“Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” ~Walter Anderson
I recently ran across a chat site called “Why Grow Up?” Their tagline reads:
“Why Grow Up? Why be responsible? Why act mature?
Why play by rules? Why eat healthy? Why sleep early?
Why become a doctor? Why this? WHY ME? WHY WHY WHY?”
I laughed aloud when I read that remembering something I had said 18 years ago to my husband, Jake: “I just want to retire and garden.”
I was tired of pressuring myself to keep a business going. I was tired of doing anything that did not fit my ideal of just living out the rest of my life in peace with him, our pets, a lovely garden, working with wildlife rescue, and frequent walks in nature.
This was something of a turning point in our lives. I wanted to withdraw and Jake wanted to grow—to create something meaningful, together—and he was concerned that if he continued to grow, and I didn’t, he would grow beyond me and then we would grow apart. But I was tired.
Hadn’t I already done a lot of personal work in the years before? Weren’t my past many years of meditation retreats and remarkably good psychotherapy enough? Couldn’t I just rest on my laurels?
To be more honest, in addition to feeling tired, I think I was afraid. I was afraid of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, letting go of the safe, familiar shore I was clinging to. What helped me get over my fear and woke up my curiosity was a ten-year-old girl who I met at a firewalk.
Yes, of all things, a firewalk! And in anticipation of the firewalk I did not sleep much for a week. I had fantasies of lying on the couch with my burned feet in the air, bandaged, in unbearable pain, as my friends visited me to tell me how stupid I had been to even try such a thing.
But finally the event arrived, and as they were preparing the fire, I met this little 10-year old girl who said: “There is nothing to be afraid of.” She said she had done this many times, in her (little) life. She said, in fact, she was prone to going over the fire numerous times during each event.
I humbled myself and mustered up some of the courage that it had taken to get me there in the first place, and I pushed myself over and beyond the fire—and my fear—but not until I watched the 10 year old go across first.
Going Beyond My Fear
I learned a lot about myself that night. I learned something about my fear, my anxiety, my courage, and the thrill of having the courage to go beyond my fear.
Just as bones need pressure to grow, to keep them strong, and why exercise is so important as we age, I realized that my mind and spirit needs to be exercised to stay strong.
Sometime after the firewalk we met a remarkable elderly couple. They were conducting a personal growth retreat (not a firewalk) and we signed up for it. This couple, in their 80’s, were still interested in growing themselves even after 40 years of personal growth work. They had not yet put themselves out to pasture (or to garden).
Being Really Alive While Still Alive
At the retreat we were inspired by this couple’s vitality and their desire to be really alive while they were still alive. We were moved by their curiosity about what more they could discover, take responsibility for, and integrate in order to make themselves more whole.
We knew we had come upon something unique and began private training with them. After several years we became stewards of their work, creating something meaningful to do with the rest our lives—sharing what we learned and inspiring others to grow.
Yes, it is work, and with this work I put pressure on myself. But the pressure keeps me awake and growing and sharing and creating and feeling more present and alive. Each year as a couple, we grow more complete and more colorful, just as our garden plants do.
The Last Third of Life Is About Giving Back
I understand that the first third of life is about learning, the second third about earning, and the last third about serving. I am in my last third, the stage that’s about giving back. And in finding a way to give back, I have also found, for myself, a more meaningful life than I would have just resting on my laurels.
Of course enjoying life is part of our purpose for being here. But there is another, I think, greater purpose that will really feed our joy of life. That’s the experience of reaching beyond the ways in which we limit ourselves, toward our greater human potential.
Why do we grow? We grow to become wiser, more vibrant, real, spontaneous, and whole. Ultimately, we continue to grow so that when we get to the end of our lives, we’ll feel that we made good use of our time here.
No regrets—for a life fully lived.
Photo by Kate at yr own risk