This is from Mark Nepo’s excellent book, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. I highly recommend getting a copy. His insight about life is beautiful, concise, and practical. Worth a few minutes of your day.
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‘Now there’s nothing left but to keep dancing.’
I don’t know if it is human nature or the way of life on Earth, but we seldom become all of who we are until forced to it. Some say that something in us rises to the occasion, that there is, as Hemingway called it, “a grace under pressure” that comes forth in most of us when challenged. Others say this talk of grace is merely a way to rationalize hard times and painful experience, a way to put a good face on tragedy.
Yet beneath all the talk of tragedy and grace, I have come to believe that we are destined to be opened by the living of our days, and whether we like it or not, whether we choose to participate or not, we will, in time, every one of us, wear the deeper part of who we are as a new skin.
Either by erosion from without or shedding from within – and often by both – we are forced to live more authentically. And once the crisis that opened us passes, the real choice then becomes: Will we continue such authentic living?
It is no secret that cancer in its acuteness pierced me into open living, and I’ve been working ever since to sanctify that open living without crisis as its trigger. But can this be done without crisis pushing us off a ledge? That the question now, years from the leap – how to keep leaping from a desire to be real, so as not to be shoved by an ever-lurking crisis.
Perhaps the greatest moment of shedding and breaking for me came as I was being wheeled into rib surgery. I found myself numbly afraid, spinning from the Demerol shot, watching the hospital ceiling roll on by, and I found myself repeating over and over the following words on my stretcher:
“Death pushed me to the edge. Nowhere to back off. And to the shame of my fears, I danced with abandon in his face. I never danced as free. And Death backed off, the way dark backs off a sudden burst of flame. Now there’s nothing left, but to keep dancing. It is the way I would have chosen had I been born three times as brave.”
We are often called further into experience than we’d like to go, but it is this extra leap that lands us in the vibrant center of what it means to be alive.
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This is how I try to live my life now. Having learned that crisis could pull me forward or that I could pull myself forward, I try to dance with fear now. And it’s messy, but it’s good.