Alive for Now: Using Death as a Teacher to Thrive in Life
“This is one of the most insightful and deeply truthful things I've read...”
-Laura Miner, Hospice Liaison, Maui, HI
It is not a luxury, but a responsibility we have to take charge of our lives, to care for ourselves, to live to the fullest, in order for us to contribute to the great good of the world, in whatever unique way that may be.
I had a glimpse of a new way of living and being while volunteering at a retreat center on Hawaii called Kalani, which deeply affected the actions I’ve taken in my life ever since. Stepping out of the mainstream way of living for the first time in 27 years allowed me to gain some perspective on our cultural standards and everything that I thought was normal. I had previously lived in different areas of the country, and even in Italy, but never before had I witnessed a community functioning completely outside the norm. Within the first week, someone I just met told me to my face that he liked me and would normally want to pursue me romantically, but right now was just focusing on himself. I attended weekly meetings which began by community members reading aloud something nice that they witnessed someone doing in the group- they also bluntly shared what wasn’t working in the community for the purpose of finding a solution. I went to ecstatic dance with 300+ other people every Sunday at 10 am to incredible party music, people moving their bodies in ways I’d never seen as if nobody was watching. I saw things I simply wasn’t used to seeing like straight men hugging for no reason and playing partner yoga together, 65 year olds joining in the fun of body painting and partying. Every standard I ever lived by was turned upside down, and those standards suddenly seemed like a bunch of crap.
Initially though, being at Kalani was a total shock. I had a tough time experiencing the rawness I always wanted to express and be expressed by others. I felt resistance and judgement. In the first week I wrote in my journal that “these hippies just seem like a bunch of insensitive assholes.” I thought I would be escaping soon. But that didn’t last long, just an intense transition that was followed by a feeling of freedom that I hadn’t experienced since I was a child. Laughing to the point of crying, hugging for 5 minute intervals, sharing childhood traumas with the person I just met over breakfast, swimming naked at the pool, telling that person I’m interested in them, the list goes ooonnnnnnn. It is actually pretty hard to describe, I feel that I am just brushing the surface.
Maybe what I experienced isn’t for everyone. But it satisfied so much of what I felt was lacking in my life previously. In the past I had had moments of this sort of “WTF?!” feeling in my work, school, and social environments. Questioning why we need to cut our hair short and get more serious as we get older, why we feel like a freak if we’re not married by a certain age, why we compete to “get to the top” in the workplace, why we only accept people into our circles that meet certain criteria in terms of job status, social skills, and wardrobe. I include myself in engaging in all of that by the way, I was playing the game. But I felt like shit a lot of the time. My mind would not slow down and as I lay in bed in prep for the next work day, all I could think about was everything that happened that day and what would happen the next in interacting with clients, coworkers, that stupidass meeting, everything. I lived for the weekends and happy hours to cure that anxiety.
Having some space to reflect on it now, I can’t help but think that we could all be living by new standards. Whatever it is that feels good to us, and not simply just abiding to cultural norms. When we thrive we then have the energy to give back to the world in that way in which we are craving, in the small scale and the large. So, I encourage you to ask yourself.. what does that mean for you? What do you crave? What would your ideal world look like in terms of work, interactions with others, play, all of it? What small action step can you take now in that direction?
Jessica Murby is a Hospice Liaison, Occupational Therapist, lover of life, and acro yogi. She unexpectedly came upon the benefits of using death as teacher through her clinical experience and through navigating illness herself. She is part of a lifelong research study at the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.). Jessica currently splits her time between her roots in New England and the beautiful island of Maui. She shares her unique work most anywhere she’s invited to through public speaking, writing, and workshops.