How will I be remembered? Is it in my words? My deeds? My character? My integrity? Or all of these – and more? Over the past two decades, I have often wondered about my own legacy: what will I leave behind at the end of a life well lived. As I look into my future, I realize it is my mission to leave behind something of value – a “piece of me” that touches others along their way. This is why I have made it my purpose to study both the principles and processes of healthy aging.
In search of a unifying principle
In 2006, when I finally sat down to write my first book on the subject of healthy aging, I realized I needed to have a unifying principle – or thought – behind the knowledge I was about to reveal. I chose a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson – one that I had retained from many years before from a source I cannot recall. I wrote this quote before I considered any subjects for my table of contents – or any other aspect of my book. It goes as follows:
“To laugh often and love much. To win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to give of oneself; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)
This quote for me captured the essence of what health means to me, that we can live a full and enriching and fulfilling life because we value not only WHO we are but WHAT it is we are to do – our mission – founded upon our VISION of the life we finally commit ourselves to living. Our legacy takes form as our consciousness evolves over time and the value that we hold for ourselves is translated “into the world” as we grow and mature as human beings. Therefore we are committed not only to our “reason for being” but also to our own “wellbeing”. This then is the core of my most important belief: That we are here to fulfill our OWN unique PURPOSE through discovering, developing and sharing our “natural gifts” – and ultimately our heart – as our “gift to life”.
The 5 keys to living a fulfilling life
I believe the legacy we leave behind in life is clearly defined in the WORDS we choose to say, the THOUGHTS we think (and share), the BELIEFS that define us, the CHOICES that we make, and finally in the ACTIONS that we take. The INTEGRITY with which we live our lives is the sum total of our life experience: who we are on the inside is who we are on the outside – “we easily walk our talk”. The reason I am stating this position so clearly is that in the 21st century it is apparent to me that it is in “winning” that we become more – have more – and thereby become special.
I disagree with this premise for living life. There are no winners and losers – there are only individual souls doing the best that they can under their circumstances. Each of us is a part of the tapestry of life and no one is more important than anyone else in the work we all are attempting to do to find value in living the best life we can – and leave life better than we found it.
- WORDS – Words have power because they reflect US in all our unique ways. They capture the thoughts and ideas we are entertaining and allow us to explain the world as we understand it. Our words reflect who we are on the inside. They can speak to love, honor, compassion, forgiveness and gratitude or to despair, sadness, hate, suspicion, regret or guilt. They are how we express ourselves to the world – in writing as I am doing here – or in spoken form as I do when I am speaking to an audience. Choosing our words wisely is important for they set in motion the experiences of our lives so LISTEN before you SPEAK. Remember “Thumpers Rule” (Bambi): “If you got nothing nice to say, DON’T say nothing at all”! I wish I had remembered this rule in my past – it would have saved me a great deal of heart ache and suffering!
- THOUGHTS – “Thoughts are things” – meaning they carry power to our conscious mind and out into our world. They are the beginning of forming our reality – in connection with our belief systems about life. They are the foundation upon which we carry our life forward and form the vision for our lives. They are the “bedrock” of everything we value about life itself. It is therefore prudent to become “conscious” of our thoughts and to guard them well. They will eventually evolve over time into the ideas we hold not only about ourselves but also others. This is where conflict – or harmony – reside – in our thought processes and how we communicate them to the world. Guard your thoughts well – respect the mind’s power to create and energize the world you inhabit!
- BELIEF SYSTEMS – Beliefs are acquired over time and form the foundation for the understanding we have of the world. They come from sources large and small – from our parents, teachers, those we respect, institutions, experiences we have, perceptions of life based upon our own “inner guidance” or intuition – and so many more. They “color” our view of the world and can lead to separation and judgment or love and peace and prosperity depending upon how we align our hearts and minds. If we see love in the world it is because we love ourselves. If we see suspicion and fear it is because we live in fear and suspicion of people and circumstances. It is in NOT reacting to life’s journey but being “responsive and open” to all of life’s lessons that we thrive and prosper. Healthy aging depends upon being open, receptive, loving, forgiving and grateful – not closed off and bitter. I am practicing this concept every day of my life through meditation and prayer work begun long ago in the 80’s when I discovered my OWN spiritual path. Do this for yourself and you will be rewarded in kind.
- CHOICES – Choices are where life meets our expectations and understanding of ourselves. We make choices everyday – either consciously or unconsciously – and through choosing we live the life we hope for or the one we want to change. “Change is the only constant in the natural order” as one of my favorite teachers taught me in 1982, and through our choices we become ALIVE to the POSSIBILITIES of our life. “Choose wisely” the knight cautioned Indiana Jones in the final chapter of the series when he went in search of the Holy Grail and found it hidden in the many examples spread before him. To save his father’s life he chose the least ornate option which proved correct and he thus saved his father’s life. Choosing wisely is very essential for living a life well lived so remember to be careful in your choosing – choices can transform your life or do great harm.
- ACTIONS – “Actions speak louder than words!” We all know this important phrase but do we really understand its meaning? This phrase is part of what I believe Shakespeare was seeking when he wrote “To thine own self be true” – the greatest thought ever shared in all of the English literature. Our actions “speak” for us – and about us. They capture for me the essence of our humanity. Through acting on purpose we can change not only our world – but the world around us as well. Over the past 35 years I have been relatively honest with the choices I have made and for the actions I have taken. For the most part I have been left with a feeling of great respect for the power of “acting on purpose” and to this day I care about my life deeply because of the choices I have made – and the actions I have taken. My commitment to writing and speaking is an example of this care.
I mentioned the word vision at the outset of this article and I think it only fair to let you know what my vision is. The first chapter in Healthy Aging & YOU is entitled “Creating a Vision” because I believe a life lived with a clear vision is the reason we can enjoy a life “well lived”. Following a vision is following your dream – your heart – and in following your heart you cannot go wrong. You will be rewarded many times over for being who you truly ARE and that is a legacy well worth leaving behind you at the end of your journey here on earth.
Healthy aging is a consciousness issue. It is not merely the death of our cells but is a complex and dynamic process that is grounded in change as life unfolds for each of us. The challenge as I see it is in discovering the potential that lies within each of us to become all that we were meant to be – mentally, physically, and spiritually. This potential can carry us to living lives of fulfillment, peace and prosperity if we remain PRESENT during each moment of our lives – living consciously. Learning about who we are “from the inside out” while acting upon our choices in the present moment, enables and empowers us to live a life of great accomplishment.
This is my vision of a world that is possible.