In my wellness coaching group, we’ve been discussing the habit of self check-ins.  The practice involves asking, “How present am I in this moment?” or “What’s happening in my body right now?” or some similar question to assess how grounded and centered one remains throughout a day.  I suggested to the students that they make a simple chart to track their discoveries.

Occasionally I receive emails from the group members saying, “Today I’m a 7!” or, “Going between a 5 and an 8…”  It’s fun and a great reminder for me, too.  The other day, one woman mentioned that she had shared her chart with her grandson whose innocent and immediate response was, “But Grandma, why isn’t every day a 10?”

Out of the mouths of babes…

Indeed, why isn’t every day a 10?

And what would that look like, anyway?

As children, tens are the days we get everything we want for Christmas, Mom or Dad makes our favorite dinner, we get accepted into the “cool” group at school.  But what constitutes a 10 for an adult?  And have we really grown up?  Because for many, although the booty may look different (a raise at work, the corner office, a nice house, all the requisite toys to maximize our fun, exotic vacations, great health, flowers or baubles from our lover, hell – a partner at all), the pattern is the same:  measuring our happiness and satisfaction with the same ruler that we used as kids.

That can be a problem.  Not necessarily (or so obviously) on the days when life hums along and we’re walking on air, but on those other days when gravity slams us back down onto hard ground.  Could be anything—our spouse departs (with the kids), the market crashes, the doctor delivers unthinkable news, our job evaporates, friends ditch us, the recently repaired basement leaks, again…  How are we supposed to feel like a 10 when the manure has just splattered floor to ceiling?

I am not promoting a Pollyanna approach to life where everything comes sunny side up (conveniently forgetting that if there is an up there is also a down).  This kind of denial also plays itself out in “spiritual bypassing,” wherein “spiritual” beliefs and practices are used to avoid addressing emotional pain or unresolved wounds and developmental issues.  Even the current “happiness” trend, while offering valuable insights gleaned from ancient spiritual traditions and the more recent fields of positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology, in the hands of entrepreneurial hucksters tips over into yet another version of “materialism.”  Beneath all the glitz, however, still seethes the relentless pursuit of more—fueled by thoughts of never having, or more fundamentally, of never being—enough.

So when I ask, “What does it take to make this moment, and every moment, a 10?” I’m not asking any of us to gloss over anything that life throws in our faces, or to bypass the rich difficulties (read opportunities) that being in a body on the planet at this time hands us.  Nor am I suggesting a psychologically vicious quest for perfection.  Not at all.

I’m asking for depth.

What if, for instance, our answers to the following (and other similar) questions were what determined our “score” for the day?

How many moments were you real?  How often did you genuinely connect with yourself and with others?  How successfully were you able to turn towards your pain and embrace it, rather than seeking escape through the habit of your favorite distraction?  When did you feel gratitude and joy, not because life was “perfect” (i.e., unfolding according to your demands and expectations), but because you’ve learned how to feel happy no matter what?  When did you know that enough was exactly what was laid out right before your eyes?

It’s a tricky line to walk, this balancing act between being, where everything is perfect as is, and becoming, where we strive for betterment and change.  Excess in one direction leads to complacency and stasis; leaning too far the other way shifts the scales toward chronic dissatisfaction and ultimately exhaustion.

And then one might very reasonably ask: but why are we measuring at all?  Isn’t that act in itself part of the problem, that we’re gauging our satisfaction or lack of it on some objectified ranking?  Well, in part, assessing is what we do.  We calculate, we evaluate, we discern; that’s how we make decisions and move forward in the world.  But perhaps I need to clarify my position here.  Just because we’re quantifying doesn’t mean we need to cave to learned assumptions or media messages about what any of those numbers signify (e.g., if I’m having a bad day or if my life doesn’t feel stellar at the moment, then that makes me wrong, less than, a failure, etc.)  Ironically, the consciousness that can transform every moment into a 10 does not need circumstances to line up according to personal desires.  In other words, experiencing a 10 doesn’t require that we win the lottery.  We could be at a 5, recognize we’re at a 5, release all our judgments about being at a 5, and as we relax, our 5 instantly becomes a 10.  Nothing’s changed except our perception.  Our focus shifts from what we’re getting and accumulating to how we’re growing, what we’re learning, why we’re connecting, that we’re feeling.  It just so happens that when we make this internal switch, life often feels easier and opportunities appear where we didn’t notice them before.  Magic?  Possibly.  Or just a retraining of the heart-mind.

Why is it important that we get this?  Well, life enjoyment is one good reason.  Personal and planetary sustainability are others.  The incessant drive for perfection, for personal gratification, and for more, more, more—whether physical, emotional or spiritual—exhausts a body and mind and also our global resources.  Fulfillment doesn’t equate to flawlessness.  Happiness depends on really very little.  What makes every day a 10 isn’t anything we can see or taste or touch or do.  Rather, as we engage the willingness to release our overt or subtle superficiality/expectations and instead embrace whole-heartedly each and every moment (the 3s as well as the 10s), we may find that life is indeed delivering more than we could ever ask for.

Through my own internal process and through my work with others, I have concluded that the questions we ask ourselves when confronted with a diagnosis of cancer may be not all that different than the questions we ask in our everyday lives.  Questions about meaning, purpose, priorities; countless opportunities for learning to love more deeply (ourselves and others) and for discovering how to best share our gifts with the world.  Granted, when the heat is unexpectedly turned up with such an inescapable reminder of our humanity, these questions and the lessons they impart assume an import that grabs us differently than were we just sitting at Starbucks contemplating the nature of the universe over latte.  Trust me, when you’re about to have a PET scan to determine if the months of chemo you’ve just endured have been effective, questions of who you are and what you want out of life press a little more urgently on your synapses than they would during your typical Wednesday morning commute.

Some people say that cancer (or whatever calamity has befallen them) is the best thing that ever happened to them.  I don’t expect to ever claim that.  As ably as I’ve managed the events of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery (still in process), I could have done without the disease!  Nevertheless, I do appreciate it as an instigator of the next and fiercest (to date) phase of my evolution.  Integral to my gratitude is the conscious choice to unwrap and learn from the gifts that this experience so generously lays at my feet.  Occasions for growth are not always easy to unpack.  Yet deep inquiry is a part of my life, personally and professionally.  The same questions that I ask my clients, for years I have turned over within myself, refining them with every revolution.  Cancer has just yielded the latest, greatest spin.

So now I ask:  what does it mean to “live as if our lives depend on it?”  I’m not going to say that if we think and do “right,” nothing bad will ever happen, e.g., that we give ourselves cancer by the way we think or behave.  That would be short-sighted, ignorant, and self-destructive.  There are just too many influencing factors to take on that kind of unnecessary and deluded responsibility.  Yet even with mind-body science in its relative infancy, we know that every thought affects our neurochemistry and every behavior impacts our physiology.  We know that emotion impinges on immunity. But what if we didn’t have any lab data to go on?  Could we not trust our own felt sense and notice how anger, joy, fear and gratitude influence our bodies’ feeling and function?  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a psychoneuroimmunologist).  It just takes paying attention.

Why do we live as though these things weren’t true and take our precious lives for granted?  Why do we cave to ignorance, fear and habit?  For every time we say yes when we mean no (or no when we mean yes), every time we cling to the past or hole up in the future and thereby elude the present, every time we avoid the truth of our scary, messy feelings and opt instead for aseptic rationalization, every time we elect isolation over simple and sincere connection, every time we choose what we “should” do over that which truly calls us, every time we say “I would, but…,” something in us wavers.  And if this happens long and often enough, this faltering can solidify and soon we freeze into forms that we defend with phrases like, “That’s just the way I am.”  And with these self-generating justifications, we can eventually lose the capacity to feel and know who we really are.  We can also lose a lot of time.

When I ask clients, “When would be a good time to start living your life?” I often first hear silence.  Then, some choice expletive.  Occasionally followed by an “I hate you.”  (Incidentally, I always take this as a great validation of my coaching.  It usually means I’ve asked a question that cannot be sidestepped.)  The unspoken but inevitable conclusion?  Now would be a very good time.

We could wait.  We could stand by and pray to stay adequately comfortable while our hidden dreams fizzle, our relationships pale, our bodies decay, and the world goes bust.  We could wait till science proves that deeply loving who we are radically shifts our physiologies and ripples out into the world in positive, healing ways.  We could wait till we are on our deathbeds, individually and as a species.  Or we could find the guts (and it does take guts) to stop any charade we’ve now got going and unwrap the gems that life hands to us, no matter how grizzly or glorious. We could use each and every occasion to true our course and walk in congruence with our greatest joy and well being.  Whether the impetus for change arises from a deadly diagnosis or just a desire to live a more meaningful life, matters not.  What matters is our willingness to show up and play full out, come what may.

Welcome, folks!  Thanks for checking out my new blog.  This entry will serve as an announcement and introduction; the first essay post will be next Monday.  I hope you will become a regular reader and share the dialog with your friends.

Over the past year, many of you enthusiastically followed my email updates that accompanied my journey through cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Thank you.  I received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement to share my writing with a larger audience through a blog, articles, a book, etc.  Several times you requested to forward my emails on to your friends.  Thanks so much for your support and enthusiasm for my process and my work.  Now, well into recovery, I continue to write daily, adding more chapters and creating what I intend to become a book.

Certainly, some of my upcoming blog posts will draw from these essays and my recent experience as an oncology patient.  But more than that, I plan to use the events of the last year as a springboard for continuing the exploration into what it means to live a life of depth, meaning, and integrity.  This is the work that I’ve been doing my entire adult life, decades before any diagnosis of malignancy.  And although my focus as of late has necessarily been toward addressing a certain condition, ultimately it’s not about cancer for me.   It’s about life and how we can manifest our best possible ones.

So here we go.  No matter how much we think we’ve prepared, there comes that moment when we just have to let go of the rope!  One, Two, Three…

Woohoo!

Come on in – the water’s fine!