(The following post is abridged, adapted, and modified from Bernie Siegel’s essay “Love: The Work of The Soul“ in “Handbook for the Soul,” compiled by Richard Carlson, Benjamin Shield, pp. 39-44.)
In my work as a physician, I’ve observed that people who face life-threatening illness are often able to recover the ability that most of us have lost by the time we reach adulthood—the ability to connect with the soul. The childlike sense of awe and wonder is too often replaced by a preoccupation with how we look, whether we’re making enough money, what will the neighbors think, what do our parents think, et cetera. In other words, our fears, and ego (pride, vanity, insecurity, greed), begin controlling us.
But in many cases, people who face a life-threatening illness and who’ve become aware of their mortality find they’ve gained the freedom to live. They are seized by an appreciation for the present: this is my life, I’m not going to have this moment again. They spend more time with the people and things they love and less time with people and pastimes that don’t offer love or joy. This seems so simple.
Shouldn’t we all spend our lives that way?
But we tend not to make those kinds of choices until somebody says, “You have twelve months left to live.”
I like to go for a run every morning. When I jog, I love to run through cemeteries, and sometimes I stop to read the headstones. I saw one recently at the grave of a man who died at twenty-eight—so young! It read: “His life taught us how to live; his death, how to die.” That’s what ought to be on every headstone. I’d say this person accomplished whatever he needed to accomplish in twenty-eight years. Now, other people had on their headstones that they went to Harvard or Yale or that they were lawyers or manufacturers. But I don’t think God cares where we graduated or what we did for a living. I think God wants to know who we are. Discovering this is the work of the soul—it is our true life’s work.
It’s so easy to become someone we don’t want to be, without even realizing it’s happening. We are created by the choices we make every day. And if we are always taking action in order to please people, or because we’re afraid of what others might think, or because we’re preoccupied with how we look or whether we’re making enough money or advancing quickly enough, then we may wake up down the road and think, “This isn’t me. I never wanted to be this person.”
I believe that we are all here to contribute love to the planet—each of us in our own way. Whether you’re a waiter or waitress or manager or barber or run a gas station, if you are interacting with other people, then to nourish your soul, you’ve got to do what you do out of love. But to feel as if you are trapped day after day in a job you hate, or as if you’re required to play a role day after day that you don’t want to play, can be deadly to the soul. So if you can’t possibly change jobs because of expenses or insurance or the state of the economy, then try to find something in your life—whether it’s volunteer work or painting or writing a poem—about which you can say, “This is my joy.” Also, if you don’t like your life and if you don’t think you can change your external circumstance at this point, you can change your attitude toward your life. You can say, “All right, I choose to be happy. I choose to view what I do every day as a way of contributing love.” When you go about your life with this attitude, you’ll find that your circumstances do begin to change. To paraphrase the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, “The way I change my life is to act as if I’m the person I want to be.” When you wake up and act like a loving person, you realize not only that you’re different, but that other people around you are also different. You see differently, you see them differently, you interact with them differently.
And that changes things.
http://makebelieveboutique.com/2013/10/08/7261/ (“Our Capacity to be Fully Human”)