Live while you are alive

At the beginning of the year I asked members of a writing group I belong to to share words, a phrase or poem or verse which meant a lot to them. I was surprised by the response. I might have anticipated ‘This too will pass’ and ‘To everything there is a season …’, but many people were very honest in sharing poems which had helped them. When Lydia (my daughter) came up with Maya Angelou’s poem, ‘And still I rise’ I felt taken aback. It’s a fine poem and for years we had a video of her giving a reading of her work and her delivery and sparkle were thrilling, but for it to resonate so deeply with my beautiful daughter?  I remembered then Lydia had shown courage in the past in standing up to bullies at school and reinventing herself, shedding a victim mentality and becoming the bold and capable young woman some of you know. What’s more she continued to consolidate that change by sharing it.

Popular psychology maintains that when a person wants to make a life change, to break an addiction or gain a promotion or whatever, telling someone about it enhances the chances of success. I think this works in both directions: by recalling and focussing on changes made in the past, we see how far we have come and how truly different we are. By flagging up ‘I want to lose 10 kg’ or be able to run for 30 minutes or try a new sport or activity, or at a more complex level, I want look for a new job in a new part of the country or leave an unhappy relationship, we are ‘accountable’ to those whom we have told. That is scary. They may well ask us about it or check on our progress. We may fail. ‘They’ will see us fail.

What does that mean? Not achieving the desired result in the optimum time is not failure. Moving in the direction of change is change itself. Who is counting? Who is watching? So often we are our own worst enemy in our efforts to experiment with new activities. We sabotage the work early on in order not to have to try so hard, to avoid the pain of doing something different. It is so much easier to carry on doing the same thing, being the same person, the familiar is comfortable. And safe.

I am talking to myself here of course and those of you who know me will understand a little how and why I think about these things. I was a painfully shy child and an awkward teenager. I played safe and underplayed my hand. I found a place to belong and a tribe to belong to in the evangelical church and it suited me for a few decades but it does not suit me now. One task of midlife is I believe to find out what we were created for. I now have some time before I get too old to explore possibilities that were closed to me before and to paraphrase something I heard a few days ago, I don’t want to die with the music still inside me. So, now to the poem which Sue shared at the beginning of the year and has meant so much to me these last seven months.

To an English Friend in Africa

Be grateful for freedom
To see other dreams.
Bless your loneliness as much as you drank
Of your former companionships.
All that you are experiencing now
Will become moods of future joys
So bless it all.
Do not think your ways superior
To another’s
Do not venture to judge
But see things with fresh and open eyes
Do not condemn
But praise what you can
And when you can’t be silent.

Time is now a gift for you
A gift of freedom
To think and remember and understand
The ever perplexing past
And to re-create yourself anew
In order to transform time.

Live while you are alive.
Learn the ways of silence and wisdom
Learn to act, learn a new speech
Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit
Learn to free yourself from all things that have moulded you
And which limit your secret and undiscovered road.

Remember that all things which happen
To you are raw materials
Endlessly fertile

Endlessly yielding of thoughts that could change
Your life and go on doing for ever.

Never forget to pray and be thankful
For all the things good or bad on the rich road;
For everything is changeable
So long as you live while you are alive.

Fear not, but be full of light and love;
Fear not but be alert and receptive;
Fear not but act decisively when you should;
Fear not, but know when to stop;
Fear not for you are loved by me;
Fear not, for death is not the real terror,
But life -magically – is.

Be joyful in your silence
Be strong in your patience
Do not try to wrestle with the universe
But be sometimes like water or air
Sometimes like fire

Live slowly, think slowly, for time is a mystery.
Never forget that love
Requires that you be
The greatest person you are capable of being,
Self-generating and strong and gentle-
Your own hero and star.

Love demands the best in us
To always and in time overcome the worst
And lowest in our souls.
Love the world wisely.

It is love alone that is the greatest weapon
And the deepest and hardest secret.

So fear not, my friend.
The darkness is gentler than you think.
Be grateful for the manifold
Dreams of creation
And the many ways of unnumbered peoples.

Be grateful for life as you live it.
And may a wonderful light
Always guide you on the unfolding road.

March 1991
Ben Okri

(thanks to Mustafa Kudrati for sharing this)

(Reprinted by the Community Development Resource Association –

I am so grateful to Sue for sharing this. These words accompanied me on the Camino and continue to roll around my brain.

‘Time is now a gift for you
A gift of freedom
To think and remember and understand
The ever perplexing past
And to re-create yourself anew
In order to transform time.’

There is so much hope in these words.

Ok, back to making personal changes. Start small.

While I am not making a heavy duty vow about it, I am trying to make the most of living near the sea and swimming most days, even today when as you can see conditions are not conducive to relaxing on the beach. IMG_2778

But I did it. I even went the other day after a sweaty shop in Sainsburys and I had forgotten my cossie so went like a child in my vest and pants ( bra and pants) and it felt good and free and worth the small embarrassment.

I have been given a deal of affirmation for my writing and so, despite my feelings of fraudulence, I am going to commit to adding to this blog once a week. It’s hard because it is exposing and you might notice me fail. But here goes.

Another quote, from Thoreau this time:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.

Don’t complicate things. Don’t over think. Just do it.

2 thoughts on “Live while you are alive

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