The other night I reread the beginning of Keith Richards’s autobiography, Life. Keith grew up listening to everything from Mozart and Bach to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When he was 13, Keith used to walk around his bedroom, holding a tiny radio up to his ear, twisting the antennae just so until he could get an intermittent signal from Radio Luxembourg. He said the night he heard Elvis Presley, singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” was “like an explosion.” The next day he “was a different guy.” Whether he knew it or not, Keith Richards had just found his passion, that thing that gave meaning to his life.
One of the greatest gifts we’ll ever receive is discovering who we are and finding our passion.
Even if we know we’re a shark, a goldfish, or a guppy, we still need to find what gives meaning to our life. Writer and teacher, Joseph Campbell, said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were walls.” Certainly that path held true for Keith Richards, but what about those who’ve gotten bumped off course, suffered a major loss or are recovering from a serious illness? Sometimes we have to find a new path and new meaning as well.
When I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, some of the other cancer patients I met had disconnected from life so they could deal with their cancer. They lived, ate and breathed cancer which, admittedly, is hard not to do. When treatment was over, they struggled to integrate their “new normal” with the life they’d known before. Some were paralyzed with fear, waiting for “it” to return. If only they’d realized the real tragedy wouldn’t have been dying from their cancer but failing to live their lives without fear.
As Joseph Campbell said, “Sometimes we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
So how do we go from wellness, to surviving a health crisis or the loss of a spouse, to thriving and squeezing everything we can out of life? For starters, we can use our misfortune as an opportunity to become healthier by adopting a better diet and exercise plan. We can also integrate positive mental, spiritual and emotional changes–we’re often forced to find–into our work and family life. I know this isn’t always easy to do, but we must try, otherwise we are lost. Truth be told, I’m writing this blog post as much for me, as I am for anyone who might find a kernel of truth here. I’m still taking steps–sometimes small steps–to build a new life after the death of my husband, which will be seven years ago this Christmas.
If you’re carving out a new life for yourself or creating a life with more joy and purpose, spend some time thinking about what makes you smile, what gives you purpose.
Bring more bliss into your life, one experience at a time.
Life is fleeting and unpredictable. Surround yourself with people, things and activities you love. And step outside yourself and think about ways you can be of help to others. It’s the best way I know to stop focusing on yourself.
Whether it’s an illness, the death of a loved one, or you’re suffering from depression, there is life after the darkness. I promise, because I’ve experienced them all.
Swim toward the light.