pleasure does not come from our circumstances, such as having enough money or love, although those things help. It comes from the work we do on ourselves. I came from a rather morose family of origin, and my natural tendency is to dwell on my problems, so I have had to work hard at joy.
Second is how kind we are to others. This means everyone, no exceptions. It probably should include not only people, but everything on the planet. This has not been easy for me either. My natural tendency was to be critical and judgmental, and kindness is often a struggle.
Third is the extent to which we discovered the gifts we were born with and how much we were able to express them. My gift is a small one, but useful. I’m not a great visionary, but I have always been able, even in elementary school, to see through the propaganda and get a glimpse of what was really going on. As I went through school, I developed research skills to help me figure things out. I also have the ability to explain things clearly in writing. During my career as a specialist in College Reading, I co-wrote seven textbooks to help people improve their reading and thinking. After I had breast cancer I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer to help people look beyond the conventional standard of care and take charge of their own recovery and remission. I also have a political website, JanetsGoodNews.org, with a blog that goes far beyond the mainstream media to address the important issues facing the United States and the world.
There are many people who have accomplished much more in their lives than I have, and I can’t even really say I did the best I could. I could have done more, but that’s okay. Like everyone else, I have had an impact on the world through the lives I touched, including two adopted children and six rescued dogs. I also helped a lot of people improve their reading. And it makes me happy to know that I will leave behind a body of writing, whether or not anyone wants to read it.
I mentioned that the progress in my life has taken a lot of work. Here are some of the things I still do to keep moving forward:
- I go to a meditation group every week and I meditate alone almost daily, preferably out in nature.
- I go to a yoga class once a week, one that has real spiritual energy
- When I wake up I set my intentions for the day, and I sometimes use affirmations to get me on the right track. I often do a review at the end of the day as well.
- I think about things I’m grateful for.
- I see a life coach.
- I read inspirational literature. I am not going to provide a reading list because I have found that when I read something I’m not ready for it means nothing to me, but it can mean the world to me when I am ready. You can find things you are ready for by looking on the Internet or on Amazon or by asking around.
- I am starting media training so I can do better on camera. Some day I might take improvisational acting.
- I do a lot of things I enjoy: I listen to blues music, which makes me feel strong and happy; I travel; I look at art; I go to good restaurants; I walk in nature, usually with my dogs; I socialize with family and friends. Before I injured my back by excessive horseback riding, I took several dance classes each week, which really filled my joy reservoirs. I know other people who get joy from singing, painting, or writing poetry.
The main thing is to do the work. Otherwise, nothing will change.
Here are three of my favorite inspirational quotes:
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing. — Muhammad Ali
The purpose of life Is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away—attributed to Pablo Picasso
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty—Albert Einstein