Last Thursday when I was walking home from leading yoga teacher training I was feeling both a potent combination of blissed out and exhausted. I had been going for 14 hours, waken up at 4:30 am, and was overwhelmed in gratitude for the gift of teaching. In this funny haze I got off the metro and internally fought with myself for a few moments about just getting something to eat from a nearby restaurant to eat rather than cooking at home. It was 10 pm and the last thing I wanted to do was to spend time cutting and cleaning vegetables to build the stir fry I imagined. I opted to pick up some food.
As I was walking home admiring the quiet stillness falling on the area as the hour neared 10:30 pm, I suddenly heard screaming. Immediately I became more alert. Was someone in trouble? Was it one of the homeless people I see around my neighborhood at times arguing out loud with themselves again? I wasn't sure. As I kept walking with keen attention and awareness I rounded the corner and suddenly saw police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances driving up to the block ahead of me. I crossed to the other side of the street where my building was and walked to the corner of the street across from the police activity and fire trucks. What I came upon took my breath away. A woman had been struck by a bus. I felt my heart drop deep into the pit of my stomach and I gasped. As I stood there stunned in shock from the scene unfolding in front of me as firemen worked to free her from the bus, I found myself no longer standing at the corner alone. Neighbors, passerbyers, tourists alike, all stopped and stood stunned. Occasionally someone would turn to the person next to them ask, and receive an answer to a question about what was happening from a new person joining those of us watching. As more fire trucks arrived, a man next to me and I started sharing our hope for the woman's health and safety. I texted a friend I was texted with earlier to ask them to say prayers to the woman struck by the bus.
So much seemed not to matter in that moment. The fact that I needed to wake up early the next day. The fact that I was exhausted and needed sleep. I was gripped by the moment, by the desperation for the situation, and the prayer, the hope, the desire to know that this perfect stranger, this fellow human, was going to be ok. And that if there was anything that I could do to relieve suffering in the situation, that I could be there to do something. Anything.
What is it about shocking moments that shake us to our core and wake us up from sleep walking in life?
That sharpen our awareness? That heighten our sense of connection with strangers? That turn up the volume on life? Part of it science says is biological. A survival mechanism to help us be better prepared to respond in difficult situations. But there is also a sense of conscious choice. In the hour that I stood on the side of the road talking to strangers and connecting with a woman at times cried as she waited for her boyfriend to finish recounting his witness story to detectives and police officers, I was making a conscious choice to stay. To remain present with her. With neighbors. With strangers. With the woman trapped by the bus. With the rescue workers fearlessly supporting her. With the officers redirecting traffic.
It all got me thinking, what would life be like if I consciously turned up the volume on everyday life? If I awakened just 10 % more? What choices would I make? What would shift?
Questions are powerful. When I sit with themI experience shifts. I feel life in a different way. I see situations with new perspectives. And it's this powerful question that whispered in my ear that night as I stood in the shadow of flashing lights that's been ringing in my ear for the last six days. It's meant that sometimes I've decided not to text people and wait to pick up the phone later when I prioritize time to call them. It's meant that I chose not to listen to music or read my Facebook feed during my train rides in and out of the city. It's meant that I've taken breaks with Odi my parrot to "go for a walk" as she calls it, around the apartment and sitting looking out the window and just be with her. It's meant that I've been eating my lunch while quietly sitting in my chair with out music, e-mails, or anything else. It's meant that I've consciously been focusing more on listening in conversations. They are small decisions. But they have made me feel a little more awake. And they all started with one question. What would shift if I was 10% more awake, alive, present in my life? What if the volume of life turned up 10% more?
For this week's Joy Tip Wednesday I want to invite us to play with this question yourself and see what comes up. Ask yourself, what would shift if I was 10% more awake in my life? Here's how:
- Sit with the question. Maybe you sit quietly and silently ask yourself the question. Maybe you ask yourself the question out loud and listen for what comes back. Maybe it's a journaling exercise for you. Maybe it's written at the top of your planner or to do list. Or maybe you just make a point to use this question as an anchor to check in periodically during your day.
- See what comes up. What do you feel in sitting with the question? What does your intuition tell you you might do more of? Less of? Differently? The same? Where would the focus sharpen? Deepen? Lessen?
- Try an experiment. Try whatever comes up as a suggested shift and see what happens. One of the biggest things I noticed when I sat with the question is that I'd send less text messages, less e-mails, less Facebook messages, and make more phone calls.
- Notice how you feel. Do you feel more alive? Do you feel more awake? More present?
- Repeat :)
I wrote some of my initial ideas on how to awaken our life during last week's post In Dark Times: What You Can Do. Within 48 hours of writing that post, I had a client tragically suddenly loose her father and I walked one late night upon a woman who was hit by a bus. Earlier this week, families enjoying a day in the park were killed and injured in Lahore, Pakistan. And the list goes on.
While tragic moments sharpen our lens and help us see what matters, as time wears on, somehow we forget, fall back asleep, and fall into old patterns. Old ways of being and doing. And while this may be inevitable, I'm convinced that we can practice consciously choosing something different.
Some more of presence, clarity that we have in the most challenging of moments, in the moments when life seems to be a little bit easier, or perhaps even awesome. Because it can be in the great moment spans of life, or the monotony of the ordinary, that we loose sight of what matters. Of who we want to be. And then life hits us where it hurts and awakens us again.
What would life be like if we choose to be a little more awake all of the time rather than just in the most challenging moments of suffering?
Would we be more resilient during stressful times? More connected to those we love? Have created a support system that always catches us when we fall? And served on support systems to catch others? Would we appreciate the small moments more? Would we awaken to the beauty of the mundane ordinary as much as the totally life changing moments? I'd say the answer and so much more beyond what we can imagine and see is possible. Will you join me this week in an experiment to awaken your life?