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How to Leave This World Awake

The secret may be adding a single space to play.

Beat Birds

Beat Birds by Vivienne Strauss

Two days before our daughter was to be married in our backyard in August 2017, I was gathered with my seven siblings to discuss whether we should approve a trial of chemotherapy for our mother. She had been slipping into dementia for some time and we’d all been assuming we had several more years of watching her drift slowly away. Then she turned yellow. An exploratory surgery led to a diagnosis of terminal bile duct cancer. Chemo might give her, we were told, a few more months. For four hours my siblings and I shared our thoughts and feelings as we weighed the options. Ultimately, we decided to forgo chemo and emphasize quality over quantity of life.

The next morning at 5:00 a.m. I sat with my journal, and I wrote a single line on the blank paper: I want to leave this world awake. These words capture how I hope to face death, but I wrote them more for Mom than for myself. If she could understand her situation, wouldn’t she prefer to leave us while she still knew who we were? After getting that first line down, I decided to let go of my heavy thoughts and began to look for ways to play with the words I’d written. I noticed that awake could be broken into a wake. At first, I thought of a wake at a funeral. Then I remembered water skiing in my youth. In a few minutes, I wrote the following piece in a form I call “nested meditation”:

I want to leave this world awake.

I want to leave this world a wake
of love behind the speedboat of my years.
I want to leave this world a wake
of love. Behind the speedboat of my years
waves are rolling out wide and far.
I want to leave this world a wake
of love. Behind the speedboat of my years
waves are rolling out wide, and far-
ther back the water is glass again.

When the second line about the speedboat was added, it shifted me from the gravity of the prior day’s meeting to the freshness of a summer day on a lake. The final line, which I arrived at by way of more wordplay (extending far into farther), brought a sense of peace. Yes, that’s it, I thought, we all come into this world, stir the water up for a while, then a century or so after we die it’s glass again. Focusing on playing with awake opened up a healing image that would not have been accessed by my serious adult mind.

Healing Self-Doubt

Here’s a fun piece that speaks to a theme that’s been with me for a lifetime:

Here lies Kevin Anderson.
Here lies Kevin Anderson
to himself: You are not good enough!
Here lies Kevin Anderson
to himself: You are not good. Enough
of this delusion threatening to bury my dreams!
Here lies Kevin Anderson
to himself: You are not good. Enough
of this delusion threatening to bury my dreams
decades before my body.

It was both delightful and healing for me to juxtapose the death awareness of Here Lies Kevin Anderson with the clarity of calling my you’re-not-good-enough thoughts lies.

A similar nested meditation I wrote on self-doubt has been so healing that I often recite it out loud at some point during my daily spiritual practice:

I live with self-doubt.
I live with self-doubt
no more!
I live with self-doubt
no more
than a lone pine tree doing its evergreen thing.
I live with self-doubt
no more
than a lone pine tree doing its evergreen thing
in a deciduous forest.

Avoiding the strong pull of logical, problem-solving thinking (such as What strategies or techniques can I use to get over self-doubt?) and choosing instead to play with words has given me a delightful way to discover healing metaphors.

Some may wonder if the repetition of this form is really necessary. Isn’t the final stanza enough on its own? Part of the fun of the form is that each stanza can carry its own meaning. A four-stanza nested meditation is really four meditations, not one. For me, the effect of the repetition is something like Let’s try that again and see if we can end up somewhere new and surprising. That also mirrors something about how I want to live.

—Kevin Anderson


Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, life coach, author, and speaker. His recent books include Now Is Where God Lives: Nested Meditations to Delight the Mind and Awaken the Soul and The Inconceivable Surprise of Living: Sustaining Wisdom for Spiritual Beings Trying to Be Human. 

thewingedlife.com


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