“You do not want to come to the last moment of your life and find you have simple lived life’s length. You should also have lived its width,” suggests Qiguang Zhao in “Do Nothing and Do Everything.” That stopped me cold. I’m 81. I’m doing length. But am I living wide? What does that even mean?
Wide and deep seem similar
My first thought was that to live the width of my life I need to be more aware in each moment. I need to be present. I need to let life unfold and respond from the center of each moment rather than react from outside myself. I need to make thoughtful choices and take mindful actions that are productive and beneficial. The only way I know to do this is to deepen my spiritual practice. How do I recognize “wide”? How can I tell if I’m living a wide life?
Notice the little things
It seems to me that living wide begins with mindfulness. When you live wide, you encourage moments of thoughtful contemplation. You pursue meaningful conversations. You dig deeper to find understanding. You practice in order to absorb the concept into your life. Living wide means being present in the moment and being aware of your spiritual connection as often as possible. I eat all my meals mindfully in silence. I savor the taste and texture of the food I have mindfully prepared. I notice how it nurtures me. I honor my sense of fullness. I look outside while I eat. I watch the birds talking over their breakfast. I see the squirrel choosing seeds from the ground and the small rabbit that joins her. I watch the butterflies, listen to the wind in the trees and meditate in the warmth of the sun. I notice the little things.
Listen for the nuances
In conversations, I’m learning to still my own responses and listen to the unspoken needs of the person who is speaking. I’m not very interested in listening to the old memory stories of my senior population, but if I start listening for the pleasure it gives them to remember, or boast a little, or recall a nourishing emotion, them I can learn to be silent and listen for the nuances – to live the moment more widely.
Individualize your own spiritual life
I am drawn to Qiguang Zhao’s response to the question, Are you a Taoist? He replies, “I am influenced by Taoism but I keep my spiritual freedom and my right to fly without confinement.” I love that. It’s what we all are to do, find our own version of our personal, individualize spiritual path. It can come from any source. If I’m living wide, I go exploring. From my first Comparative Religion course my senior year in college, to the present, I have taken what works for me and moved on to explore other approaches and insights. I’ve absorbed spiritual elements of China, India, and Persia. I learned chants while studying yoga; I learned mantras when I began to meditate. I work with the subtle energy of crystals and flower essences and essential oils. I’ve taught energy techniques like Reiki. I’ve led visioning groups and served as a spiritual practitioner. And I read. Kahlil Gibran’s “The Profit” penetrated deeply into my spiritual practice from the very begging of my conscious search for my own spiritual path and still does today. I keep reading new translations of Tao Te Ching. Rumi, Emerson, Deng Ming Dao and Stephen Mitchell all influence my spiritual beliefs and my spiritual practice. I am open. I am receptive. I listen with my heart.
Explore your responses
The concept of living the width of my life felt so profound, it brought me to a standstill. It resonated so deeply within me and sparked such curiosity that I knew I needed to understand what it was and how I might live a wider life. Listen to those moments that make you catch your breath. Those unexpected signals the Universe gives you that creates a stop-still moment. Take time to explore them. Incorporate the ones you need into your spiritual practice and your everyday life experience.
If it resonates, take notes
One of the ways I begin to “own” what I read is to take notes. In the study piece of my spiritual practice, I sit at my computer ready to type in my notes and my reactions. I read a section from the material I have chosen and either copy down a phrase that seems to express the essence, or write a meaningful sentence that encapsulates what I think the essence is. I have a “Phrases” folder on my computer where I keep these meaningful readings. I can compare translations of the Tao Te Ching. I can search for a word or concept and find insights about it. Phrases that particularly resonate with me have been printed out and each day I read and contemplate a different quotation. When an idea calls to me I put the idea into my “Write About” folder so I can figure out how to add it to my life and my awareness.
What does living “wide” mean to you?
Living wide can include some things that you won’t do. I can refuse to become caught up in insignificant things. I can refuse to worry about what may or may not happen. I can live wider when I stay in the moment, allow life to unfold, and simply shape things as they come. I can strive to make my actions considerate, thoughtful, aware, meaningful and full of purpose.
“We are artists who apply our knowledge to our lives.,” says Qiguang Zhao. That may be what living wide is all about – using the brushstrokes of our talent and skills, our insights and understanding, to reach across boundaries, touch lives, and make a difference in our world.