Make of Your Life a Song

In one of her most frequently quoted poems, Mary Oliver asks what we each plan to do with our “one wild and precious life.” A question that touches the depths of the soul—and the heart of all life on Earth. We were given our human lives by a universal intelligence beyond naming. Within that act of grace is infinite possibility and expression as well as a world of incredibly diverse experiences. Each day presents a kaleidoscope of wonders to us. When we are children, we see those wonders clearly, our eyes sparkling with delight. As adults, we begin to take them for granted. Our vision may become clouded with habit, loss, or misfortune. Life, of course, can be challenging as well as wondrous. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to continue to experience wonder no matter how your life unfolds.

One year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It shook me to my core. Yet my actual experience of the months of treatment, in spite of any discomfort or pain, was filled with moments of connection to the Spirit of life, which carried me through the days with surprising synchronicities and inspiration. In the most profound of those moments, I felt one with everything, my own life part of a universal flow of beingness. Within that, my sense of wonder at the daily miracles of life—sunrise, birdsong, human kindness—reawakened and grew. Not that I had lost it, but so often life events get in our way. Our perception is incomplete, shaded. Until suddenly, an event or experience shines a light on each moment, showing it to be the miracle it is.

It may not be cancer that awakens this latent sense in you. It could be anything, perhaps just the course of a lifetime. Many of us, as we grow older, realize the relatively short time we have on this planet. A poignancy and appreciation fill us, an intention not to waste a moment in regret or complaint. The “one wild and precious life” we were gifted with suddenly reveals itself in all its splendor. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet each day with joy and gratitude.

There are countless ways to do this, as many possibilities as there are living beings on Earth. Those who have gone before us advise us to share with others our unique essence, our humanity as well as our divinity (they are inseparable) There is no one else like you, so don’t hold back. Make of your life a peaceful prayer, a poem of inspiration, a celebratory dance. Like the wood thrush and robin, make of your life a song that carries the love in your heart to all who hear it. Your soul will guide you.

This is why we were born, why we journey through challenge and crisis, to finally come to understand that each moment carries within it Heaven on Earth. The reward for living, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is life itself. It sometimes takes an entire lifetime (or many lifetimes) to come to this realization, but each of us is destined to do so. We are currently living through an extraordinary time of transformation on this planet, one in which separation from Spirit and from one another will fall away, sometimes gradually and sometimes with a thunderous crash. We may think we are lost, but there is much more here than what our habitual perceptions show us. Our days are woven from a tapestry of miracles. Open your heart, and let it reveal to you the sweet song your life is meant to be.

Without a Label

A good friend of mine recently told me that she loves my writing but doesn’t necessarily relate to the God references. She said she believes in something but doesn’t really have a label for it. She’s not alone. So many of us (myself included) have felt exactly the same at one time or another in our lives. And truthfully we don’t need a label–often language misses the point entirely. Some people and traditions prefer to leave the idea of a creator-being unnamed. Many Native Americans use the words “the Great Mystery.” Makes complete sense to me. I wasn’t raised in a religion, and I used to be put off by the groups who would go around house to house proselytizing about God. That word remained a negative trigger for me right up into adulthood, when I began my own spiritual exploration.

My first attempt at explaining how I thought of spirit at the time was the word “meaning.” I believed there was meaning in the universe because I could feel it in my heart. That’s as far as it went for a while. Eventually, I came to see that the word or description didn’t matter as much as the experience itself. I lost most of my objections to words and labels like God or Divinity. Still, I try to be low key about using them when I write because I know many people are uncomfortable about naming something that is in essence nameless. And it’s unnecessary. The deeper I dive into my soul, the more words fall away entirely. I experience a beingness or oneness that defies description.

So how do you write about that? How do you talk about it? Perhaps the best response to the mysteries of the universe is silence. Within that, everything arises. Immersion in something greater than language fills you. Nature shows me this more than anything else. Every time I am outdoors by myself I am deeply connected to the entire cosmos without a single word being spoken. This is why I prefer to be alone with Nature. Silence prevails. In the stillness, language is irrelevant. And mental naming is only a distraction. If you can walk slowly and quietly, or stand motionless, the natural world continues as if you weren’t there. You hear the birds singing, the wind in the trees, chipmunks and squirrels calling. You smell the earth and the foliage, and you can feel the living energy vibrating all around you.

This is Presence: being, without a name or label. Humans invented a language to describe what they were experiencing. Such descriptions can often be poetic and magical, but wordiness can diminish the essence of what is essentially a silent soul exchange. I am a writer so I know the power of expressing what is pouring through me to be shared, a divine connection to something wondrous. This is why I write. Yet, I also know that what ultimately allows that connection is an empty space of stillness, an openness to what some have called universal consciousness. Another name for God. We try, we humans, to express the inexpressible, to name what has no name. Within that trying is a sweet vulnerability that holds hope and loving awareness in it.

When we stop trying, however, when we stand in silent reverence without language or labels, the grace of something beyond expression pours over and through us. That is what we came here to Earth to experience and know deeply. And there are no words that can describe that miracle. Only profound gratitude comes close to touching the core of this meeting of Heaven and Earth in the human dimension.

Poignancy and Gratitude

When you are in your teens and 20s, life seems to extend into the future like an endless expanse of potential experiences. You can’t imagine not having the opportunity to visit places you love again or see friends and family regularly. As you grow older and encounter both loss and change, life takes on a quality of uncertainty, sweetness tinged with sorrow. A favorite uncle or a parent dies, friends move away, you yourself may move multiple times. The tapestry of life is always shifting, and we too shift with the changes. At a certain point, you may realize that the years ahead are possibly fewer than those behind. It may awaken a deep sense of appreciation for every moment you are given. This is how our lives teach us gratitude. Yet now, at this time on the planet, that lesson is coming up in unexpected ways.

We are living through a period of heightened sensitivity to life and death. The global COVID pandemic has made everything seem tenuous at times, transitory. The ancient Buddhist wisdom of “impermanence” is suddenly front and center in our daily lives. Will we get beyond the losses and emptiness, the holes in the infrastructure we took for granted? And what about health and life itself? There is a kind of poignancy in every memory and every present interaction. But there is also—if we are open to it—gratitude.

Toward the end of 2020, my partner Anne and I moved from Florida back to Massachusetts. We had spent two and a half years in Florida, but in considering where we wanted to be in the future, the choice became clear: where we felt most at home. And that would be Massachusetts. COVID intensified those feelings. As the years go by, and as I live through this pandemic, the assumption that I will do things an infinite number of times seems to fall away. I wonder: “Will I ever see that person or place again? Will I have that experience once more?” Every single day becomes extremely precious, never to be taken for granted.

So perhaps all of us now on this planet are being given the gift of treasuring each moment of life and each relationship, wherever we are and whomever we are with. When I wake up on a cold winter’s morning in New England, I can either question leaving the warmth of Florida behind, or I can look out the window at the scarlet sunrise and the wild geese flying overhead and smile in gratitude for another day of life. Timeless moments in which to experience the love of friends/family and the natural beauty in the world around me. Cardinals and chickadees calling. Tree silhouettes with tiny buds on the branches. Bulbs pushing up through the earth as spring approaches. Rebirth is a part of the cycle of life too, and in spite of our losses and tears, there is always a spark of life renewed.

All that we are experiencing now, whatever our age, can be challenging and cause us to dig deep within for inner stamina and courage. But we have those. Our strong hearts embody love. Our souls are a reservoir of peace and wisdom. We are nourished by the connections between us. What if loss is ultimately just change, renewal—the rebirth of our lives and our planet? No matter what is happening, we can feel grateful for the poignantly beautiful blessing of life itself. As Mary Oliver has written:

“I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

Your Soul Knows Best

Sometimes it seems as if life is random, crazy, a mistake of cosmic proportions. It isn’t. There is intent and purpose woven into the fabric of the universe. And your soul knows this. Your soul chose this lifetime for its own evolution, for humanity’s evolution. We humans are on a collective journey through diverse Earth experiences to integrate polarities and find our way back to balance, peace, and harmony. The soul is our guide.

The challenge for the soul-as-human is to reach peaceful harmony within a physical form with its complex emotions, thoughts, and anatomical circuitry. At times it can seem overwhelming. However, if you remind yourself that your soul chose the scenarios and experiences of your lifetime for its own growth and expansion, then perhaps you can come to acceptance and even gratitude. It’s not necessarily something that will make sense to the mind, but your heart naturally allows life to flow through it. If you remain centered in your heart, life will feel more whole and less fragmented.

In truth, we are each one cell within a greater whole that includes the entire cosmos, every part connected to every other part. There are no mistakes at the level of universal consciousness. Everything is unfolding perfectly for our evolution. This is probably the greatest lesson of my lifetime. When I can view all of my life—both the joy and the pain—as a symphony written and orchestrated long before I was born, then I can let go of the need to control and relax into just being. The music of the spheres plays itself unassisted, and I begin to see the miracles. I realize that I am living out a beautiful divine design.

Every morning is a fresh opportunity to remember these truths and live in awakened consciousness. Not always easy, because my mind gets distracted and forgets. My breath is the built-in reminder that I am spirit beyond form. If I begin each day with quiet conscious breathing in meditation, my thoughts slow down and fade to the background. I settle into a deeper awareness that God is breathing life into my physical body in every moment. Taking a deep breath periodically throughout the day (ongoing meditation) returns me to that focus. It aligns me with my soul and with Presence.

God’s presence on Earth is experienced through the soul. When you let your mind’s filter become transparent, your soul’s light can shine fully, and divine Presence is known. This is soul vision and soul awareness. Live life for the experience, not the results. Immerse yourself in the present moment, and you forget about past/future and cause/effect. You are limitless and free. The wonder of the Now is all-encompassing. It’s why we came here. To move through what appear to be challenges and finally see everything as grace. To live the infinite in a finite world. To recognize God in yourself, in others, and in everything. And to understand finally that your soul and your heart are your wisest guides, always.

Farewell to Florida

Photograph © 2020 Peggy Kornegger
As our last weeks in Florida go by, I find myself looking with fresh eyes at the natural world right outside our door, just like I did when we first arrived here. When you know you are moving (and who knows when you will return), everything takes on a special light, a different vibration. Habit falls away and you see every detail with delight and appreciation. A group of ten white ibises with long curved orange beaks walks slowly past our lanai. A palm warbler on the window ledge looks around curiously, bobbing its tail. A giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest in the U.S., serenely floats by and lands on a bush next to the trail where I am walking. A zebra longwing butterfly flutters in the air nearby. So many amazing creatures so close and clearly visible. None of them native to Massachusetts. These are once-in-a-lifetime moments, I say to myself; savor them.

There are such moments in New England too, of course—birds and butterflies I have missed seeing and look forward to seeing again soon. Yet, now, here, in this present moment, I am appreciating Florida’s tropical uniqueness. The exotic flowers that bloom throughout the year, the palm and cypress trees, the multiplicity of water birds, the spectacular cloud formations and dramatic weather patterns. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see something I’ve never seen before. What a gift! I’ve known this all along, but today, looking ahead to the leaving, I really know it.

So this is the greater lesson of being here—and, really, of being a human on planet Earth: Don’t take anything for granted. Always look at the world as if for the first, or last, time. Appreciate every moment, every beautiful detail of life and living. You may never pass this way again. You may never see a robin in the spring or a maple tree in the autumn. An orchid or hibiscus in full bloom. You may never see someone you love again. Look in their eyes and see their soul each time you are together. Look in the eyes of your animal companion and see their absolute love and devotion. Your time here on Earth is sacred.

I remember this as I look out the window or take my daily walks these final weeks in Florida. This is my life, every extraordinary unrepeatable second, the sadness as well as the joy. To be human is to be given a cornucopia of daily wonders. If I hold this truth in my heart each day, then I live with love and gratitude, and no moment, no experience, passes that I don’t fully appreciate. This is the gift that Florida has given me: I have been reminded once more to let go of everything that is not essential and see the world, every bit of it, as the blessing it truly is.